Minimal and Functional Design
What You Need to Know About Scandinavian Style
Over the past decade, Scandinavian designers have carved out a distinct place for themselves in the fashion world, incorporating elements of Nordic design — clean lines, simplicity, functionality, minimalism — into their collections. The rise of brands based in Denmark and Sweden coincides with the New Nordic movement, which gained momentum in the early 2000s, thanks, in part, to the opening of the Øresund Bridge — which connects Copenhagen, Denmark, and Malmö, Sweden — in July of 2000. This physical connection ushered in a new era of cultural growth and exchange, with leading proponents in a range of creative fields (Danish chef René Redzepi, Swedish novelist Stieg Larsson, Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson).
Scandinavian clothing brands were primarily rooted, in part, in the world of denim. In 2001, Nudie Jeans, a Gothenburg-based denim brand, started producing high-end slim-fit jeans. The wide success of the brand inspired others like Cheap Monday, a Stockholm clothing shop founded in 2000, which released its own line of jeans in 2004 (after four years of growth, the company was bought out by Swedish fast-fashion mega-store H&M). Another Stockholm-based brand, Acne Studios, dabbled in small denim releases until 2006, when it released its first full line. Acne, which stands for Ambition to Create Novel Expressions, was originally founded as a graphic design, film and production collective in 1996, but is now widely accepted as one of the quintessential Scandinavian clothing brands. Their line is the definition of refined basics — skinny black jeans, sharply tailored shirts, upscaled sweatshirts, classic jackets — with minimal branding and a muted palette.
In the early years of the new millennium, a number of Scandinavian brands channeled elements of streetwear into their own aesthetics. Wood Wood, a Copenhagen-based brand founded in 2002, built a reputation for blending streetwear and sportswear with fashion. Branded t-shirts and athletic-inspired shorts occupied the same space as clean button-down shirts and crisp trousers in Wood Wood’s collection. In 2005, Our Legacy was founded in Stockholm, and offered a pared-down collection of t-shirts. After expanding to a full line in 2008, the brand has quickly become one of the most well respected in menswear circles, offering modern iterations of classic pieces. Our Legacy’s style isn’t overtly showy, and places strong emphasis on quality textiles. With a similar emphasis on functionality, NN07 was founded in 2007 and built a reputation on minimalist garments, made from the best-quality fabrics.
After seven years of operating as a streetwear boutique in Copenhagen, Norse Projects launched its first line of clothing in 2009. Blending casual elements of streetwear with modern tailoring, the garments made by Norse Projects are simple and functional, understatedly polished. Sweatshirts and chinos, anoraks and oxfords — it’s a label that offers every wardrobe staple in a restrained range of colors.
Though minimalist basics typify the majority of Scandinavian clothing, there are some designers who riff on the norm. Henrik Vibskov, who started his line in 2001, reinterprets menswear staples through the lens of Copenhagen as a multicultural city. His clothing plays with different silhouettes and bold prints regularly, but remains sleek and modern. In 2008, another Copenhagen brand, Han Kjøbenhavn, expanded from eyewear to clothing, blending strong prints and patterns with sharply tailored jackets and shirts. The designs are clean and not overly fussy, but lean more towards fashion than function.
With this collection of New Nordic designers, the clothing ranges from luxury denim to simple knits to printed jackets. Though neutral sweaters and slim-fit pants are the norm, Scandinavian style encompasses a wide swath of garments and inspirations. But, more often than not, the common themes of this clothing center around clean lines backed with quality construction and functionality.