Scandimania! What’s driving London’s obsession?

As IKEA plans a major development next to the Olympic Park, we look at our obsession with Scandinavia

It began with flatpack furniture and meatballs. But London’s taste for Scandinavian style has evolved, and IKEA is now but the tip of a Nordic iceberg crashing through West End trends.

The number of Scandinavian and Baltic products in West End shops has increased fourfold in the last year.

John Lewis Oxford Street added 38 Scandinavian food brands in January 2011 alone.

And the Scandinavia Show at London Olympia is returning for a second year this month, bigger and better, thanks to the success of its 2010 debut.

The Scandimania hitting the West End is racking up £300m annually just for that micro-region of retailers, according to analysts from the New West End Company.

Hot on the tail of long-standing West End resident H&M are fellow clothes brands Cos (Swedish), Design House Stockholm, Day Birger (Danish), and trendies’ favourites ACNE and Cheap Monday (both Swedish).

And anyone who’s come across a Bang & Olufsen zealot – and I’ve yet to meet a B&O customer who is anything less than zealous about the Danish-made sound systems – will tell you that the Scandinavian kroner doesn’t stop at clothes.

The home accessories market is the other fastest-growing Scandinavian sector - along with fashion - in the West End.

Skandium, BoConcept and Georg Jensen are London’s most prominent interior brands from across the North Sea.

Along with a few friends, this formidable retail collective has seen floorspace dedicated to Scandinavian produce increase 20 per cent since the beginning of January 2010 – slap bang in the middle of London’s prime shopping ground, too.

What’s fuelling London’s Scandimania?

Hana Taylor is store manager at the Tottenham Court Road branch of BoConcept, Denmark’s global furniture and lighting brand (it’s had a UK presence since 2000). She’s seen London shoppers shifting away from the past few years’ headrush of cheap and cheerful imports from China, and back towards quality.

“People want to see value and invest in their design pieces now, which is why Scandinavian products have been popular,” she says. “The quality and name and history has a certain gravitas for Londoners.”

Trend experts at the ESCP Europe Business School agree. “There is an inherent trust in Scandinavian brands among consumers, as they offer a healthy, sophisticated way of living,” as affiliate professor Jeremy Baker has put it.

Trend experts at the ESCP Europe Business School also found the West End featured more Scandinavian products than anywhere else in the UK.

Taylor says more than half of BoConcept’s 11 UK stores are in Greater London. “London is more progressive in its design tastes than elsewhere in the UK,” she explains.

Cultural influence

Perhaps it’s the diverse mixture of Londoners who have an appetite Scandinavian design that makes the market here so robust. “You have young trendsetters in London, but also mature clients looking for statement pieces,” Taylor says.

Those occupying the upper end of the market, she’s noticed, often return from second homes or holidays in Europe expecting the international brands they like from overseas to have a presence in London.

Travel is an increasingly strong factor in drawing overseas brands to London. UK tourists make up Sweden’s fourth-largest group of international visitors, for example. 250,000 Brits pop over to Norway each year.

And the flow is two-way. The number of Danish-born UK residents has increased from 19,000 to 22,000 over the past six years. Swedish-born UK residents have increased from 21,000 to 29,000 in the same period.

But broader cultural overlaps have surely had an impact too.

The likes of Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and Karin Fossum have seen Scandinavian crime fiction leap up the publishing rankings in recent years. Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo et al) has given the region a nice bit of cinema-screen exposure too.

Cult crime TV exports such as Wallander and The Killing (newly acquired by the BBC) have extended the trend.

There is also a widespread conception of Scandinavian lifestyle as intrinsically betterthan UK living.

As  the Norwegian Embassy’s Thomas Aastad has said: “There is a strong trend amongst Brits to buy into the Scandinavian way of living and lifestyle, as Norwegian products are associated with great quality, high design and healthy living.”

Perhaps, just perhaps, the Scandinavian sales boom in London is indicative of a deeper cultural yearning for a cleaner-living, more considered lifestyle than what the Primarks and TK Maxx’s of the high street represent.


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