As the world economy shifted from boom time into a recession late last decade, styles changed. Brash, showy wealth was slowly replaced by subtler styles where the quality of design, materials and craftmanship won out against shininess. With it, the clean lines, white space and functional style of Scandinavian design gained in popularity, and premium stores of the likes of Skandium Kensington and Marylebone increased in number. The trend encompasses a whole lifestyle, with nordic concepts from bakeries to coffee houses making their presence known in East London and Covent Garden.
In recent years, I’ve been working with more and more clients in Scandinavia and on a recent trip to the region, I was reminded just how successful those design principles are. The minimalist approach was institutionalised in 1951 with the advent of the Lunning Prize, which was awarded to two Scandinavian designers each year until 1970. Its recipients include Iittala designer Oiva Tikka, Marimekko designer Vuokko Nurmesniemi and, of course, Hans J Wegner, whose beautiful wishbone chairs won the award in 1951 and have been copied ever since. Based on the guiding principle, that beautiful and functional can go together, the appeal is undeniable.
The minimalist approach of Scandinavian design extends beyond consumers, appealing also to retailers. With its clean lines, an efficient use of space and neutral tones, incorporating this design philosophy into floor displays allows consumers to focus completely on the products at hand, undistracted by their surroundings. This was clearly the goal for Bozarthfornell Architects, who have designed a number of Acne Studio’s stunning flagship stores around the world. Using generic stainless steel racks and carefully placed bold detail, the fashion label’s leather and shearling jackets, well-cut denim and progressive tailored pieces reflecting Johansson’s creative take on Scandinavian minimalism are the focus of all attention.
The flagship Pandora store in Copenhagen clearly took a similar approach. With 80 sq m of retail space and offering the company’s entire collection, the store features soft lighting and simple glass display boxes, all eyes are drawn to the brand’s well-known colourful charms, neatly laid. In the walls are inverted cases showing inspiration bracelets with infinite combinations. Located in a corner unit on one of Copenhagen’s main shopping streets, the store is flooded with natural light – another element of Scandinavian design.
The Scandinavian focus on design doesn’t stop at the lifestyle retail space. In Copenhagen, bakery and café concept Lagkagehuset, which will launch in London later this year, the focus is entirely on making the experience enjoyable and luxurious for customers. According to designbrokers.com, it is “based on the idea of providing only the very best in taste, freshness and customer service wrapped in beautiful surroundings – their philosophy since opening.” The timelessness of the design means that the company will not be needing to do any refurbishments anytime soon – proving that an initial investment is really worth it in the long term.
Many of the retailers I met with during my trip displayed the same approach towards their spaces: that the focus of a store should be on the products for sale, and that the surrounding environment should contribute to that and complement those items – rather that distracting customers. Boutiques have taken this route for a long time – we love the way fashion retailer COS displays its pieces on black railings protruding from white background in its Oxford Street store – but the philosophy is making its way into other sectors as well.
More broadly, Scandinavia is proving a hot topic amongst my private equity clients too: stable economic growth, strong and entrepreneurial businesses and a solid banking sector are fuelling strong interest from funds in the region. Up until the 13th of June, there were 58 sponsor-led investments worth a combined €1.97bn this year, compared to 38 deals (worth €991m) in the same period last year.
Meanwhile, one of Sweden’s best known brands – Volvo – is also going through a resurgence, now widely held to be at the cutting edge of design, safety and technology. Scandinavia’s influence is growing and we will continue to watch it with great interest.