Scandinavian design  was hugely influential throughout the 20th century.  Architect Arne Jacobsen together with Finn Juhl are widely regarded as popularising the ‘Danish Modern’ movement in the 1950’s and 60’s.  This design concept continues to have profound affect on the way we still live our live’s today.  The use of clean – often wooden – lines, the removal of ‘over-design’  and indeed the beginning of minimalism still holds true as a concept in contemporary design of varying mediums.  Fashion at its pinnacle must be viewed as an art form. When design has the power to evoke emotional response then many would argue it becomes art – and fashion is perhaps one of the most accomplished mediums at this. 

Men’s fashion has, until relatively recently been centred around tailoring, meaning that French houses and to a lesser extent, London and Milan were looked upon as centres of what became fairly standard design techniques, until the last few decades of the 20th century.  It was not until the late 1970’s and early 80’s that a divergence from the norm appeared in menswear.  This arguably began with the Antwerp Six – possibly the most influential movement to ever happen in menswear.  Their well documented use of new shape and fabric choices completly altered the face of menswear at the time.  Around the period, Japanese avant-garde designer’s began to make their first forray into the wider market.  Brands such as Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Comme Des Garcons, extended the ‘existentialism’ of the Belgian designer’s, focussing on raw creativity and lifestyle altering trends.

Of course such drastic trend choices do not tend to carry labels of ‘wearability’ – which served as part of the reason for the largely Italian Denim and Sportswear brands of the early 1990’s. Focussing on classical tailoring with modern fabrics, incorporating materials such as denim, labels such as Replay began to emerge.  Furthermore, slightly older brands such as Georgio Armani, diverged into Emporio Armani and Armani Jeans – both of which were aimed at creating youthful collections of easy to wear pieces.  With other sub-labels such as D&G also rising at this time, the pace of menswear was spiraling .  Within the space of 20 years the centres of menswear had moved from :

Paris/ London – Antwerp –  Tokyo – Milan

These early Jean labels were the forerunners of contemporary streetwear.  In the late 1990’s the Hip Hop lifestyle and skateboarding cultures of the USA were extremely influential on streetwear, with brands such as Adidas and Nike creating special designs for such markets, with the later producing the now famed Nike SB.  In the early 2000’s Japanese streetwear ‘popularised’ such styles, introduicng a more colourful and ‘playful’ aspect of such fashions with brands such as BAPE and BBC typifying such trends.  

It is important to add at this junction just why Japan has perhaps held the single most influential force on menswear for the past 30 years.  Until the early 20th century, foreign trade was illegal in Japan, making the country extremely insular.  Of course in modern society Japan is one of the most advanced societies in terms of both technology and culture, however such dramatic advances in the space of 100 years has meant curiosities have developed.  It can be argued that with ‘traditional’ Japan being within two generations, all Japanese design remains true to the country. This has  meant that as western consumers we are captivated with modern products which allow us to glimpse the foreign – suggesting why Japanese menswear has had such huge sway over recent decades.

Now though it can be argued that Scandinavia will be the next geographic region to capture the imagination.  As mentioned in the beginning of this article, the simplicity of Scandanvian design, is a trait which is essential throughout the collections of various designers from this region.  Classic labels such as S.N.S Herring have produced high quality, classic items for many years.  Their renowned durability and simple style choices are part of the reason why such an established brand is being chosen by some of the worlds leading retailers.  At the othe end of the spectrum, brands such as Norse Projects are approaching streetwear with a typically minimalist twist, removing much of the expected graphic quality in exchange for pure design.  Approaching high levels of conceptual design, Wood Wood and Frost Birgens are creating ever widening reverberations, whilst at the avant-garde level Henrik Vibskov is one of many names which can be highlighted as producing exceptional collections.  Such a vast array of design styles at varying price points captures virtually the entire menswear market.  Famed photographer Hedi Slimane encapsulated this sentiment in the recent ‘Danish Youth Project’ Collection, which demonstrated the varying sense of style which is penetrating Copenhagen at this time.

Why then are these brands having such an impact? Good design reacts to Zeitgeist – which is exactly what Scandinvian design is doing just now.  In an age of austerity, people have less of a budget for outlandish and unnecessary purchases which feature extravagant design, therefore high quality ‘staple’ items become ever more required. 

Although it may take another couple of years for these brands, and the others which remain unmentioned to achieve full market penetration, the markers are there, that in a short while, we will be looking ever more to Northern Europe for stlye advice.

2 Responses

  1. Mike

    I think you missed many pioneers and influential movements in menswear such as British tailoring including Saville Row and Burberry for example, Pierre Cardin and the Italian term La Bella Figura. Even though the Antwerp Six (a term which I really hate to describe the designers) were great, they were most powerful in their womenswear not menswear. Menswear only came after the pinnacle of their opposite. In 1987 Dries joined the others to London but it was only until 1991 when he first showed in Paris. I would argue that Fashion in Scandinavia is against their culture. Sweden for example did not take Fashion so seriously as would other cities such as Paris would have had. But now there such a big interest in Fashion yet the region is not immune to fast commercialism and the design of mass-manufacture. Berns launched Sthlm Fashion Week only about three years ago. We recognise many Scandinavian countries for producing great design but their collections are still quite commercial, as close to the Germans. Scandinavia is in danger of losing its identity for making great fashion. Brands like Hope, Whyred and a host of others aren't pushing enough. And the quality of clothes is not on par with the costs. S.N.S Herning may have the necessary machinery but for example in Denmark they are moving more towards R&D and less textiles and manufacturing as said by Rasmussen, the previous Danish Prime Minister.I recommend reading Swedish Fashion: A New Identity from the Swedish Institute. But for new roots in Fashion, look towards Berlin and Vienna.

  2. Mjohnson

    Hedi Slimane put menswear as we know it on the map. We haven't seen anyone else yet, aside from the baggier “workwear” trend, but know clue who started that…