West coast fashion: it’s all in the jeans

The dapper denizens of Gothenburg have mounted a challenge to Stockholm's long-time dominance of the Swedish fashion world, writes Matt O'Leary.

While Stockholm may still hog the fashion headlines, Sweden’s west coast has recently emerged as a region to watch for international followers of fashion.

Local brands with casual wear focus have rapidly become the talk of fashion journalists worldwide – particularly when it comes to denim. It’s not uncommon to open a style magazine and find new designs by the likes of Dr Denim, Nudie, and Julian Red peppering the “must buy” pages.

Earlier this year, the +46 award — dedicated to recognizing the best Nordic industry talent and voted for by a panel of Scandinavian fashion experts — went to Annika Berger, a young designer from Vänersborg (90km north of Gothenburg) whose high fashion, unisex Skyward label impressed commentators and buyers worldwide.

However, while Berger’s quirky, voluminous designs may seem better suited to the catwalk or gala opening than the supermarket or office, Gothenburg has also spawned a whole host of designers and companies producing interesting, ready-to-wear fashion with an increasing global appeal.

Gothenburg-designed denim can often be glimpsed gracing the pins of pop culture icons, rock stars, actors and actresses. But while west coast brands are quickly gathering industry plaudits, each also remains fundamentally available to most casual, interested shoppers – the city seems to have a knack for inspiring designers to make internationally renowned fashion at accessible prices.

Alexander Graah, one of the founders of Dr Denim, tells The Local that the emergence of this style is partly a reaction against earlier trends in casual wear. Founded in 2003, the brand’s first collection in 2004 was well received, making it into stores the following year.

From day one the company has sought to provide an alternative to the overwrought and needlessly expensive denim saturating the market. Graah’s insistence that Dr Denim should differ from brands which “overdo everything” and vowed to steer clear of the bling-festooned, pointlessly expensive designer jeanswear available at the time.

“We spotted a gap in the market, in general, and thought: ‘Let’s turn it upside down’. We wanted to design something which is interesting from a product perspective.”

Isolating what he believes is a quintessentially Scandinavian quirk – a “less is more attitude” – he and his colleagues set about creating a style which focuses on attention-grabbing cuts without going over the top with accessories, washes, and other additions that render the clothing useless for daily wear.

“It’s a Swedish cultural thing – most people wear jeans to work, even if you work for a big company, which you can’t do elsewhere. At the end of the day, we need to sell these”.

The same could be said for a number of the local casual-wear brands, which perhaps accounts for the increasing worldwide popularity of the styles – a blend of distinctly Nordic style, modern design innovation and practicality.

Graah believe that the decision of many talented Gothenburg design school graduates to first work for large clothing stores roots them in practicality rather than high-concept fashion. Local firm Monki is a case in point. Offering functional, affordable clothing, Monki is touted by Graah as a brand to watch.

There are, of course, countless other designers and brands striving to make Gothenburg a focal point for fashion – the annual Fresh Fish competition/fair is a good place to find tips as to what’s coming up (you can find information on their, website).

Similarly, stores such as Victoria Arena (situated on Kungsgatan in the city centre) are good places to happen upon styles from lauded, local designers. Brands such as Emma & Malena, the ethically-aware Dem collective and Gissy can also be found in shops across the city, as well as throughout other parts of Sweden.

As fashion markets worldwide shift their focus to high street brands, Gothenburg’s dedicated cluster of talented designers can be expected to continue to exert their influence on a move away from the catwalk and onto the street.

Matt O’Leary