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July in Europe - a quick look at Scandinavian Style & Design

Things are starting to feel almost normal again! I am happy to write to you from the other side of the pond. For the first time in two years, I'm back spending a month in my native Sweden, and loving every minute of it.

And since this is the place where my style interest was born, I wanted to report back to you on some of the trends and influences I see over here in a little series I'm calling "July in Europe."

First off, I wanted to go "back to my roots." You have probably heard the term "Scandinavian Design," but might not know exactly what it stands for. Pretty remarkable that this small region in the very northern part of Europe became such a big influence in design world wide.

Quick background story:

After visiting his royal comrade Louis XIV in Versailles, France, King Gustav III of Sweden desperately wanted his capital Stockholm to be known as the "Paris of the north." Considering the Swedish lifestyle and the natural resources on-hand, the King started a design movement called the Gustavian style, which was the Scandinavian interpretation of the French Neoclassicism. Lighter colors as an antidote to the long dark winters, and light woods since our country was covered in oak and birch forests.

The Scandinavian design has always had an emphasis on practicality - form needs to follow function, and clean simple lines are easier to care for.

In other words, we're simple folks!

Therefore, Scandinavian design evolved in the 1930's towards a Mid-Century Modern style, where the human form and how it could best interact with an object was and still is the leading factor.

So, simple, clean design where form follows function, made by simple folks - that's Scandinavian design in a nutshell!

Although, I'm sure "simple" is not the word that comes to mind when assembling a bookshelf or table from a little furniture store called IKEA! Yes, it's Swedish and all the weird names of their products are in Swedish.

So if you need translation, or assembly help, let me know! I consider myself a black belt:)

Let’s talk Hygge

Ok, that was the history portion of Scandinavian Design. Let’s move on to present time - the Scandinavian interior design trends right now.

But before I jump in, I need to teach you one other super important aspect of Scandinavian life (yes, you will thank me when you can nonchalantly insert the word in a conversation at a cocktail party in a not too distant future). The word is Hygge.

It’s actually a Danish and Norwegian word, not Swedish, but hey, we have to throw our neighboring countries a bone as well (I mean, we already have IKEA, ABBA, H&M, Smorgasbord, Pippi Longstocking, Volvo, Saab, Great Garbo, Ingrid Bergman and Alexander Skarsgard….)

The word Hygge comes from an Old Norse word, “hugga,” which means to comfort or console. This is also the source of the English word “hug,” and that connection echoes in the way “hygge” is used today. Hygge is all about warmth, comfort, and closeness – all the feelings you get from a hug.

In Denmark, Hygge is more than a word - it is a lifestyle. The idea of hygge is as fundamental to Danes as freedom is to Americans. It might also be one of the reasons happiness economists rate Denmark as the happiest country in the world, in spite of a wet, chilly climate where it rains for nearly half the year.

Since English has no word for hygge, it has to be explained. Country Living describes hygge as “a feeling of cozy contentment and well-being through enjoying the simple things in life,” and as you learned in last week's email, us Scandinavians are simple folks, so this comes pretty natural to us! Examples of the “hygge life” tend to share five main features:

  • Comfort

  • Companionship

  • Relaxation

  • Connection to nature

  • Simplicity

After a year of being isolated due to the pandemic, I think the hygge life is more relevant and appealing than ever before, regardless of where you live in the world. Many of us have reevaluated what’s important to us and the thought of living in comfortable spaces (and clothes!), gathering with loved ones, enjoying nature's bounty, and simplifying our lives sounds very attractive.

Over the past 10-15 years, interiors in Scandinavia were very bright and stark. The color palette was white-on-white with a few touches of gray. Clean and bright? Definitely. Cozy? Not so much.

What I’m seeing today is a shift towards warmth in both color, materials, and accents. It’s all about soft, comfortable spaces that invite conversation and relaxation. Bringing the outside in, and the inside out. Still very much modern and innovative, but with a clear direction towards a more hygge lifestyle - slowing down and enjoying life.

However, for many Americans, the problem is time - time to slow down. As supposed to Scandinavians that have on average 5 weeks paid vacation yearly, the U.S. is a very fast-paced society where everyone seems to be busy all the time.

But this hectic lifestyle is exactly what makes hygge perfect! It forces you to slow down and relax. And if Denmark is any example, we’ll all be happier for it!

We’re doing a little hygge ourselves on our vacation. Lots of time with friends and family, eating (a lot!), and taking advantage of nature with the beautiful weather. Skipping all the to-go's - sitting down and enjoying it!

What ways can you think of to bring some hygge into your own life?

But since I look at style from an integrated view, it’s time to talk fashion!

After learning about the down to earth, simplistic, comfortable, and cozy ways of the Scandinavians, I bet you ask yourself:

Can Hygge and Fashion coexist?

Interestingly enough, this part of the world that's very small in size, is very big on fashion impact. Think of Scandinavia as “the little engine that could!” Ever heard of a little company called H&M? Yep, it’s Swedish.

As we learned earlier regarding Scandinavian interior design is very practical, straight forward, and “fuzz-free”, and a lot of that is true for the fashion as well, which could be defined as laid-back, sophisticated, uncomplicated and easy to wear.

Contrary to common belief, Scandinavians are not all blond, tall Vikings. The area is actually a melting pot with diverse fashion cultures, and a huge mix of clothing styles — from the minimalist, chic looks that originally caught the eyes of the world, to the edgy eclectic street wear of more recent years.

But there are a few particular fashion trends that Scandinavians do well, which have become synonymous with the region:

  • Less is More:

As you know by now, this is very much a part of the cultural roots. You don’t need to shout to be heard. This chic and modern fashion trend usually results in an effortlessly cool look.

When it comes to color, this trend favors monochromatic outfits. Black is obviously popular, but so are white, beige and pastels.

  • Sustainable and ethical fashion choices:

The countries in this region pride themselves on a sustainable approach to living, and this is reflected in many of the Scandinavian clothing brands.

For the most part, it’s not just talk. Some of the different ways that brands are achieving this is by using second-hand and recycled fabrics, using organic materials, and opting for plastic-free packaging where possible. You actually have to pay extra for a shopping bag for your purchase in most stores in Sweden today! So “bring your bag” doesn’t just apply to grocery stores - it’s for all your shopping needs.

  • Layers are your friend:

Because of the weather, Scandinavians have mastered the use of layering for both practicality and style.

The rules are pretty flexible, because it’s more dependent on weather than a style statement. It’s important to consider comfort and warmth, especially in winter, and to consider how each layer of the outfit will look if the layer above is removed.

The layering effect can also blur the lines between masculine and feminine. Scandinavian fashion industry challenge gender stereotypes, with many brands opting for a more fluid and unisex approach to style.

  • “These boots are made for walking”:

You know how important nature and the outdoors is to this culture and everyday living. For many cities and towns, bikes and walking are the favorite ways to get around.

Therefore, fashion choices reflect this need for practicality, which is why you’ll often see chic outfits paired with sneakers or casual boots. They like to look good, but they want to feel comfortable at the same time.

It doesn’t mean Scandinavians won’t wear killer heels, but you will see them in a tote bag or basket in the front of the bike. As a matter of fact, Scandinavians (like the Japanese) never wear outdoor shoes inside! You take them off before entering someone’s home, and for more festive occasions, change into your “indoor shoes” for a chic, yet “germ-free” look.

What I spy with my little eye

Of course, these trends are more generic and broad, so I want to give you the “seen on the street” report from this part of the world. What are women actually wearing right now?

As mentioned above, Scandinavian fashion can be a little gender neutral, which often results in boxier shapes - and if you are a style client of mine, you know how I feel about boxy shapes! It’s a no-no. Does absolutely nothing for any body shape.

BUT, I’m happy to report that I’ve spotted way more pronounced waists, belts, and shape friendly options than I've seen in a long time! I guess they must have listened to me?! There’s also an emphasis on flower patterns and femininity, that we’re seeing over here in the US as well.

And the big shoulders and sleeves are here to stay (at least for now)! One of my personal favorite trends in a long time. An exaggerated, defined shoulder can be very flattering for many shapes, to balance out hips and make waists look smaller. And the oversized sleeves are a fun detail to make an ordinary top or t-shirt look a little more interesting.

That’s it my friend - time to go back Stateside. I hope you have enjoyed learning about the background of Scandinavian design and style, and what it looks like today.

One thing I know for sure - you can take a girl out of Scandinavia, but you can never take Scandinavia out of a girl.

Until next time,

Chic Hygge Happens!

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