Of all the markets you’d expect the Scandinavians to be least affected by the changes afoot in the economy. The principles on which their design heritage is based – simple, long-lasting, high quality, practical, no frills and where appropriate, environmentally aware design – have never felt more relevant.
A couple of years ago short-sighted critics turned on the Scandis accusing them of being a bit dull, and incapable of responding to changing times and wants. Now they’re having the last laugh, while the red-faced purveyors of bombastic design recede into the shadows with their gimmicky, gilt creations.
Compared to Cologne and Paris, little seemed to have changed in Stockholm but then little needed to. Excess was never on their agenda and speaking to many of the exhibitors, large and small, the theme was definitely ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’.
That said there was still much to get excited about. The Greenhouse area of the fair, set aside for schools and graduates, was better than in recent years. There were fewer groups and more individuals showing (less risk, more gain perhaps) but the sheer quality across the board was excellent. Where Scandinavian schools might lag in pushing design forward conceptually they make up for it in rudimentary, basic skills of how to make and finish furniture beautifully.
On the stands of the main fair there were maybe fewer launches than last year but the new products made up for it by seeming considered. Swedese was a standout with a helping hand from the ubiquitous trio Claesson Koivisto Rune. We also swooned over a new bin company called Lundqvist.
Elsewhere Monica Forster, whose presence, like CKR, was felt almost everywhere, created two dramatic, diametrically opposite installations: Ominous, in the Nordic Light Hotel, consisted of 1000 blackbirds hovering in pendants and perched on electricity pylons, casting shadows that lived up to the installation’s name; then over on Skeppsholmen at the Moderna Museet she calmed an edgy, immaculately-dressed preview-party crowd with hundreds of curved, interwoven candles.
Task light company Wastberg, who we profiled last year in W*111, launched their second collection, setting up camp in the Berns Hotel and firmly placing themselves at the centre of the contemporary design scene in Stockholm. Jonny Johansson, Acne’s Creative Director, created an installation in Svenskt Tenn’s window area, turning the usually mild-mannered space into a replica of his ‘Atelier’.
At hotels Birger Jarl and elsewhere in the Nordic Light, there were satellite exhibitions of youngish designers many of whom we’ve profiled in the past, such as Form Us With Love, Philip Edis and TAF, all of whom proved to be developing a recognisable style on top of the skills they acquired at school.
This gentle development is perhaps what best defines the contemporary Swedish design scene. Though accusations might be lauded from time to time that it’s safe and slow-paced, the quality that’s taught at the schools makes for a solid foundation on which to develop a personality. Too often too many students feel concept and individuality is paramount in making a name and a quick buck, but as we’re all learning again, recognisable, statement design has a shelf life. And not for the first time we find ourselves saying the Scandis are getting it right.