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Scandi chic: the new Parisienne?

Dear Parisiennes: I get it now. Truly, I do. I apologize for my ridiculous behavior. We caught on a while ago to the fact that there is no single “Parisienne” style of dressing and that this French Voguette/Jane Birkin hybrid beast only exists in books and blogs and magazines, but it was still a fun idea to play with. All those breton shirts, all that je ne sais pas (typo, but I’m keeping it), and let’s not forget that effortlessness, right girls? So much effortlessness, massive amounts of effortlessness, it was borderline exhausting! Don’t worry though, you will be happy to know that there seems to be a completely new mythological girl to emulate.

The Scandinavian

Unlike the Parisienne, the Scandinavian doesn’t give two shits about sexy. At least she doesn’t want to give the impression that she does – if she wears heels they will be chunky (but not chunky enough to be consciously man-repelling), and she wouldn’t be caught dead carrying a wicker basket. She wears neutral colors in natural materials, her clothes are simple and un-fussy (they could be from H&M or Bruuns Bazaar and Acne, she doesn’t really care either way), and she lives in a completely white home decorated with green plants, sheepskin, and candleholders made from birch trees (bark still intact). If she has to run out on an errand she will happily throw on the fisherman’s sweater that her grandma knitted for her dad in the 70s and put her hair up in a messy just-woke-up kind of bun – slightly at the back of her head, not on top, because she’s not a goddamn ballerina. Her boyfriend looks like a gorgeous tattooed hipster lumberjack who could easily have played a wildling on Game of Thrones. He drinks microbrew beer and dreams of inheriting his grandfathers cabin in the woods so that he can restore it to its original glory while listening to First Aid Kit, Röyksopp and Susanne Sundfør. You will often catch him looking broodily at the mountains with his Norwegian Elkhound by his side.

Maja tries to shed some light on the Scandi Chic phenomenon.

The Scandinavian is, in essence, a Parisienne who discovered Kinfolk Magazine. She got tired of spending two hours effortlessly smudging her kohl every morning, so now she spends hours sourcing the perfect vintage artisan coffee table instead. She wanted a boyfriend who knew how to thrift and wield an axe. She invites her girlfriends over to her apartment to make homemade Christmas decorations, no matter if she’s 15 or 45. She layers, not because it’s chic but because she’s fucking cold. Oh, and she swears. The word “ladylike” does not exist once you cross the Scandinavian border. She’s a feminist, and will roll her eyes at you and go talk to someone else if you tell her you’re not. She taught herself how to knit, and wears minimal makeup.

Of course this is all completely made up and ridiculous. I have been fascinated by the Scandi phenomenon for a handful of months now, after I realized it had seeped over from interior design into the mainstream fashion blogs. People have started saying things like “kinda Scandi-looking”, and every self-respecting hipster knows that vintage knit sweaters should not be mentioned in the same sentence as words like “ugly” and “Christmas”. What eludes me though, as a born-and-bred Scandinavian, is this: Why? What’s so fascinating about us? When did we suddenly become… cool? I can assure you, this is a completely unfamiliar feeling for us. We don’t know how to be cool. Not us Norwegians at least, everyone knows the Swedes are the cool ones. Damn Swedes with their Ikea and their Robyn and their Acne. Did I also mention that we’re famously self-deprecating?

What the hell happened? Can somebody shed some light on this phenomenon for us? Share your theories!

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45 Comments

  1. Its all disguised as minimalism, as an aesthetic. And the influence of instagram. Their interface shows very small square photographs. And having them ‘uncluttered’, ‘minimal’ and cool toned photographs, makes the feed look good.

    And then came kinfolk, with their old non electric appliances disguised as slow living.

    Its all sorta poetic in a sad way. Minimalism has nothing to do with minimalism. White and clean lines are sophisticated. ….. the list goes on.

    • This is a very good point, the influence of instagram. I was reading the other day in an art magazine a rant about artists who make works than look good in their online portfolios, but are less impressive when seen in person. I wonder if there could be something like that in fashion blogs too, a bias towards outfits “that photograph well”.

      • Oh yeah, I know exactly what kind of accounts that you mean. What I find though is that they get SO boring and repetitive after a while, I can’t actually follow them. It has no actual relevance to my life, it’s just eye candy.

        • Late to the party, but this seems like a good place to drop this link:
          http://thekinspiracy.tumblr.com
          Sometimes I look at my non-curated, messy, utterly normal life and want it to fit that fashionable, adventuresome, aesthetically beautiful life that others project with effortless ease… and then I see websites like that one and realize what an absurd affectation it all is. “Scandi-chic” and “Parisienne” and “Coachella Boho” are all just templates; a kind of fashion/lifestyle shorthand that make it easier for people to project what kind of person they are or want to be via their outer trappings.
          “This latte art shows that I know how to slow down and savor moments of quiet reflection, because I am a thoughtful intellectual”; “This maple leaf shows that I am connected to nature”; “This ice cream cone shows that I have a sense of whimsy”; “This hand-tooled artisan leather portfolio shows that I have money, but only spend it on meaningful items with unique, artistic value” etc. etc. http://thekinspiracy.tumblr.com just shows how so much of that imagery is by rote.
          Sorry y’all, just feeling cynical today, I guess!!

          • Oh man, I can tell I’m going to really enjoy that link when I get home from work today. LOVE IT! And never apologize for being a cynic ;)

            (Also, sorry your comment got marked as spam! My spam plugin automatically stops comments who contain more than one link)

  2. I think people just like to put labels on things (style & aethetic in this case) because it defines it, it helps talking about this style without having to describe it for pages. At least that’s my opinion based on long ago linguistic classes :)

    In terms of how it feels for someone who comes from that country/area, I feel the same way about the ‘Parisian’ style, even though it isn’t new. I mean, when you are the “genuine” thing and actually live here, it doesn’t make sense, that kind of artificial definition that doesn’t find any actual reality. If it makes any sense… But rejoice, this is a quite positive image it gives you people. Maybe you can launch a line of minimalist decoration items and become rich, or something.

    • This question is for Kali and Camille: how do locals view the “Parisian myth?” If a French girl were to dress–in my uninformed foreigner’s view–in a Breton top and a red scarf and plain flats–would she be on some level ridiculed? or be seen as accepting the stereotype and going with the flow?

      Maja, it does sound like your geographical area is in high demand right now, so like the others say, it might be time to shill the hell out of your trendy-Scandinavian-ness, as hilarious as it may be. I’m not fond of labels myself, but I bet I get categorized just for being Asian and in America. So I’m going to eat a metric ton of burgers and fries and hide my crassness under long black hair and thick eyeliner. Oh to be kawaii! /ohgod

      • Hi Kristina! I should preface my answer by saying that I’m a francophone from Québec, not France, so the situation here is a bit different.

        From what I’ve observed, there’s still a level of fetishisation of France and the ‘French girl’ going on here, but I think a number of us feel like we have a certain cultural claim to it because of our language and cultural ancestry. Yet France is still a bit exotic, and its culture is both something to aspire to and to reject.

        Although we see French movies, listen to French music, read French authors, because our culture is different and because some of us resent being occasionally portrayed as the ‘lower’ or ‘back-country’ version of France, the situation is a bit complicated. But since French from France culture is also an everyday thing for many of us, that part of our heritage can be something to aspire to, especially as a way to distance ourselves from the anglo culture(s) we’re surrounded by.

        So, the breton top and flats wearing girl wouldn’t be ridiculed over here (from what I know, of course), unless she’s in an environment that considers the whole of France as snob and still resents the Conquest of 1759 (and those people are more common than you’d think…). Fun times! (and sorry about the super-long answer)

        • 1759…too soon for some folks still, huh? Gotta love colonization.

          Being made to felt inferior because you’re not “real France” kind of sounds shitty to me. I can see how that could affect perception across the board, even reaching into fashion. (heh) to even push the topic further, would you say folks end up subscribing to a one-or-the-other mindset (identifying with the “French” vs. the “Anglo” identity?) In my experience with culture, at least in my little slice of it where I live, I’m a minority. Most other Asian kids I grew up with didn’t want to get in touch with their roots while they were young, but thankfully that trend is reversing.

          My university professors would be so proud of me right now. Dat humanities degree tho!

          • The Franco/Anglo mindset is another can of worms, because of colonization 4ever (and that’s without discussing native questions…). That’s a pretty complicated matter because francophones will see a lot of translated American tv shows and movies, or will listen to music in English. But yes, things are often separated in spite of that.

            Many white francophones will consider themselves minorities within the country, which is technically true, but has caused problems. In trying to defend our language/culture, some very racist bills mostly affecting visible minorities and immigrants have almost been passed recently. We also have a ‘language police’ that will issue fines to businesses advertising in English only, for instance, or block websites for international stores who have locations here but refuse to translate their sites.

            So you have all that going on while you have many anglophones who have French ancestry (like my boyfriend, who doesn’t speak much French) and bilingual francophones (like me!) who are occasionally shunned for *going to the other side* even though they have some anglophone ancestors (usu. Irish). My going to university in English, and having an anglophone boyfriend have actually caused problems in my family, and I’ve also been attacked and praised by strangers on the matter.

            In brief, yes, there’s a tendency to go one way or the other, and being on the line can be pretty uncomfortable.

            I can see why the Asian kids you grew up with didn’t necessarily want to learn about their roots because it can quickly become an us vs. them business (how has it been in your experience?). But I think it’s important to know about our past in order to try and make things better, even if ancestry is too often used as grounds for discrimination. You’re welcome to shoot me an email if you’d like!

            (Sorry to have hijacked the comments, Maja!)

          • Don’t you dare apologizing Camille, this is SO much more interesting than my blog post! Feel free to hijack all you want :)

        • Sorry for the unintentional hijack Maja. I’ve been very talkative on your various platforms, but that’s just because you and the people here have brought up much food for thought. Thank you for your response as well Camille, I have things I want to ask! :)

          • Sorry I’m late to the party, it’s a very interesting discussion indeed! First it’s interesting to see how France/French culture is seen from Quebec and what happens between the 2 communities formed by language. I’ve heard similar stories in Belgium for example, between French/Dutch. Here in France we don’t see Quebec as a “substandard” of French-speaking countries, at least not that I know of. Yes, Quebec accent can be mocked but overall the country has a very positive image here – of kind and open people in a welcoming country where it’s nice to live (despite the climate in winter).

            Now to answer Kristina’s question of how we view the “Parisian myth” – well, I’m not sure how many French people actually know about it. I mean, you have to be around certain kinds of socio-cultural and international circles to even have an idea of how your country is seen abroad. Sure, we know about macarons, eiffel tower and breton shirts (thanks to Arnaud Montebourg too, the minister who posed in an Armor Lux shirt to promote made in France items), but I really think you have to be in contact with foreigners to really grasp this whole Parisienne stereotype thing, you know the whole Charlotte Gainsbourg/Clémence Poésy kind of iconic vibe. I remember I had no idea France (or Paris to be exact) was seen that much through the eyes of luxury brands, simple elegance and all before I went to Japan. I had to see my country from the eyes of the Japanese to really become aware of this image.

            Now among this circle of higher social class people who travel a lot and know about this Parisian image, I think some play around it (especially those who have a blog or social networks etc.) but I’m suspecting that, as it’s often a case of grass being greener elsewhere and all – a lot of Parisians really would like to attain the “New York style” or “LA vibe”, or “scandi-chic” or whatever. In the end it’s just a label among others, and it might be a way to try and attain some ideal life of sorts. I don’t know if this answers the question properly but well…

  3. It’s funny though since the above is basically a perfect description of me and my home, except I don’t want a lumberjack boyfriend.

    I do know what you mean. I used to read Apartment Therapy to gain inspiration from someplace NOT Scandinavian…suddenly all their articles were full of omg IKEA! Look at these Scandi-lamps! All white, so fresh! Here is a blueberry soup recipe! It irritates me how some brands and antiques are now more expensive because foreigners think they’re trendy. Now I understand a little how some other cultures feel!

    • See, I’m completely clueless when it comes to interiors decorating so the interiors things never really phased me, but my ears perked up as soon as it bled over into fashion. I can imagine all the good second hand stored being completely out of retro Scandinavian furniture by now!

  4. Hahaha! Det verste er at beskrivelsen er så spot on, iallfall her i homogene Oslo (les Løkka-land). Kan du linke til noen artikler som omtaler Scandi-chic (*ugh*, men nysgjerrig)?

    Når det gjelder tanker om det kunstige luftslottet: i selvoptimaliseringens æra trenger folk en fantasi å strebe etter? Rammer for estetikken/identiteten sin? Fellesskapsfølelse? Akk, ja.

  5. That’s too funny. I kind of took advantage of the French girl thing as my *birthright*, you know, being a francophone and all (though not from France) while secretly badmouthing it. I now own several St. James tops from a French-language-only online discount shop, and have decided my unbrushed hair is just ‘soo French’. I say, take advantage of the Scandi thing if you feel so inclined? It can be fun, haha.

  6. Well the British are sure still in the midst of the trend of loving Scandinavian TV shows, so I guess for the UK that’s a particular factor that has contributed to the sort of Scandi style/culture fascination (pretty sure it was British shoppers who made Sarah Lund’s Faroese jumper sell out once they discovered it was available for purchase). I’m a fan of well-made crime dramas in general so I happen to like a bunch of Scandi crime shows (not necessarily because I can pick out any particular Scandinavian feature of them that makes them unique but just because they are high quality TV shows, although there are a fair few crappy Scandi crime dramas as well, as there are for crime dramas from any country or region!) and I’ve been interested in the opinion articles that people have been writing in which they try to figure out why the British love Scandi crime dramas and why it was such a trend over the past few years in particular. There were plenty of suggestions about the stark but beautiful scenery or the long dark nights being a unique and appealing factor, but that opinion kind of assumes that no part of any show ever occurred during summer…

    I can’t think that there was much reason for the crime drama trend specifically other than people in places like the UK have limited exposure to non-English-language films/TV, which is a result of decisions made by people organising the distribution rights – for many years, those people probably thought no one would be interested in Danish/Swedish/Norwegian-language TV. Then one TV show gains a decent following (maybe from internet downloads and file sharing), the programmers for TV channels like the BBC realise it’s an untapped market, they start showing more Scandi stuff, people watch more of it and want more of it, and bam – you’ve got a trend! And people get interested in the cultures that they see on the screen, and they buy their Faroese jumpers and they want to eat Scandinavian food (they suddenly realise that there’s more to it than IKEA meatballs) and they want to visit the cities and the countryside and the wilderness and they romanticise the whole thing. The romantic notion of it is so popular and powerful that it takes on a life of its own and people start to not care how different it might be from the everyday life of actual Scandinavians.

    And when you trawl through those Scandinavian interior design blogs, it certainly gives you the feeling that literally everyone in Scandinavia lives in pristine white homes that are flooded with light and full of minimalist mid-century modern furniture and hundreds of cushions and throws in various neutral shades. And it seems attainable because it’s ~minimalist~ – it means I only have to buy a few items to make my home a paragon of Scandi-chic minimalism, right? Except the more obvious route to minimalism would just be to chuck a bunch of stuff in the bin.

    But, I mean, the real question here is: how long do I have to wait for ~Australian chic~ to become the next big aesthetic thing, with a million Pinterest boards dedicated to ~laidback Australian style~? (The answer is: LOL that ain’t happening, that is so not even a thing, but if it was, I’m pretty sure it would be waayyyyyy off my experiences as an Australian… particularly as an Australian who isn’t that keen on beaches. (Don’t tell anyone or I might have my citizenship revoked.))

    • See, that feels so lovely and full-circle to me, as I grew up with Detective Jack Frost, Heartbeat, Fawlty Towers, Mr. Bean and all that good British stuff. And I heard about that infamous Faroese sweater, that’s so cool. Of course I would prefer a Marius sweater or a good Selbu rose pattern, but that’s my national pride talking ;)

      I can’t do interior decorating worth crap. I thought I was being awfully clever when I went for all dark-brown furniture (so practical! Won’t show dust as quickly!) when in reality it causes our place to feel like a dungeon in the dark months. Like you literally can’t stay awake because it’s just. so. DARK.

  7. Sitting on a Wegner chair at my Alvar Aalto table dressed in Filippa K from top to bottom this is a fun read:-)

    May I start with the furniture. I grew up in a home with danish design in the 70’s, then my mother discovered Ikea and all the good stuff went out the door. My “scandi chic” furniture, which I started buying in the 90’s, is my rebellion against my parents;-)

    And the Filippa K clothes is easy to wear being tall and blonde and looking completely like a fool in a green dress with flowers on it.

    What I try to say is, that what you call “Scandi chic” is a part of my DNA – like my school was designed by Arne Jacobsen and I live in an apartment designed by Henning Larsen.

    On the other hand I can’t see any attraction in the Kinfolk philosophy or the Kinfolk magasin, it is all about form and not about function.

    I like the functionality of the things I surround myself with, of the great buildings like public libraries or schools designed by good architects and of my apartment of course. But when it becomes a “fashion blip”, people has a tendency to forget about the functionality, and then we have the Kinfolk movement – slow food, home decor and cooking, that takes a war to get going.

    Great blog post!

    • Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment Liselotte, it is obvious that «Scandi Chic» is something that is deeply embedded in your bones, not as a trend or a lifestyle choice but as a natural part of your life and surroundings. Imagine going to an Arne Jacobsen-designed school, that is so cool! Did you appreciate it at the time?

      And if Filippa K caters to tall women then I am all over that like white on rice. I’ve discovered that Tiger of Sweden is has leggy-friendly jeans and trousers, is that the case for Filippa as well?

      And I totally agree on the function of things, it is so easily forgotten once something becomes a trend. You copy the surface look of the thing, but you lose the soul of it.

  8. here in germany we have a word for it: “bullerbü syndrom”. astrid lindgren books are very popular for children here and the storys set the foundation of our view of sweden (and scandinavia for that matter). its all red wood houses, clear lakes, woods and mountains. on top of that comes constant comparisons of the enducation system, family politics, happiness of the people etc.
    we often say scandinavia is europes canada^^ up noth, wide untouched wilderness, everything is just *better* up there.

    so from “somewhere in scandinavia” as the ideal place to live (pretty much everyone i know said at one point – if live gets too much they will go live there) it really is just a short way to scandi-chic as a way to get as close to that fantasy life as possible.

    • Hahaha that’s hilarious, because I often think of Canada as the Scandinavia of America. Seriously though, I often consider whether or not I’d be willing to move abroad to get some heat and sunlight, and all the things you mention are the things that would keep me from moving. Norway is _awesome_, all things considered.

      (Sickening national romanticism is also one of our special regional traits, by the way)

  9. I have to laugh at your spot-on description, and am a little embarrassed to admit how much I recognize myself in it. As a Norwegian, I don’t know if that makes me a trendsetter or a fashion victim! :P

    • Whichever you choose, don’t feel bad! I wrote it with love! I’m a plain-natural-fabrics-wearing, knitwear-loving, potty-mouthed (at least at home), Christmas-crafting feminist too! ;)

  10. I keep mulling this over, because I actually think it’s a much deeper question than you give yourself credit for…

    What is the Parisienne “about” – she’s sexy, but effortless, but more dressed up than sloppy. She has small, luxurious items and is very cosmopolitan. You could go on, I’m sure.

    So what, then, is the Scandi Chick about? Even more effortless, right? Is there something here about being more appreciated for looking natural – or am I just being optimistic?

    On a semi-related note, have you encountered this magical Tumblr yet: http://yourllbeanboyfriend.tumblr.com/

    • Oh my goodness, LL Bean Boyfriend is pure magic. He’s like Scandinavian Lumberjack Guy’s preppier older brother.

      And you are probably right – The Scandinavian is less metropolitan and more “back to nature” (Rousseau would be so proud) than The Parisienne, and probably much less “high maintenance” as well (although I hate that expression). She might appear more slow-paced, independent, and more connected to her roots in a way? The discussion here in the comments is so interesting, I appreciate everyone’s input SO much!

      • It makes me wonder what is happening in the larger context of the world, that people have shifted their preference toward all kinds of “back to the simple life” things – DIY jam, lumberjacky beards, keeping your own urban chickens, being a Scandi chick, etc.

  11. I never thought about Scandinavian style or knew it existed until I moved to England in 1996. My halls of residence at University was like the United Nations but on my floor it was mostly Norwegians and Swedes. Their hair and clothes were always perfect to me, rustic with a bit of an edge but still feminine but not girly. Also their hair and makeup was more natural – they only put on a bit glitter when they went out at night. Coming from the USA where everyone was hairsprayed to death with full-on makeup 24/7 it was a breath of fresh air. I personally think Scandi women style in their DNA!

  12. late to this discussion but haha this is so true. not to mention, the entire industry of ‘Parisian Chic’ that has sprung up from this! at the end of the day, i say just dress how you want and what feels good, labels or otherwise… :P

  13. My interest in Scandi style started when one of my favourite bloggers wrote about it in 2009, way before it was hot: http://www.mischiefmydear.com/dramatispersonae/2009/scandinavian-style-sarah-von-yes-and-yes/ It caught my interest but for ages I could find almost nothing else online about Scandi style. Till now.

    Then, I read this ridiculously funny guide to looking Danish :) http://copenhannah.com/post/14228929903/how-to-look-like-a-dane

    Also, I wanted to share this amazing little online comic: Scandinavia And The Rest Of The World http://satwcomic.com/

    • Thank you so much for the links! I LOVE that webcomic, I read it a while ago and it is so spot on.

      And that guide to looking Danish would fly well in Norway as well, except we’re not so fussy about the peroxide ;)

  14. Hahaha, this is hilarious – I love your writing! Especially that part with Scandi boyfriend looking like a wildling (but thrifting and wielding axe like a boss). I tried to imagine it and laughed so hard that I almost fell off my chair. :)))
    Wondering how come that everyone’s going nuts about some country’s style – shifting from France to Scandinavia to Korea etc etc… Have it already happened before? In any case, I guess that it won’t happen to Czech Republic since the only thing people remember about it (if they know it actually) is that we have great beer, Prague and some sportsmen, lol.

    Greetings!

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