In summer 2019, the Swedish Fashion Council kicked tradition up its arse and cancelled Swedish Fashion Week, just two months before it was set to happen.
It was a radical move that pre-empted even more radicalism: the SFC had fresh goals in mind, including prioritising sustainability, working out ways to navigate the “major challenges” of the fashion industry (too many designers, too many clothes, too many shows) and, to quote Jennie Rosen, CEO of the SFC, “put[ting] the past to rest”.
They weren’t messing around. While the pandemic slowed the implementation and impact of the SFC’s big changes, they finally arrived last week with a brand-new event. The two-day Stockholm [X]perience put the city’s emerging brands on a pedestal, waved a flag for the more established ones, and proved that a tunnel vision focus on Paris, London, Milan and New York as the ultimate sartorial gatekeepers is an old school mindset.
Pop your head above the parapet of fashion’s tradition strongholds and you’ll see how cities all over Europe – and the world – are innovating.
At a talk at A House – a multidimensional brutalist building in that houses exhibitions, parties and the like – Isabella Burley, founder of Climax and ex-editor of Dazed, spoke on the decentralisation of fashion, a hopeful idea where style is no longer limited to the constraints of The Big Four. It’s a conversation we need to have, an anti-elitist ideal that, she explained, she recently saw in Mexico City, where young creative heads all over the Mexican capital are setting up shop, influenced by the heady culture, sexy climate and sweaty raves dotted all about the teeming central American metropolis.
But whereas cities like Mexico City – and London, Paris, and New York – have the dancefloor to inform their subversive styles, Stockholm doesn’t, not really. Clubs are barely open during the week, and those on the weekends just about stay open past 3am.
That didn’t stop perfumier Haisam Mohammed’s brand, Unifrom, being birthed in clubs, though. His roll-on scents are informed by the tower blocks he grew up in, the memorable smells of food, culture and youth as opposed to the “botanical gardens I’ve never stepped foot in”. He’d take a load of his perfumes, which are handily compact and stick-like, to clubs when he was younger, and “deal them out” on the dancefloors to his friends and fellow ravers.
The lack of a club backdrop doesn’t seem to affect the styles seen out and about and worn by the city’s youth, either. Those aren’t far off from the looks you’d see in the darkened corridors of a BDSM club in an abandoned Berlin warehouse.
Eytys seems to be the spearheader. The unisex, Stockholm-based brand was set up by designers Max Schiller and Jonathan Hirschfeld in 2013. If you happened to notice trouser legs getting wider over the past few years, amongst the moody fashion kids skulking around Soho wearing stomper boots and leather jackets, Eytys has most probably had an influence on them. They’ve held a store on Brewer Street in central London for four years, and have evolved a subculture of their own, inspired by those of the ’80s and ’90s: namely the 150bpm of Rotterdam’s gabber scene, the shaven heads of Berlin’s gay scene, the razor-sharp postmodernism of Helmut Lang.
Only making shoes at the beginning, over nine years, Eytys has evolved into a sexy full-wardrobe. In its industrially-inspired stores with cement floors and ceilings, the brand offers huge tailored jackets undercut with casual hoodies, acid-wash denim and a whole lotta leather, not to mention the unmistakable influence of sex in mini-skirts, ribbed bodycons and hot pink go-go boots. They all speak to young people who go out on Friday night and don’t come back ’til Sunday evening – despite, or because of, the lack of a vibrant clubbing scene in their home city.
Call it the Demnafication, but Balenciaga’s influence could be seen all over Stockholm. Not necessarily in shops, but certainly on the streets. In a city where extreme weather conditions can often leverage personal style, not so dissimilar to New York, Stockholm’s youth wrap up in XXL puffers, oversized jumper sleeves poking out from armholes and scarves wrapped around the neck multiple times. Like dressing for battle with a polar bear (and wearing tiny black sunglasses, for extra attitude).
One morning, a bald man in his sixties stomped past in a floor-length brown fur coat, leggings and monster workwear boots, while not far behind him, another man in a smart tailored suit wore bright yellow leather gloves while carrying a jar of pickles. An odd, satisfying paradox pushing against the quaintness of Stockholm’s cute architecture and polite standards.
Even if Stockholm’s brands don’t appear overtly riotous, there are little winks of seduction – partly influenced by the city’s biggest fashion subverter, and success, in the past few decades: Acne Studios. Case in point: while Our Legacy’s foundations are in its clean-cut tailoring and leather boots, its schoolboy shorts, gender-fluid styling and kinky leather trousers point to office-wear after dark – a moment when the shirt and tie comes off.
Rave Review, one of Stockholm’s emerging brands with a cult-like following, went for an all-out clash of colours for its show at Stockholm [X]perience: quaint florals splattered with lime green, fabrics layered over one another, a patchwork of recycled materials that have granted the brand a “great” environment rating for its use of eco-friendly materials that limit chemicals, water and wastewater in production.
And, having recently shown at Copenhagen Fashion Week, Stockholm-based Jade Cropper presented her take on unconventional femininity in multifunctional pieces with inventive openings and killer textures.
Whether Stockholm’s style is informed by practicality, a pushing against tradition, or the longing for an all-night rave, it’s a city that’s moving to the future. By whatever progressive means necessary – such as cancelling a fashion week at the last minute – the industry has no choice but to take action at this point, when there are mountains “the height of Everest” being piled into landfill every seven minutes. In that regard, the Swedish Fashion Council’s go-slow is quick-thinking radicalism from which The Big Four could do well to take the notes.
Certainly the city’s youth, or at least a large part of them, are informed by that spirit of rebellion. It looks good on them. And it looks like tomorrow.