Denmark, Sweden and Norway are quite different. But 11 Cool Nordic Superbrands You May Know shows a shared sense of cool and simple approach to life. To the outside world we may be the same, however, our countries have different cultures, history, climates and landscapes. The Swedes are great skiers while Denmark is a flat country. The Norwegians have lots of oil, while Sweden’s most famous export of the moment may well be ABBA. And Denmark is famous for its bacon!
But we share a sense of pared down colours and accessories which reflects our simple but focused approach to life.
Here we talk about some of the most famous companies which have come to define this cool Scandi aesthetic over the years. Some of those brands are new. The Nordic countries have seen a massive boom in the design space over the last 20 years. There’s fashion, jewellery and watch designers, chefs, furniture and interior design, TV, film and art.
Cool Nordic superbrands: The Swedish Supercar Koenigsegg
The doors open upwards, as in many other supercars. To shut them all we need to do is touch it gently with a fingertip. However heavy the door may be, it slides gently back into place. The design of the Koenigsegg car also sits neatly with the Scandi design principle ‘less is more’. It’s luxurious with clean lines, understated yet overpowering. A beast of a car.
The car is the equivalent to Haute Couture in fashion with components made in-house in Sweden. Car enthusiast Christian von Koenigsegg founded the brand in 1994, inspired by a Norwegian animated car movie.
The car is not just a boys toy – we’ve been up close and personal with a Koenigsegg car at the Salon Privé car show at the Hurlingham Club in London some years ago and it is a work of magic.
Noma: the world’s best restaurant
Named the best restaurant in the world three times in 2010-12 and near the top spot since then, Noma is the painfully chic restaurant in Copenhagen. It’s famous for its “fried ants” or rather unique take on Nordic cuisine. In fact, its name Noma is short for Nordisk Mad (in English = Nordic Food), but the founders have virtually re-invented Danish dishes all together. It was chef Rene Redzepi and Claus Meyer of Noma who called on colleagues from all Nordic countries to develop a ‘New Nordic Cuisine’.
This New Nordic Cuisine would promote ‘purity, simplicity and freshness’. The restaurant is perhaps even more famous for the waiting list in getting a table. Months! In fact, we’ve stood outside watching as people from Hong Kong and London arrive without reservations, hoping for a cancellation – and be turned away.
Pandora – The wildly popular jewelry brand
In terms of sales it was surpassed only by Cartier and Tiffany & Co, that’s despite Pandora being considerably less expensive than the two high end brands. Yet, for an affordable brand, Pandora’s success has rested hugely on the founders’ stubborn pursuit of quality. Finding ways to combine quality with affordability plays into the Scandi ethos and it has worked miracles for this brand.
And although they’ve occasionally struggled with brand positioning, Pandora has made affordable stackable jewellery chic to wear with high end fashion labels. To start your own collection of Pandora charms check this 925 Sterling Silver bracelet by CLICKING HERE. Since then, a multitude of stackable jewellery brands have sprung up and done well.
ABBA : Super 70s pop band
Of the cool Nordic superbrands you may have heard of, ABBA is perhaps the most “of the moment” with their new virtual concert in London. The band, made up of two couples, came to prominence when they won the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo in 1974. The song has been voted as the best in the competition’s history. But they stopped in the early 80s when their sound went out of fashion – it was considered a bit naff and kitch. Still, ABBA is a must whenever the Scandis enjoy downtime together.
Their heavily glitzy, disco outfits didn’t move with the trends – and the couples were splitting. But people were still bopping along to their songs like Mamma Mia, Super Truper and Take a Chance on Me well into the 90s. The band’s catalogue of No 1s – sharp witty lyrics and stunningly good dance tunes – could not be ignored. In 1999 the musical Mamma Mia based on their songs hit the West End theatre in London. It became the 7th longest running show in history. And a film followed starring Merryll Streep and former 007 Pierce Brosnan as well as Oscar winner Colin Firth.
Abba is up there with IKEA in terms of brand recognition. But millennials who will no doubt have danced to a few of their tunes may not recognise the distinct look. The quartet wore shiny skirts and shirts, flared trousers and platforms. The band defined a decade and given the sheer volume of top hits, their story and classic lyrics, they will be part of our culture forever.
Cool Scandis and their Superbrands
Youth culture is thriving and Scandi millennials have choices in education, work and leisure activities which just didn’t exist a couple of decades ago. It shows in street cafes, restaurants and concert arenas and museums. While their parents were, arguably, part of the least fashion conscious generation of all time – dressed in ‘uniform’ torn jeans, long shirts and a scarf or jumper thrown over their shoulders – today’s twenty and thirty-something professionals are trend setters. Check the cafes and restaurants and work places and observe the cool, innovative dress sense.
The young Scandis are no longer afraid of individualism. They thrive on experimenting. But while the fashion and interior design space has boomed in the last two decades, the essence of Scandinavian style remains the same. It’s founded on the famous Scandi ethos of the minimal, the modest, the understated. Here are 11 of our most favourite Scandinavian superbrands in no particular order – some go back decades while others are new, but all are available abroad.
Bruuns Bazaar – Cool Danish Fashion Brand
The coolest of cool Scandinavia – and the first Danish fashion brand to show on the official calendar at Paris Fashion Week. Bruuns Bazaar’s theme is ‘relaxed elegance’, ‘cool comfort’ and ‘Scandinavian simplicity’ – tapping right into the Scandi psyche.
The label designs both men’s and women’s collections and accessories but the overall look is androgynous. No frills, strong natural colours, casual rather than glam, and a sharp cut. The millennial international is the perfect customer.
IKEA – The most Super of Scandi Superbrands
Ikea, the Swedish home furnishing and decor brand par excellence is, if not the largest in the world, then one them. How the brand has grown! We do remember the box book cases and simple studio self-assembly furniture of the early days… Today, the super Scandi style mega stores have not only an incredible collection of everything you need in the home. But, also, the products they sell are beautifully adapted to the local market, while staying true to their Scandi heritage of simple lines and design.
Founder Ingvar Kamprad was only 17 years old when he founded Ikea in 1943 – the letters stand for his initials IK and E for the name of the farm where he grew up and A for his hometown. Modernist, simplicity (makes pieces easier to assemble), sustainability and affordability are keywords in the Ikea universe.
Furthermore, the company has not shied away from controversial moves. Particularly its progressive advertising campaigns have caused a stir and the sheer size of the company has led to some plans that attracted controversy.
Least known: Tiger of Sweden
Is this the least well-known of our Scandi superbrands? Possibly, but it is one we’ll all hear more about in the future, no doubt. Tiger of Sweden is over 100 years old. It now has stores in several countries, including the United Kingdom and Canada. The label, which started as a menswear fashion brand, also taps into the Nordic tradition of quality and affordability. It democratised tailoring, and opened it up to men from all walks of life. Style with purpose was its mantra.
Given its lengthy history and importance to the Swedish textile industry, the company has seen its fair share of drama. When the company CEO died suddenly in 1961 the government stepped in to run the business to help rescue and stabilise the country’s textile industry.
In 1997 Tiger of Sweden launched a collection for women – more Armani than Oscar de la Renta. One of their charcoal grey pencil skirts is our office “uniform” – super slick, classy, pared down yet flattering.
By Malene Birger – Strong Fashion Branding
Fashion lovers in the United Kingdom will be familiar with the brand By Malene Birger – it followed the other label Day Birger et Mikkelsen in 2003. By Malene Birger a glamorous Danish label but it is a typically Scandi kind of glamour – anti It-bags, well thought out wardrobes, calm colours that travel well. “Intelligent but joyful chic” is their mantra – perhaps they should change that to intelligent AND joyful…we can be both. Featured regularly in magazines including Vogue and Harper’s.
The clothes are aimed at women who appreciate fashion but value style above all. And that’s where the trend has been going. As brands start to embrace all aspects of life from clothes to bags to home decor and outdoor accessories, we’re no longer judged on a single pair of trousers or dress. How we wear it is now more important than what we wear – that is a welcome development in the fashion world over the past 20-30 years – in Scandinavia it was ever thus.
Georg Jensen : iconic home and jewellery designs
Another Scandi superbrand that has been around for years – since 1904. Georg Jensen by Appointment to the Queen of Denmark, it is a solid luxury brand and industry leader. Georg Jensen is famed for its ultra sleek designs, almost painfully minimalist and unfussy. Particularly its women’s watches which function as bracelets – no leather strap and no clasp, only a little gap to slide the wrist through.
Also the Georg Jensen distinctive candle sticks, as shown on the company’s homepage, define its style of the minimal and the unusual. It is almost a 3D brand, producing jewellery, watches and homeware…but no fashion or accessories yet though. We wouldn’t be surprised if sooner rather than later we started seeing Georg Jensen scarves and handbags. If and when, they would be magnificently unique and so understated they would stand out.
Bestseller – Watch this Space
Here’s a bonus brand – another Danish power house of a brand. It it family owned and has its HQ near Lego. But the fashion empire Bestseller, much like the clothes, it has positioned itself under the radar as it has grown over the last couple of decades. One of the reasons we hear and read a lot about the fashion brand is the extra curricular activities of the Holch Povlsen family behind it. They are now among the biggest landowners in Great Britain, having snapped up a number of castles in Scotland and are also planning to build Western Europe’s tallest building in the small town of Brande near their offices.
But their spending sprees are tied into a wish to preserve buildings and land. And with that back to the fashion brand Bestseller – fashion is “looking for answers to significant sustainability questions”. The company is about climate positive, fair for all and circular by design, according to its own website. It has 2,700 chain stores across 38 markets. It is a huge brand.
But what are the clothes like? Apart from sustainable and fashion forward. It has a number of brands under its wing including Vero Moda, Vila, Only, Only & Sons, Jack & Jones and more. It’s “affordable fashion with a refined aesthetic and Scandinavian soul,” according to the brand itself. And there’s jewelry. Read also our blog Danish Modern: 4 Pieces that Changed the World on design icons which have inspired homemakers the world over for decades.
Scandi Superbrand for the Millennial Generation
The labels are perfect for the millennial – again emphasis is on affordable quality. We’ve spoken to former and current employees and there is a clear work ethic among staff with expectations at all levels to excel and create. Great opportunities are given to those who are inspired and hard working irrespective of their education, background or where they come from. It promotes an environment of creativity which feeds into their brand going forward. We’ll also hear much more from them in the future, surely.