Forget the glitz and ostentatiousness of the 2000s – and the 1980s for that matter. Luxury as we know it has changed.
In 2019, new markers of status have emerged: authenticity, sustainability and inclusivity are what consumers are craving, an item no longer needs to be expensive to have cachet and the shopping experience is as equally prized as the purchase. While traditional markets try to make sense of the shift, Scandinavian fashion and beauty brands have quietly emerged as leaders in the new era of mindful consumerism.
Scandinavia is famous around the world for democratic design that marries form with function. “Scandi fashion reflects our lifestyle quite to the point,” says Cecilie Thorsmark, CEO of Copenhagen Fashion Week. Thorsmark credits the imagery produced by the region’s street style photographers and Instagram influencers as opening a global window into the Scandinavian mindset. “All of a sudden, images of that effortlessly chic woman biking through the city in heels was everywhere,” she says. “There’s a sense of freedom and a democratic vibe in those images, an appealing lifestyle that many understandably would want to tap into.”
Imbued with feminist design sensibilities, Scandinavian women’s-wear labels have grown in parallel with social media and its democratization of fashion, stealing the limelight from their fashion-capital predecessors. To name a few available to Canadian consumers, there’s Stine Goya, which dressed Michelle Obama in a millennial pink suit for the Copenhagen stop of her book tour in April. At Want boutiques, you can find Rodebjer, the label worn by actor Busy Philipps while testifying for women’s rights on Capitol Hill in May. And then there’s Denmark-based Ganni, a label with loyal followers who tag their Instagram shots with #gannigirls.
They’ve caught the attention of Tyler Franch, the fashion director at Hudson’s Bay, which carries both Ganni and Stine Goya and, in the fall, will be hosting a Scandi-themed fashion pop-up at select locations in Toronto and Vancouver. “That flavour of dressing is unique to what we can find in Canada,” he says.
Part of that unique appeal comes down to the inclusive approach to gender of many Scandi brands. Stockholm-based Hope, available through Ssense.com, uses a double sizing system where all items in its men’s and women’s collections are marked with both sizes. “For us, style always comes before gender,” says creative director Frida Bard. Her non-binary approach is one she shares with Swedish fragrance makers Byredo and Argonist, both of which exclusively produce gender-neutral scents.
“The fashion industry can take on the role of being a progressive guiding star in more ways than trends – building a more diverse, equal and inclusive society,” Bard says. “We as an industry have large platforms and with that comes responsibilities.”
Indeed, responsibility is a thread that runs throughout the Scandinavian fashion industry. Based in Stockholm, H&M is a pioneer in making sustainable fashion affordable and has the goal of becoming fully circular and renewable by 2030. It introduced its code of conduct in 1997, which formed the basis of its efforts to improve operations at all points on the supply chain, including a fair living wage strategy for all textile workers.
“Sometimes we end up in this discussion that just because something is affordable, it means it’s less sustainable,” says Anna Gedda, the brand’s head of sustainability. “I would say it’s really the other way around. Sustainable fashion should be something that everyone should be able to afford. It should not be something that’s exclusive or only available to small groups of people.”
To that end, a big piece of the sustainability pie is consumer behaviour, including what happens at a product’s end-of-life stage. Eradicating the prevailing buy-and-toss mentality is what inspired Danish makeup artist Kirsten Kjaer Weis when she started her namesake beauty brand in 2010. Each of her organic products, which are sold at The Detox Market, come in refillable metal packaging designed by Marc Atlan. “I really wanted it to be sustainable and ethical. It proved difficult to tie that in with luxury because, typically, materials that are recyclable also look recyclable, or recycled,” she says.
That aesthetic of elegant simplicity extends to Scandinavian beauty routines, a typical skin-care-first, no-makeup look that’s since been popularized in North America by digital-native Glossier. “It’s a less-is-more, minimalist approach,” says Kjaer Weis, who shares the point of view with Lars Fredriksson, founder of the Swedish skincare brand Verso, which is carried at Holt Renfrew. “You don’t have to use multiple products in order to achieve the results that you’re aiming for,” he says. “We are less is more, quality versus quantity.”