It gave us woolly jumpers, cosy socks and bobble hats – now Scandinavia is tightening its grip on the high street with what some in the fashion world are describing as a new Swedish invasion.
Last week it was announced that David Hagglund will be the new creative director of Topshop and Topman. Hagglund is Swedish, and comes with a CV that includes time at Swedish high street powerhouse H&M and a Stockholm-based advertising agency.
The appointment reflects a wider trend on the high street. A walk down London’s Regent Street quickly shows exactly how Swedish our shopping streets have become – and how they are dominated by the H&M Group. A large branch of H&M stands at Oxford Circus and if shoppers were to walk south stores owned by H&M group proliferate: there’s & Other Stories, the high street home of wearable quirk, and Cos, which has been the destination for affordable minimalism for 10 years. Monki is around the corner on Carnaby Street, selling slogan T-shirts and quirky prints to the Instagram generation.
Weekday opened last Friday with denim and understated streetwear aimed at millennials and this week shoppers will get another taste of Sweden with the opening of Arket on Regent Street. The new brand from H&M is grownup fashion to which Cos customers can graduate. The price points will be slightly higher than Cos – up to just over £100 according to industry website Business of Fashion – while the store will work like a market, with homewares and a cafe expected. Arket’s creative director Ulrika Bernhardtz says the brand aims to be about “timeless, crisp quality and warmth”. Another H&M-honed brand is expected next year and H&M Home standalone stores are planned.
Graeme Moran, the head of fashion and features at Drapers magazine, says there’s a commercial appeal to the clothes that these brands typically produce. “At the end of the day, I think it’s popular because most people want a nice simple navy jumper or a well-made white shirt,” he says. “It’s wearable fashion without the capital F.”
Sweden has long sold its look to other countries, says Moran, and that might be why Arket is launching in London before Sweden. “It’s harder to sell that [the Swedish aesthetic] back to the Swedish people. It appeals to us because it’s clean, pared back.”
This plays into the Swedish concept of lagom which loosely translates as “just enough”. The high fashion Stockholm-based brand Acne, which now shows at Paris fashion week, is a leader in this field. It could be credited with starting the millennial pink trend in a typically understated way – the bags into which staff slip your purchases are in that ubiquitous shade.
Adrian Clark, the style director of Shortlist, also points beyond fashion to show how all-pervasive the Swedish philosophy of design has become: “There’s a deep-rooted idea, in companies like Ikea, that design needs to be fit for purpose and modern.” Ikea, of course, is having a fashion moment of its own, with a homage to its 40p Frakta bag sold by buzzy catwalk label Balenciaga for £1,365.
The appointment of Hagglund could be Topshop realising that he might bring a point of view that is more sellable in different territories. “Topshop have always had that really British girl image so maybe this is about a more international handwriting,” says Moran. “It’s really well-timed anyway because Scandinavia is having a moment.”
Thought to be worth up to £12bn, Swedish rival H&M is now 70 years old, and its main shareholder and chairman is Sweden’s richest person, Stefan Persson, who has a fortune of £28bn. It began in 1947 with one store, Hennes – Swedish for “her” – in the central Swedish city of Västerås. It expanded in the 1970s, and the first store outside Scandinavia opened in London in 1976. It now has more than 3,000 stores across the world.
Clark sees the growth of a portfolio of stores from the group as a way for it to keep its relevance across demographics. “The H&M Group is almost unique in the way they think, ‘which niche have we not covered in regards to consumer profile?’” he says. “They are very clever at identifying not just the trends in fashion but how we’re living our lives and how we shop.”
Some see the launch of Arket as a way for H&M to diversify. The H&M Group has had disappointing financial results. While sales were up in the first quarter of this year, profits fell by 3.5%.