What’s Behind Our Current Swedish Fetish?

Americans have always had an inexplicable fascination with Sweden. The name conjures images of pristine landscapes, snow-covered Lingdon berries, and beautiful people gallivanting around in knit reindeer sweaters. But the stereotypes aren’t all social utopia: some people think it’s a strange, bleak landscape haunted by bizarre and occult figures — you can thank Ingmar Bergman for that.

With recent release Let the Right One In (a vampire flick that makes Twilight look like Romper Room) garnering such critical success, film buffs are asking if our fair neighbors to the north are having a second golden age.

And it’s hardly contained to the realm of film. Ask anyone who works in the fashion industry and they’ll tell you Swedish design hasn’t been this in demand since the first IKEA opened its American flagship store in 1985. From fashion behemoths Acne and controversial jeans purveyors Cheap Monday, to newer, but still ubiquitous brands such as Filippa K, Gram, Nudie and WeSC, Swedish fashion has become synonymous with a hip, clean aesthetic, and really tight pants. Many of the colors and geometric patterns that have made Cheap Monday and H&M so wildly popular are actually very much part of Sweden’s long history of design — think early 20th Century textiles of a company like Svenskt Tenn.

However, the Swedish aesthetic itself is somewhat polarized — there exists the dichotomy between the traditional — bright, kitschy, bordering on folksy (like those Woolen dalai horse sweaters your grandma in Minnesota sends you every winter) versus the dark and eerie imagery conjured by more contemporary brands. This schism also extends to the realm of art and music. The best example of this is the difference between two of Sweden’s most popular bands — ABBA and the Knife. While ABBA capitalized on the blonde rosy-cheeked likeability of it’s members, the Knife chooses to perform in black crow masks — a figure which is very common in tradition Swedish mythology.

Maybe Americans dig that push and pull.

But this still doesn’t answer our original question. When we polled friends, most gave responses in the vein of curiosity. Intrigue over how the Swedish lifestyle which appears so clean and organized — as one friend said, “because they appear to be so put together, to know something that we don’t.” Perhaps Sweden seems so orderly because they have a small, homogeneous population, with much of its constituents sharing a similar liberal viewpoint — the antithesis of America.

When your banking system is going down the toilet, unemployment is on the rise, and every time you turn on the TV political figures are arguing — well a little escapism into teen vampires and chess playing agents of death, from a country with socialized medicine, one of the best systems of education in the world, and miles of unspoiled countryside might start to sound pretty damned appealing. Even if it does involve severed body parts.

– Laura Feinstein