NEW YORK — “Without pillars around seasons anymore, the idea of being better at layering is so important,” Watson adds. “What I love about the Nordic style is that there is a softness, but it’s also dark and sexy all rolled into one.”
“They have a natural tendency to work with natural materials,” says Ann Watson, fashion director at New York’s Henri Bendel of Nordic designers. She singles out Phi and Elise Overland as labels that insiders have their eye on.
That’s right — sexy. The women of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland don’t spend all their time in chunky Fair Isle sweaters, as cozy as they might be.
You’ll see them in blouses, slim-leg trousers and even dresses.
“No one thinks about Nordic designers doing a beautiful suit or a great little black dress, but they do. They do oversized things and asymmetrical hems,” says Jen Ford, the fashion news director at Lucky magazine. You also might find color blocking or exaggerated buttons — all additions that ramp up the style of warm, practical clothes, she says.
“In Norway, we have strength to the clothes,” says designer Overland. “We have crazy weather, you have to have function more than frills or chiffon.”
Overland recalls putting on her ski clothes every day after school when she was growing up in Norway. She uses that as inspiration now.
“My cut is very similar with a lot of zippers and buttons. Even though I ended up working in leather and all those other things, the base is sportswear,” she says. “If I can’t be comfortable and move and walk in it, there’s no point for me to make it. I wouldn’t put snaps in the back of a dress that I couldn’t open myself.”
66 North is primarily an outerwear label, but the Iceland-based company still pays attention to the body so people don’t end up looking like the Abominable Snowman, says Matt Hershey, managing director of U.S. operations.
“Keeping warm and looking good — that’s the key,” he says. “The cuts are formfitting. That’s the style — high cut to the waist and hug the body. The silhouette tends to be more svelte and lean.”
Waterproof materials add warmth
The warmth comes from waterproof materials, down filling and taped seams. Meanwhile, 66 North’s sportswear collection, called Icelandic Living, which features fleece-lined sweaters and full-length raincoats, emphasizes the funky and eclectic tastes of Nordic cultures, which fits into fashion’s latest direction. The line is sold in both speciality boutiques and ski stores.
“If the ’90s were about minimalism, the new millennium was about embellishment. We are approaching the second decade of the new millennium with an appreciation for craft, design, stylishness,” says Tom Julian, a trend analyst for ad agency McCann Erickson.
While clothes by Nordic designers are still unusual in the U.S., availability is growing.
With the weak dollar, it’s become that much more expensive for Americans to buy French and Italian brands, but Nordic designers Malene Birger (Denmark) and Carin Rodebjer (Sweden) are still looking for a U.S. audience so they try to keep themselves affordable, says Ford. (Prices are in line with Marc by Marc Jacobs, with a top costing about $200.)
Fashion Web site Net-a-Porter carries Birger, and dedicated Scandinavian stores such as Clearly First in Manhattan and Danmark in Los Angeles put it all under one roof.
Nordic looks are available for those without designers budgets, too.
The sort of pop-art, nature-inspired prints made famous by Marimekko seem to be everywhere. Look for the Finnish fabric house to collaborate on an upcoming collaboration with H&M. Beauty brand Skyn Iceland also has become a favorite of fashion insiders.
“Scandinavian works well now, especially with so much focus on eco-green,” Julian says. “Many of the Scandinavian materials are of nature — lighter, brighter and less ornamentation.”
But those who think they know Nordic style because they’ve been to an Ikea store will find its fashion to be more earthy and not as sparse.
“There’s kind of a seriousness to their approach, but it’s not androgynous or minimalist. You can’t put them in a box,” Bendel’s Watson says.
Overland says her aesthetic is strongly rooted in the look of her native country.
“The landscape has a quietness to it. It’s sand-colored, serene and calm. There’s a powerfulness to the mountains. There’s a spiritualness. … Everything is made of natural materials. It’s not so artificial there,” she says. “There’s no plastic in Scandinavia.”