Tradition versus trends: finding the balance

If we can define Scandinavian design as a design philosophy that’s built on function, one that favours a minimal, timeless aesthetic, one rooted in quality and craftsmanship as opposed to throw-away trends, then it’s also important to understand how it stays relevant. Are Scandinavian design brands conscious of trends? How do they cope with changes in demands from consumers?

The Scandinavian treatment of trends is far more subtle than that of the marauding stream of high street stores elsewhere in the world. At the George Jensen headquarters in Copenhagen, the importance of balance becomes clear.

Since the brand’s inception in 1904, they’ve been weighing their silverware on the scales of classic design and trend-based drivers, always letting the two sides of the scale balance out in harmony. In the 1930s, when Tutankhamen’s tomb was cracked open and Egypt-mania swept the world, Jensen’s pieces became markedly more triangular in response. In the 1960s when sautoir necklaces were the craze the brand reissued their famous Daisy necklace at sautoir length – converting the daisy ornaments to double-sided pieces to adapt to the change in style. Then, as the necklace swung about freely, so were the daisies free to twist and turn. It’s a fitting analogy for our overarching topic: the surviving brands are the daisies that evolve with the chain.

freja beha erichsen for georg jensen
Freja Beha Erichsen in a campaign for Georg Jensen.

For ECCO shoes the story is not dissimilar. At the brand’s design headquarters, an unimposing brick building in Tønder, Denmark, fashion magazines are stacked up on elegant wooden shelves alongside the brick-like binders of forecasting agency colour trend reports. Built for comfort they may be, but ECCO’s design process still pays its considerations to the ever-turning trend wheel. It’s just to a different level.

ECCO’s CEO Dieter Kasprzak highlights the difference between a Scandinavian design brand and other fashion brands: for ECCO, the materials and colours change, but the direction always stays the same. After 46 years in the shoe business he’s seen many turns of the wheel, but for every product that’s reinterpreted for changing trends the ECCO DNA is always at the core. And while some might see a reinvented idea as old, Kasprazak recognises that it doesn’t matter: “For the new generation, it’s new.”

At other times it’s not just the product that evolves to meet the trends: it’s how a brand chooses to sell it. When CEO of Georg Jensen, Ulrik Garde Due, came on board, his way of revolutionising the brand didn’t involve dramatic changes in product design. Rather, he booked model-du-jour Freja Beha Erichsen – herself a native Dane – to be the brand’s new face. It became a case of the typical Georg Jensen product being brought, via a naked, tattooed Freja, in front of a new audience. An audience that appreciated how well the choice fit the zeitgeist.

For a fashion house, walking the tightrope between minimalist design and changing fashion trends will always be a careful balancing act. At Bruuns Bazaar, Rebekka Bay tells us that minimalism spreading across the world as a mainstream fashion trend doesn’t necessarily impact on the brand’s ability to stand out. There’s a difference, she notes, between a minimalist brand and a brand creating a minimalist collection. Bruuns Bazaar is of the former category, and Scandinavian design is at their core.

“We always take inspiration in graphic design, architecture, furniture design, which easily translates into minimal garments, minimal fashion. The proper challenge will be when suddenly ethnic fashion, or bohemian fashion, is back, and then finding a way around that so we maintain true to who we are as a brand but still incorporate fashion trends into the collection. I think that’s the real challenge.”

Like most brands on the Scandinavian design landscape, however, it’s a rough sea they’ve thus far managed to navigate by always balancing tradition with trends