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This summer, go on a Swedish design odyssey

Chances are you already encounter Swedish design on a near-daily basis - even if you don’t realise it. From IKEA’s ubiquitous furniture to Hövding helmets and Tetra Pak packets, there’s a little bit of Sweden all over the world.

This summer, go on a Swedish design odyssey

It’s hardly any surprise that Swedish design is so popular. It’s simple, practical and pleasing to look at.

“The most common way of describing Swedish design is something that is a clear form following function,” says Mats Widbom, CEO of Svensk Form, the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design. “It’s simplicity and use of natural materials. If you look back in history, it also has a strong connection to the development of society.”

Photo: Patrik Svedberg/imagebank.sweden.se

Swedish design might have gone global, but there’s nowhere better to experience it than on its home turf. There’s something about seeing it in its native environment and the way the Swedes interact with that helps you to understand it on a deeper level.

“It’s always best to experience the design of a country where it’s made because you have the whole context of landscape, people and lifestyle. All these pieces that are put into one experience,” says Mats.

Swedish design is often lumped into a single category but there are certain regional nuances. Learn about them before you visit Sweden to get the most out of your design odyssey.

Southern Sweden

The south of Sweden is a region of astonishing natural beauty, rolling landscapes and quaint artistic villages. The half-timbered houses – known in Swedish as korsvirkeshus – are perhaps the most distinctive feature of the mainland whilst limestone is the building material of choice on Gotland, an island to the southeast of Sweden.  

Half-timbered house in Skäne. Photo: Conny Fridh/imagebank.sweden.se

“A favourite of mine is Furillen limestone quarry on Gotland. It’s an old limestone quarry that photographer Johan Hellström found when he was doing fashion photography and developed into a very beautiful hotel and restaurant,” says Mats.

He adds that the Sankt Petri Church in Klippan is a “masterpiece” and encourages tourists in Southern Sweden to visit the Smart Textiles centre in Borås to learn about cutting-edge developments in the textile industry.

Smart Textiles Showroom, Borås. Photo: Tina Stafrén/imagebank.sweden.se

Mats’ personal pick of design places in Southern Sweden:

Click here to discover more design places in Southern Sweden

Central Sweden and Stockholm

There’s plenty more to Sweden than Stockholm although the capital is a smörgåsbord of design gems. From the grand National Museum to UNESCO World Heritage site Skogskyrkogården, you can quite literally stroll from one design spot to the next.

Skogskyrkogården. Photo: Susanne Hallmann/Kyrkogårdsförvaltningen

But it’s when you get outside of the city that regional features begin to emerge. Travelling through the countryside you notice how building materials and the tradition of using colour shifts in different regions.

“In Dalarna, you have the Falun red-painted houses in cluster villages. You see it in the rest of the country but in Dalarna it has perhaps the strongest impact because you see entire villages painted in Falun red. The colour comes from the copper mines in Falun and has become an image of the Swedish cottage and longing for the countryside,” says Mats.

The home of Carl and Karin Larsson. Photo: Jann Lipka/imagebank.sweden.se

A picture-perfect example is the home of Carl and Karin Larsson. It’s Sweden’s most famous home – a colourful and creative space which inspired some of Carl Larsson’s best-known watercolours – in the chocolate-box town of Sundborn.

Mats’ personal pick of design places in Stockholm and central Sweden:

Click here for more design places in Stockholm and central Sweden

Northern Sweden

There’s something mythical about the north of Sweden. With its dramatic landscapes framed by craggy hills, it’s no surprise this part of the world has inspired so many epic sagas. It’s also where most of the country’s Sami population live and so the best place to hunt down some authentic Sami crafts at Jokkmokk market.

Sami handcraft. Photo: Jessica Lindgren/imagebank.sweden.se

“If you go to Northern Sweden you have the Sami Duodji which is a very strong tradition. There’s the Jokkmokk market in February which is really something special, it’s one of the oldest market places in the world,” Mats tells The Local.

You’ll see less Falun red in the north and more wooden snow fences and barns. Northern Sweden stands for nature — the use of wood and natural materials is common as exemplified by the Treehotel in Harads some 30 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Several of Scandinavia’s leading architects were commissioned to each design a hut: “It’s a must-see if you want to combine the experience of nature and architecture”, says Mats.

Photo: Treehotel in Harads. Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström/imagebank.sweden.se

Mats’ personal pick of design places in Northern Sweden:

Click here to discover more design places in Northern Sweden

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Visit Sweden.

 
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CULTURE

‘Don’t wear bright colours’: Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Swedes have an international reputation for dressing well, with Scandi style a popular trend outside Sweden. The Local asked Swedes and foreigners living in Sweden to try and figure out the best tips and tricks for how to dress like a Swede.

'Don't wear bright colours': Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Black is best

When asking several Swedes their top-tips on how to dress like a Swede, many agreed – wear black.

Young professional Tove advises to keep it “all black, minimalist”. Uppsala newspaper columnist Moa agrees: “Wear a lot of black clothes and DON’T wear sneakers or ‘comfortable’ shoes, like running shoes, with dresses.”

Black is a neutral colour and, in general, if you get the neutral colours right you have got a long way in following the Swedish style. 

Neutral colours and a lot of knitwear is a good starting point. Photo: FilippaK/imagebank.sweden.se

Stay neutral 

Sweden might be saying goodbye to hundreds of years of neutrality by joining Nato, but Swedish fashion maintains its strong neutral stance when it comes to colour combinations.

Generally speaking, in autumn and winter Swedes tend to wear darker colours, as Sharon put it: “lots of beige, grey, black and ivory knits or wool. Jeans black or any shade of blue. Black tights with white sneakers for skirts and dresses”.

“Swedes in general will wear black and navy together which I’ve not seen before,” she added.

However, as the weather gets warmer, things change, as half-British half-Swedish Erik explained: “in summer/late spring Swedes change shape and personality,” adding a bit more colour to their wardrobe.

“Lots of colours yet still somewhat monochrome,” he said.

Most Swedes don’t wear a tie at work. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Follow the news trend, drop the tie

Nils, a reporter and presenter for public broadcaster SVT in western Sweden, does not always wear a tie in front of the camera – and he said his colleagues on national news don’t wear ties either.

“It’s not a must,” he said.

A blue shirt, no tie, top button open, beige chinos and a grey dinner jacket is the look he chose when presenting the evening news a few weeks ago.

Nils Arnell presenting the news on SVT Nyheter Väst. Photo: Nils Arnell/SVT

On a day to day basis Nils, who stressed that he’s “not a fashion expert”, gave the following advice: “As long as you manage to dress in a neat style, you can get away with quite a lot.”

“A white t-shirt and an overshirt work well in most situations and look stylish.”

Stay classy, even in class

Engineering student Erik (not the same Erik quoted previously) recently returned to Sweden from a one-year exchange at Birmingham University, where he noticed a big difference in student style between the two countries.

“The first thing that comes to mind is that on university campus there are so many people wearing work-out clothes, at least where I was”, he said.

“In Sweden, it’s more common to wear jeans than tracksuit bottoms, compared to the UK”. 

It’s also common to see a difference in styles even between departments at Swedish universities. The law and economics departments, for example, tend to wear more formal attire with a higher number of students wearing shirts and polos than, say, social sciences or engineering students.

Many students seem to wear a toned-down version of what they might be expected to wear in their future workplace.

When in doubt, think Jantelagen!

Equality and conformity are important concepts when it comes to many aspects of day-to-day life in Sweden, including the clothes you wear.

This doesn’t mean you have to do exactly the same as everyone else, but more that being too flashy or over-the-top can be frowned upon.

This can be traced back to Jantelagen, “the law of Jante”, a set of 10 rules taken from a satirical novel written by Danish author Aksel Sandemose in the 1930s, which spells out the unwritten cultural codes that have long defined Scandinavia.

Jantelagen discourages individual success and sets average as the goal. It manifests itself in Swedish culture not only with a ‘we are all equal’ ethos but even more so a ‘don’t think you are better than anyone, ever’ mindset.

And this is seen in Swedes’ attitude to clothing, too. Flashy, expensive clothing with obvious logos or brands designed to show off your wealth breaks the first rule of Jantelagen: “You’re not to think you are anything special”.

‘Stealth wealth’

This doesn’t mean that Swedes don’t wear expensive clothes, though. They’re just not in-your-face expensive.

Felix, a podcaster from Stockholm describes it as “stealth wealth”, saying that Swedes would have no problem buying and wearing “a black jacket without any tags for 10,000kr”. 

Despite living in Sweden his whole life, he said that it’s not always easy to get the style right.

“I’m struggling myself,” he admitted.

He suggested taking a look at fashion blogger and journalist Martin Hansson for inspiration on how to dress. 

“Do NOT use bright colours,” Felix added.

Birkenstocks with socks. Photo: Carl-Olof Zimmerman/TT

Footwear

Most of those we asked said that Swedes are a fan of white trainers, most commonly Stan Smiths or Vagabonds.

With the shoes being popular all year round for men and women, this can cause issues at house parties – as Swedes take off their shoes when they come inside.

This inevitably results in confused guests at the end of the night trying to figure out just which pair of white trainers belongs to them – and trying to find one missing shoe the next day because someone accidentally walked away with one of yours is more common than you might think. 

Vans trainers are also popular amongst more alternative crowds (black of course). At work, dress shoes are popular in the winter and loafers or ballerinas in the summer.

In the summer months, you’re likely to see Birkenstock sandals on men and women. Most Swedes wear Birkenstocks without socks – unless they’re off to do their laundry in their building’s tvättstuga.

Birkenstocks are also popular as indoor shoes all-year-round, both at home and at work. It is common to have a “no outdoor shoes” policy in gyms, schools and some offices. This is to avoid bringing a lot of dirt indoors, especially in the winter months when there is snow, rain, grit and salt on the streets.

H&M’s then-CEO Rolf Eriksen wears colourful socks at a press conference in 2006. Photo: Björn Larsson Ask/SvD/SCANPIX/TT

Don’t forget the socks!

As you often take your shoes off indoors in Sweden, your socks are visible.

This has led to an unexpected trend for colourful socks with interesting patterns, which are a great way to break the monotone of neutral colours and conformity by expressing your personality – in a lagom way, of course.

A pair of colourful socks or a playful pattern will get you noticed and likely be a conversation starter at a dinner party.

What’s your best advice for dressing like a Swede? Let us know!

This article is based on the responses we received from Swedes and foreigners in Sweden on what they think you should wear if you want to follow Swedish fashion trends.

If you have any tips of your own which you think we’ve left out, let us know! You can comment on this article, send us an email at [email protected], or get in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: @thelocalsweden

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