Great Danes and hot Swedes
The Scandinavians are definitely having a moment, And not just on TV where, watching the superb Danish imports, The Killing, Borgen and Those Who Kill, which started on ITV3 last week, has become a paradigm of middle-class, cultural attitudes, or in pop-lit where Stieg Larsson, Jens Lapidus and Liza Markland regularly top UK bestseller lists.
The Scandinavians, as it turns out, are good at fashion, too, and not just for understated wardrobe staples for which they were once a byword.
Swedish chain H&M, which became part of the British high street landscape after launching in 1977 in Jewish North London's favourite mall, Brent Cross, is about to wow us with a guest collection from Marni, which arrives in UK stores on March 8.
Following in the footsteps of Stella McCartney, Lanvin, Versace, et al, Consuelo Castiglioni, creative director and founder of the quirky Italian label, has created a beautiful, very grown-up guest collection, full of her wild, punchy prints and muted colours. There are insouciantly droopy silk dresses and statement silk tops, print knee-length skirts, sleek leather bags, chunky platform sandals and her colourful, amusing jewellery.
H&M sister brand, Cos offers a grown-up, understated, polished vibe which stylish Brits have been quietly loving since the first branch opened in Regent Street in 2007. During last month's London Fashion Week no less a fashion authority than British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, wore the brand's ankle-skimming print trousers.
Less ubiquitous than its sibling, Cos has just 11 UK branches, including Covent Garden, both London Westfields, Manchester and Brighton. For Spring, it offers its trademark, small palette of understated neutrals - navy, pale grey, putty and white - augmented by baby blue, peppermint and emerald green for ankle-skimming trousers, pencil skirts, cocoon tops, drop-dead simple shift dresses and tailoring, all done with a simplicity and cut that belies the (mainly under £100) price tags.
The Scandinavians are no slouches in the designer stakes, either. By Malene Birger; Acne, Day, Birger et Mikkelsen; Designers Remix; Rabens Saloner; Lollys Laundry; Rutzou and House of Dagmar along with footwear by Holy Moly, Camilla Skovgard and Billi Bi, have gained a serious foothold well beyond their home cities. The directional, beautiful and, it has to be said, unfortunately named, Swedish label, Acne, sold by Browns, My-Wardrobe and Net-a-Porter, demonstrates in its clever cutting, edginess and use of colour that you can hint at an Italianate sensibility while staying true to your cooler, north European roots. For spring, Acne offers fondant colours like lilac and rose, used for draped, racer-back dresses, simple shirts and T-shirts, alongside mouthwateringly pretty, pastel suede biker jackets, shapely knits and laid-back, stripey maxi dresses.
Day, Birger et Mikkelsen, sold at Matches, My-Wardrobe and Net-a-Porter, conforms more closely to the moody Scandinavian stereotype. Their S/S12 palette used for silk dresses, draped cardis, pretty blouses, playful tees and unstructured tailoring, rarely strays far from pale neutrals leavened by the odd flash of mustard yellow, bronze or pale rose.
The Danish brand with razzle-dazzle is By Malene Birger, stocked by Fenwicks W1, Net-a-Porter and My-Wardrobe. Birger is a Dane who loves colour and her Spring collection is infused with it: sizzling fuchsia, eye-popping emerald and peach, used for day and after-six dresses, sweet silk tops, simple shirts and razor-cut tailoring.
Pamela Shiffer in Primrose Hill regularly features Scandinavian collections among a cleverly edited range of international brands. These include Gustav, which combines silk and jersey for edgy draped tops and dresses; Sandwich, for easy, undemanding casuals, and Margit Brandt, who took her own 1960s back catalogue as inspiration for spring, for beautifully updated maxi dresses, jumpsuits, sheer blouses and paisley print dresses.