Ever since we started our Style around the World series, I’ve been desperate to find someone to give us an insight into Swedish style. And now (drum roll please) we’ve found one…Born and raised in Sweden, but based in London, Gabrielle Spang is the founder of ScandiMini, a fab online boutique (and shop in Brook Green) focusing on the kind of super-stylish Scandinavian childrenswear that we love (we’re talking laid-back, relaxed, age-appropriate…)
As someone who has lived in both countries, we thought Gabrielle was the perfect person to talk to about the differences in Swedish and British style, not to mention give us her thoughts on why Brits are just so Scandi-crazy at the moment. From the quintessential Swedish look to the top children’s Scandi brands, Gabrielle opens her little Swedish style book…
How long have you lived in the UK?
It’s been 15 years since I first moved here, shortly after completing my Masters at Uni. I now live in Fulham, London, but I constantly dream of moving somewhere else. Ideally somewhere sunny. Don’t we all!?
And in Sweden, where did you grow up?
I grew up in the capital, Stockholm, so I’ve always been a city girl.
How would you describe Swedish style?
Simple, modern, minimalistic, unisex and functional.
What differences have you noticed between the way Swedish and British women dress?
Oh it’s a huge difference. Because the UK is a much bigger country with a larger variety of people, British women are much more diverse in how they dress and generally also dress in a more feminine and colourful way, regardless of style. There’s less diversity in Sweden being a more homogenous, smaller society.
Do you think that (in general) women in Sweden are led by trends or is there more of a distinctive Swedish look?
Swedes in general are very design led because we love to follow and adopt the latest trends, but we are also much more functional in the way we dress. And whether we have a distinct look, yes I’d say so, it’s the minimal, black or grey and simple yet trendy designs that are very Swedish. Cos is a brand that truly captures this style.
There’s quite a ‘love affair’ going on with the Brits for Scandinavian style at the moment, why do you think this is?
Generally, society is much more complex and diverse in the UK. Scandinavian style is simple, natural and it’s very neutral – a blank canvas really to allow for details to pop. It reduces complexity and clutter, something which is very attractive in a more intricate society, and I think that’s part of why it’s so appealing. Furthermore, we’ve been seen as leaders in Eco fashion and design and that’s another aspect of its appeal.
Has your style changed at all since living in the UK?
I’m more influenced by international trends I guess but I’m still very much Swedish minimal and functional, it seems I can’t escape my past, ha, ha! I still dislike wearing high heels for example, which many British women seem to love.
Are there any big ‘no-no’s’ when it comes to style/fashion in Sweden?
Yes, I’d say so. Showing off or dressing like a slob are two no no’s. Generally it’s all about dressing for equality and function but also to blend in. Swedish people in general dislike being different from one another and our love for muted colours keep us united.
What do you think is lacking when it comes to fashion in Sweden?
Because you often dress to blend in, there’s very little room for letting your personality shine through what you wear. If you want to be mean, you could call it a bit boring. There are of course exceptions to the rule!
Is there more or less pressure to look good in Sweden than in the UK?
Swedes are quite natural in their appearance . In my opinion looking good is all about being natural and comfortable in your own skin, but I wouldn’t say there’s more or less pressure, it’s just a different emphasis on what looking good is.
When going out for dinner, in general do Swedes get more or less dressed up than Brits?
Again, generally speaking, we dress up less. British women wear far more high heels and dresses when going out. Swedish women are much more functionally dressed, but we are also much more minimal – black from top to toe is a common way to dress.
What would you wear on a relaxed Saturday?
My uniform is – surprise! – sneakers or flats, black denim and a dark top for winter but I do love bohemian inspired dresses for the summer. Every day of the week. I’d never dress differently on a Saturday versus a weekday.
Who are your favourite Swedish designers?
Where do Swedish women go for basics?
HEALTH & BEAUTY
Do Swedes place more or less emphasis on health and beauty than Brits?
Swedes are as interested in beauty as the Brits, but I do think Swedes in general put more emphasis on a natural approach. We are getting very conscious of what we eat and how it all affects us – which is also a growing trend here. When it comes to grooming, the main difference between the two countries is purely from a supply and a demand perspective. In the UK you can find hair salons and nail bars everywhere, and they’re often relatively cheap too. It’s actually very expensive to have a bog standard manicure in Sweden for example (usually around £50) so you just can’t afford to go as often and there also aren’t as many places to go. The emphasis is the same though but perhaps we look less well ‘coiffed’ as we simply can’t afford to keep up, ha ha!
As a rule do Swedes were more or less make-up than Brits?
Generally speaking we wear less make up. Natural beauty is valued higher.
What is the Swedish attitude to the body?
We are definitely more relaxed around our bodies in Sweden, although now that I’ve lived abroad for so long I find it quite humorous that Swedes are so matter of fact about their bodily functions. I do find the Swedish approach quite relaxing though.
What is the Swedish attitude to eating? Is it more or less relaxed than the British?
I wouldn’t perhaps use the word relaxed, but it’s probably more valued. Lunch breaks are holy, so is the obligatory ‘fika’, a 15 minute work break with coffee and coffee bread twice a day. Eating during working hours here is much more about getting fuel to be able to function, and very little about taking a proper break. The Brits go all in for the weekend instead.
In general, how do Swedes approach ageing? Is it embraced or feared?
I think both the UK and Sweden are going through very similar learning curves at the moment about ageing. It’s starting to get embraced, but it has been feared in the past.
Is plastic surgery/botox popular in Sweden?
No. Not as popular as here, and the emphasis on natural beauty contributes to this attitude. There are stronger regulations around it in Sweden too.
Are there any must-have Swedish beauty/skincare brands that you love?
Over the past few years, it seems that there has been more of an emphasis on children’s fashion than there used to be. Is this the same in Sweden as it is in the UK?
Yes to some degree, although from as far as I can remember; children’s fashion has always been important in Sweden, one of the first Swedish unisex labels Polarn O. Pyret (Pop) for example was established in 1976. Over the past years children’s design has received more attention globally, especially those labels that are unisex, sustainably produced and functional yet great looking and a big part of this trend originates in Scandinavia.
The Swedish climate is generally a little colder than the British one. Are there any great outerwear brands you can recommend?
Scandinavians spend a lot of money on outerwear for their children, it’s just so cold for so many months you need great quality outerwear. I think Mini Rodini makes great outerwear for children; organic, functional and unisex in great designs that are playful yet stylish. Another great brand is Isbjörn of Sweden
In Sweden, children don’t wear uniform. How do you think this influences their sense of self and style?
I actually like the school uniform, I think it’s a great way to raise children with a sense of togetherness and camaraderie. There’s more competition between children in Sweden in regards to style but at the same time I do love that they can express themselves through what they wear. Two sides of the coin, I guess.
Images: Portrait of Gabrielle by Philippa James