NORDIC BREEZES WARMING PARIS

Byline: Robert Murphy / Claire Lui

PARIS — After coming under the spell of innovative Belgian and Dutch fashion, the French are getting excited about designers hailing from even further afield — Scandinavia.
Although Paris has shaped up as a melting pot of ethnicity — music from North Africa and fusion food from Southeast Asia are among the latest trends — the Nordic voice has, until recently, remained conspicuously low.
That is starting to change.
This summer both the Danish and Swedish embassies sponsored exhibits of their up-and-coming design talent. Meanwhile, a handful of stores specializing in Nordic apparel opened. And Danes and Swedes have assumed instrumental roles at established fashion companies here.
Perhaps the most established Nordic designer here is Roy Krejberg, a Dane who will be appointed to head the men’s collection at Kenzo when house founder Kenzo Takada retires in October. Krejberg, who has been with the company three years, had gradually been taking over design responsibilities.
Most Nordic designers, however, are just establishing their names.
A cross-section of fledgling Danish talent was showcased this summer at the Denmark House in an exhibit billed as “Jeune Couture.” Many of their designs were best characterized as earthy, colorful and sometimes fluid.
Among the most notable were Anja Vang Kragh, an assistant to John Galliano, and Michel Lund, a graduate of London’s Saint Martin’s School of Design who now plays a central role at the fashion house of Josephus Thimister.
Lund, who said he has no immediate plans to launch his own label, contributed a flowing dress he worked on for Thimister.
He called the exhibit an important tool in promoting the under-appreciated talent from his country.
“Recently, a wave of Nordic designers has been flooding into Paris, and they are now working in interesting ways,” said Lund. He attributed the diaspora to an atmosphere at home that he says does not nourish creativity.
“Denmark is too close-minded and it’s difficult to create there,” the 30-year-old designer explained. “At home, designers concentrate too much on the country’s tradition without trying to be internationally minded — with just a few exceptions.”
One Danish company that has broken the mold is Bruuns Bazaar, according to Lund.
Last year the company, which is owned and run by two Bruuns brothers — Bjorn, who does the designing, and Tais, a lawyer and the firm’s president — opened its first shop here. It was their first store outside Scandinavia.
Sitting between the hip Marais and the Sentier garment district, the 2,400-square-foot airy space features clothes that Bjorn Bruuns describes as “traditional, but with a twist.” The atmosphere is typically Scandinavian — sparse and relaxed. Light pours in from the massive skylights.
“It’s a stylish mix of hippie, more traditional Scandinavian design, with a little dash of ethnic style thrown in,” Bruuns said of his designs.
Fusing multiple influences often becomes a hallmark of those working outside their countries, but it seems to ring especially true for Danes and Swedes.
An exhibit this month at the Swedish Cultural Center spotlighted the work of Yvonne Borjesson, 38, known professionally as Yvonne B. She describes her apparel as a mix of international sportswear and structured Scandinavian style.
“It’s important to tap into all of your roots,” she said. One steady influence in her collection is innovative fabric research. “It’s a holdover from my activewear days,” explained Yvonne, who spent 15 years freelancing as an activewear designer before starting her own label two years ago.
Yvonne B. has yet to sell her collection to retailers in the city she now calls home. “I’m sure it will come in time,” she said. “But Paris has been great to me because it has fostered creativity, while at home in Sweden everything is so traditional — sometimes it is so conformist.”
Conformity is not the byword for Strul, a trendy shop in the Marais that specializes in Swedish apparel. Strul, which means “messy” in Swedish, opened earlier this year. Helena Wahlstrom, Swedish-born and -bred, and Viktoria Andreasson, a Sri Lankan who grew up in southern Sweden, own and run the concept store. They double as the sole salespeople.
“We didn’t want to create a typical retail environment,” said Wahlstrom. “We wanted it to be homey — a place where people could come and hang out.”
Influenced by their homeland, the two noted they designed the 850-square-foot store using “simple lines and natural materials.” They have installed a “kid’s corner” to entertain children as parents shop. A stuffed bear, named Bamse, a comic-strip character created by Andreasson’s father, greets the tots.
The store also has a makeup stand, featuring the Swedish cosmetics line Make Up Store. Among the Swedish brands stocked are trendy young women’s apparel by Anna Nygards and Charlotte Morgan. Next year Andreasson and Wahlstrom plan to branch out and carry men’s apparel from Swea and Hager.