Why we can’t get enough of Scandinavian style

A new book by Danish It Girl Pernille Teisbaek gets to the root of our love affair with Scandinavian fashion, writes Annmarie O’Connor.
Why we can’t get enough of Scandinavian style

FASHION is a fickle business. Those who survive its whims either cut their cloth to suit the mood of the moment or possess an ineffable DNA that defies seasonal trends. Those that thrive understand their ‘woman’ — the driving force for a designer; the alchemical weapon that elicits both inspiration and admiration. If she happens to be Scandi or French, all the better.

Just ask Pernille Teisbaek. This month marks the release of the Nordic fashion influencer’s debut tome Dress Scandinavian: Style your Life and Wardrobe the Danish Way. In it the blogger and stylist offers tips on mastering cool minimalism with relative ease. With over 34 million Google search results for ‘dress like a Scandinavian woman’ (and Teisbaek’s 477k Instagram followers) the commercial appeal is obvious. Not to mention, the Copenhagen native’s breezy daily outfit posts (think Céline trainers, Ganni dress, vintage Hermès bag).

Pernille Teisbaek gives tips on mastering cool Scandi minimalism in her new book. Picture: Cindy Ord/Getty Images
Pernille Teisbaek gives tips on mastering cool Scandi minimalism in her new book. Picture: Cindy Ord/Getty Images

But she’s not alone. This summer, French model, aristocrat and former muse to Karl Lagerfeld Ines de la Fressange reprised her bestselling style guide Parisian Chic as an illustrated look book, offering readers a visual how-to for looking gallic on-the-go. Oh, let’s not forget her 2018 weekly desk planner for stylish scheduling. With over 34 million Google search results for ‘dress like a French woman’ (and Fressange’s 209k Instagram followers) the fashion math is equally obvious. Scandi or French — when it comes to matters of taste, we want what they’re having and we’re willing to pay for it. The question is, why?

Simple. The confluence of social media and mid-market brands (aka not too pricey) has given style seekers the option of wardrobe staples that boast equal parts frisson and function; comfort and cool factor. Ask any Irish woman to open her wardrobe and you’ll probably spot a COS dress, Acne Studios jeans or a selection of tops and jackets from Sandro and Maje. Oh, and a pair of Isabel Marant ‘Dicker’ boots, always. Although geographically and aesthetically distant, both Scandi and French styles share a commonality of ease and idiosyncratic chic. What’s more, their design differences make them unlikely but oh-so-lovely partners in crime. It’s an alchemy in itself and one that pays retail dividends.

Isabel Marant ‘Dicker’ ankle boots, Brown Thomas, €420.
Isabel Marant ‘Dicker’ ankle boots, Brown Thomas, €420.

In order to reap the sartorial sweet spot, a spot of dress code decoding is in order. Here’s the deal. Most Scandi brands are traditionally known for their rigorous lines and clean, often oversized, silhouettes.

Swedish labels like COS, a high street fixture in Ireland since 2010; Acne Studios, known for its cool cult classics; and playfully androgynous designer Anne Sofie Black — a favourite with Rihanna and the Crown Princess of Sweden, are at once cerebral, artfully reinventive and all capable of giving convention a razor-sharp shake.

Danish labels, on the other hand, elicit a more coquettish edge. Bruns Baazar, Day Birger, Ganni and Baum und Pfedergarten have given rise to the cult of the ‘Copenghagen Girl’: a new strand of Scandi chic — equally directional but more often done on a bike over cobblestones. Think trainers paired with pleated skirts and quirky knits – more mix-n-match than minimal.

French fashion boasts a similar appetite for the clean and understated albeit with a delicious blend of classic and quixotic; off-duty and opulence. The capsule? A love-worn leather jacket, Claude Pierlot Breton tee and Chanel 2.55 bag; tailored Maje suit and box fresh trainers; or an A.P.C. trenchcoat layered over, well, anything. The key? Unstudied but always noticed; apparently effortless but polished.

Let’s not overlook the lifestyle appeal. From the cosy charm of ‘Hygge’ (a Danish and Norwegian moniker for the snug quality leads to a feeling of well-being) with its plush cashmere socks and roll neck sweaters; to the delicious contradiction of guilt-free indulgence and perfect moderation mastered by the French ‘fille’ (OTT is not in the French lexicon), we get to not only look the part but feel the part. Combine this with a bevy of social media muses that parlay their regional affiliations (Helena Christensen and Alexa Chung are GanniGirls; Gigi Hadid and Kristen Stewart show love for Sandro Paris and, before long, we all want to be part of the style tribe.

For stylist Colm Corrigan, the allure is more practical than poetic. “All of those brands have a strong handwriting — people think if I go to that brand I know the look I’m getting; I know what I’m going away with.” In a market of infinite choice, this cannot be overlooked, especially when buyer’s remorse looms so large.

COS, the label Irish women can’t get enough of.
COS, the label Irish women can’t get enough of.

“For instance, with Scandi brands, they have their standout pieces but they also have a good level of basic pieces with a simple design format like the white shirt that COS does every single season, the amazing quality of Acne’s jeans,” he says. “It’s something that doesn’t frighten people. It’s not like a Gucci over-encrusted embellished shoe that people are afraid to wear or don’t know how to put it into their wardrobe.” Solid point. We’ve all been there. We’ve all done that. We’ve all had to donate that ornate tricky trend piece to charity. So, have the sartorial scars of impulse ‘need it now’ buys led us to a happy fashion medium?

Aisling Kirwan, proprietor or Cork’s Paper Dolls boutique, seems to think so. “I’ve always had a fondness for Scandi brands,” she explains, “mainly because they’re not copied on the high street.” Kirwan, whose buying is quite earthy and grounded, has stocked Swedish labels like Baum und Pfedergarten in the past to much success but found the appeal of Denmark’s 13-year old label Day Birger (worn by the Crown Princess of Denmark) an instant winner. “Day Birger has the Scandi DNA with a bit of opulence to it. It’s quite effortless but with a bit of quirk and a luxe feel.” It’s this symbiosis that has endeared Danish breakout brand Ganni to the masses with Irish department store Arnotts stocking an edit of dresses, jumpsuits and blouses for those with a Nordic nous.

Arnotts’ fashion buying director Valerie O’Neill explains. “It was the personality and attitude of the brand that attracted us to Ganni. The dresses have been really popular and are so versatile as you can pair them with a chunky knit and trainers but you can also wear the same dress with a pair of heels to an event. You don’t have to choose - you can look both cool and feminine, while being effortless and comfortable.” Is this the elusive alchemy? Not having to choose.

If French designer Isabel Marant is any indication, then maybe so. The cult blend of Gallic nous and breezy bohemia (think easy-to-wear tailoring mixed with ethnic accents and rock ‘n’ roll separates); with diffusion line Etoile and a sell-out collaboration with Swedish high street chain H&M has made Marant the go-to uniform for fashion editors, celebrities and models-off-duty. A successful global brand with 20 years’ tenure that, in 2013 alone, generated €150 million in revenue —– this is no flash in the pan. “She was the insurgence of a new Chanel,” explains Corrigan, “the new revival albeit slightly boho. She had those buy-in pieces that people wanted like the cowboy boot, skinny jeans and boucle tweed jacket,” comparing their popularity to that of Chanel’s icon Breton top — fuss-free, forever staples.

The evidence is clear. We’re a pragmatic lot at heart with a lot of love for wardrobe heroes that boast transformative and talismanic potential (think Diana Prince by day, Wonder Woman by night). The fact that Scandi and French brands allude to this mettle makes them all the more intriguing. Let’s face it. Without mystery, there’s no desire. Without desire, there’s no constant craving. It’s this insatiable feeling that turns trends into movements, lights the fire of fantasy and allows us to bask in the glow of the woman who makes everything look oh-so-easy. I’ll have what she’s having, please — in every colour.

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