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Stockholm’s Design Intervention

Sweden's unstable weather leads women to have an affinity for casual clothes, but sensible doesn't mean boring.

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All In The Detail
Stateside, a splurge at Ikea constitutes stocking up on practical Scandinavian design, but in Sweden, design is something to marvel at and nurture.

To that point, 2005 marks “The Year of Design” in Sweden. By the time the new year rolls around, more than 1,000 projects and activities will have been done in the country. The objective, as spelled out by Minister for Industry and Trade Leif Pagrosky, is “to make Swedes the best design users in the world.”

How that all shakes out is open to interpretation. Neon-colored mosquito nets for babies, zebra-striped bras, and handbags with just enough room for a subway card and cash are among the items displayed at “Cheap Design,” an exhibition at the National Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm. “Inspired 2050″ is an exhibition that peers into the future.

In terms of fashion, “Fashion Futures” is a preliminary round of Concours International des Jeunes Créateurs de Mode, the world’s most prestigious international competition in fashion design. Rounds are being held in Paris and Sweden in collaboration with fashion design schools, and a winner should be announced in December.

J. Lindeberg, Dedicated Followers of Fashion, Minimarket, Hunky Dory and Rodebjer are among the labels that will participate in next month’s fashion shows, trend installations and lectures to be held at the Stockholm Modecenter, a complex that houses 1,000 fashion labels. Lesser-known but promising designers can be found at Rookies, a fashion fair that will take place Aug. 26-28.

Fashion & Lifestyle will be one of the major topics of discussion at Future Design Days, which is Scandinavia’s largest design festival. It will be held at different times on Nov. 14 and 15 at Stockholm International Fairs, Nordic Light Hotel and Stockholm City Hall’s Blue Hall. The latter is also the site of the annual Nobel Prize dinner in December.

More offbeat is “DoReDo,” a touring exhibition that teaches “the art of destroying a sweater.” An online description of it makes it sound simple enough. “Wash an old wool sweater in warm water, take a pair of scissors and give it a new life. Sew the pieces together and decorate it.”

Remembering Queen Astrid
The Royal Palace of Stockholm is the site of a 100th birthday present to the late Princess Astrid, who became the Queen of Belgium.

An exhibition about her short, but impactful life — she died at age 29 in 1935 when the car her husband, King Leopold, was driving careened off a winding road into a ravine — is on display through Sept. 28. For the first time, Astrid’s handmade wedding gown created in Belgium and rose-colored bridesmaid dresses are being shown to the public, along with a few other customized dresses including the floral one she wore the night before she died.

Despite being nicknamed the “Snow Princess” for the white coat she wore when she arrived in Brussels for her wedding, Astrid quickly won over Belgians. Fashionable as she was, she wasn’t above cooking or caring for her children, and Belgians liked nothing better than to see her pushing a baby carriage in the city streets, according to a palace guard.

Another exhibition about Astrid will open at the Royal Palace in Brussels on Nov. 17, her birthday.

What’s In Store
In Sweden, where weather conditions might change drastically by the hour, it is understandable why women have such an affinity for casual clothes. But sensible doesn’t mean boring.

The summer’s unofficial uniform here is a cropped cotton jacket worn with a romantic-looking pastel-colored top and faded boot-cut jeans. The entire ensemble sells for $154 or less at H&M, which has 123 outposts in Sweden. Many women jazz up the look with dangling earrings, long, colorful scarves and bohemian bags slung over their shoulders. Others prefer to cuff the jeans and wear high heels and socks.

In Sweden, H&M sells vintage pieces — something that has not been planned for the U.S. stores. Secondhand dresses, especially floral or polkadot looks from the Thirties and Forties, and folkloric dresses and tunics from the Seventies, which are tougher to come by, are popular at H&M. Most of the vintage dresses cost $64 or less, based on current exchange rates.

Pricier threads may be found at Filippa K, a popular Swedish chain known for its clean Scandinavian style. Marni, Missoni and Stella McCartney are sold at Natalie Schuterman, a women’s boutique; Valentino and Celine are available at ABCD, a women’s specialty store, and Cacharel and Diane von Furstenberg are among the labels at Skindeep, a women’s specialty store. Mulberry, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Max Mara, Cerruti and Hugo Boss have freestanding stores.

Tiger, a women’s and men’s fashion store in Stockholm for 100 years, is a homeland favorite. NK department store is packed with big-name brands. It is also known for being the place where Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was stabbed to death in 2003.

This being the season for “White Nights,” Swedes keep comfort in mind when dressing for days packed with 18 hours of daylight. With the thermometer hovering in the high 60s and sometimes dipping into the high 50s at night in July, summers are cooler than most places in Europe.

“Swedish women dress quite comfortably and functionally,” said H&M press officer Annacarin Björne. “Jeans are really big. They wear jeans with everything — with a shirt and jacket for work, with a T-shirt at home and with a fancy top and high heels for a dinner or a party.”

While that might sound like a universal style, Swedish women are not copies of their American counterparts, she said.

“With American women in New York, we see either a very chic, classic, all-American, Ralph Lauren kind of look or a boho chic fashion crowd [that favors] eclectic looks that are more rock-style than European bohemian looks,” Björne said. “Swedish women in Stockholm dress more casually, overall.”

Designer Room Service
Wardrobes — code for cramped, windowless rooms — used to be a tough sell at the Hotel Birger Jarl, until a group of fashion designers was recruited to dress them up.

The four-star, 235-room hotel, named after Stockholm’s founder, prides itself on being an epicenter for modern design. Architects and interior designers have been asked to leave their marks on the select guest rooms.

So the idea of asking six well-known designers to freshen up the wardrobes was not such a stretch. Camilla Thulin, Greger Hagelin, Jonny Johansson, Filippa Knutsson, Carin Rodebjer and the design team of Asa Göransson & Fredrik Blank were more than happy to oblige.

Each put their creativity to the test in a 472-square-foot white-walled room. Knutsson, the creative force behind the popular Filippa K label, decorated her wardrobe with black-and-white images from her runway show. Johansson took a less commercial track, painting one wall black and adorning it with a white-framed painting with the words, “This Is Not An Advertisement.” Thulin was more whimsical with her wall hanging: a magenta satin corset with a magazine peeking out, placed on an artificial grass mat covered with daisies. The nightly cost for wardrobes is $177, based on current exchange rates.

“We wanted to do something with these rooms because they were very difficult to rent,” said Katarina Elgenstierna, front-office manager. “With the designers’ creations, the rooms are more interesting for guests to see and stay in.”

Visitors to the Hotel Birger Jarl will get another dose of design in December, when the typically stark Scandinavian-designed lobby is decked out with Christmas trees individually created by well-known designers such as Lars Wallin and Jonny Johansson.

The Royal Treatment
Just as the Bush twins have been known to wake up the nation with their fashion-conscious looks, Sweden’s crown princesses, Victoria and Madeleine, get their share of attention, too.

Swedes keep a close eye on the evolving style of the daughters of King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, said Lars Wallin, who has designed ballgowns for them. Women, especially those in their 20s, take fashion cues from the princesses. The public is keen to see how they dress for royal events, even if they can’t afford to copy the royals’ style, he said.

At 28, the raven-haired Victoria is the elder of the two. Both favor shoulder-baring, jewel-toned gowns for state dinners and other formal occasions. Suits fit the bill when duty calls during the day, but the princesses have been known to wear jeans with fitted jackets.

With her shoulder-length blonde hair and sturdy good looks, Madeleine, 23, bears a resemblance to Jenna Bush. She opted for a more subdued look — an ivory pantsuit accented with one of her signature scarves — for Sweden’s National Day, which was celebrated June 6.

King Gustaf set his lawyers loose after a Swedish Web site posted photos of Madeleine wearing a cleavage-enhancing red gown at the 2002 Nobel Peace dinner with a derogatory comment. The material was removed.

Madeleine has dabbled in design, fashion and advertising. She worked at the magazine “Sköna Hem,” at the advertising firm Lowe Brindfors and at the stylish Swedish clothing company Filippa K. But like Barbara Bush — a former intern at Proenza Schouler and Lela Rose — the younger princess has not committed to a career in fashion.

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