Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Swedish style, Swedish design

I guess I mentioned we spent a couple of weeks in Stockholm at the tail end of the summer (now officially over, due to the start of classes this week). I'd love to earnestly say that it's one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen – and I think that's the case, only it was raining about 80% of the time, so it was kind of hard to tell. Beautiful cobblestones, tho. A wonderful change to be spending time in a city that dates back to the Middle Ages, & looks it, here where a house that was built in the '60s is likely to be on the historic register, & one can drive 30 minutes in any direction without seeing a single structure that wouldn't have made Ruskin puke.

I was thinking a lot about Swedish style & design while I was there. On the one hand, there's the "traditional" style, what gets marketed as "Scandinavian Country" – muted yellows, greens, & blues, whitewashed pine furniture, lovely detail painting. A certain amount of that in people's interiors, tho not nearly as much as you'll find in US antique shops. (We never visited anyone's country home, however, so I can only vouch for the urban interiors – admittedly, it's pretty hard to place an 8-foot armoire in one of those 400-square-foot apartments.)

Far more common – indeed, ubiquitous – is the high modernist, Bauhaus-derived Ikea style. Not just Ikea style, either, but literal Ikea. Everybody, but everybody, seems to do at least some of their furnishing – the younger folks, almost all – from Ikea. It appeals to my Samuel Beckett side, I must admit, but gets a bit oppressive after a while. So much white, so many clean lines. I found myself longing for a bit of colorful, texturally various just plain clutter. (No lack of that back home, I assure you...)

Most shocking of all, however, was the general sense of personal style. I had the mistaken impression – derived mostly from a regular diet of Hannah Anderson catalogues – that the Swedes were a nation who dressed with a wonderful, colorful flair: lots of pastels, stripes & patterns, etc. I even bought a couple of pairs of eye-poppingly colorful striped socks to wear with my red Diesel trainers, just to fit in with this fashionable race. Instead, I found a bunch of folks whose passion for earth tones, clunky shoes, and muted sweaters would make them fit right in in, say, Portland, Maine, or Waukegan. Occasionally you'd see something cool – a sixtyish man with spiky grey hair in a magenta sweater, or a pair of running shoes in colors that don't occur in nature – and the children, to be sure, are miniature palettes of bright color; but for the most part the Swedes I saw seem to melt right into the countryside.

Worst of all, I must confess, was the youth style. Aside from a half-dozen weird approximations of American hip hop wear, the default mode for the Swede of 15 – 21 seems to be, of all things, "New Wave" styles, MTV circa 1983. Much black, usually accessorized with chains & studs; fishnet hose; stovepipe trousers, inevitably worn with Chuck Taylor sneakers; lots of dyed hair; many Robert Smith asparagus hairdos (the Cure must still be really big in Sweden, judging by the number of t-shirts on people who weren't born the first time they played Stockholm). I felt like I was in a time warp back to the "new wave nights" at the local Marriott, Blacksburg Virginia, during my undergraduate days.
Alas, with a 4- and 6-year old in tow, there was little time for sampling Stockholm's cultural pleasures (tho I do have a good working knowledge of the city's playgrounds now, & have been to Junibacken – read "Pippi Longstocking Land" – twice). But I'm happy to report that the architecture is magnificent, the public transit system is extraordinary, the people are uniformly friendly and welcoming even to an American ugly as I, and the Modern Museum ("Moderna Museet") is absolutely first-rate. The weather – at least for our two weeks – could use some work.


William Keckler said...

Hey! a post designed to send me into raptures...any post that includes "Ikea," "Scandinavia," "1983," "Ruskin" and "Portland, Maine" is apt to induce paroxysms of ecstasy. I actually fell in love with Portland, Maine's decay. I think it would be Stein's new no there there. The downtown that appears to have been the first neutron bomb testing zone, with the great beaux arts office building turned art school (multi-storied but many of the floors dark and permanently disused). I love the odd little bookstore turned headshop, Strange Maine is it called? And the scary Steven-Kingesque mural of George Bush with eyes rolled bald as white marble prophesying as nuclear bombs detonate in the background...I think that's right across the street from the ones sports stadium. I was there in the summertime and the only ones in the Chiricoesque streets were either young artists or homeless people. It truly is somewhat a post-apocalyptic scene but photogenic because of all the emptiness. I love that the kids hang out in the cemeteries and drink beer on top of mausolea. It's sort of 1874 in Portland, Maine or else it's 2195. One can never be sure. I'm told all the people who make money fled to the suburbs and exurbs and rebuilt the downtown as a satellite ring. Now I will go YouTube that Ruskin inversion video "The Angel on Ruskin" on which Liz Fraser sings. Oh, if you have any poetry that addresses Heidegger's "Big Warum" question, feel free to send for my new blog, "Why is there Something?" which I linked to on Joe Brainard's Pyjamas. Salut!

tyrone said...

I was in Copenhagen last week, another old Scandanavian city, and yes, very retro re music and clothes. I even ventured into Tivoli Gardens swarming with kiddies in tow by variously sized adults, saw the Bodies exhibit at a museum attached to Tivoli (appropriate somehow)...and then repaired to the bar...


Bradley said...

Hi Mark-- I nominated your blog for a blog award. If you're interested, you can get all the information in my most recent blog post.

Archambeau said...

What I remember about Swedish fashion from my time teaching there a decade ago is the conformity. Except for a few kids emulating American clothes, everyone wore the same thing. Which I then saw in the US among my more fashionista students about a year later. So unless times have changed, look for the new New Wave in the fall of '09.

Hej da,


Anonymous said...

You have at least one reader in Sweden! I finished your Poem of a Life this summer - wonderful reading. Zukofsky's largely unknown here, but I've been curious about his work ever since I first came across it in Kenner's The Pound Era.
Johan Lif
(about an hour away from Stockholm)

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