Swedish Fashion at the Fashion and Textiles Museum, we speak to curator Maria Ben Saad
Swedish Fashion: Exploring a New Identity opened today at the Fashion and Textiles Museum, we featured an interview with Ann-Sofie Back, one of the designers in the exhibition yesterday but read on for our interview with Maria Ben Saad, lecturer at Beckmans College of Design and curator of the show:
"The Swedish Institute initiated the idea, they wanted to show Swedish fashion to a new audience so they came to me to work out a concept. We didn't want to invent a scene where there wasn't one, the designers we have picked are very different and work independently from each other.
Swedish brands like H&M , Acne and Cheap Monday are massive commercial successes but we wanted to show a side to Swedish fashion which is independent, creative and up-and-coming."
Ben Saad went on to explain how Sweden didn't have a fashion industry as such until the '80s: "In such a democratic system as Sweden's conspicuous displays of wealth and individualism are frowned upon. This means you have to be very strong-minded to survive as a designer." She also describes how in the '70s international trade conditions made things difficult for Sweden: "The textiles industry in Sweden almost collapsed, which means that nowadays designers depend on other countries for raw materials like fabric and production. In a way this is a good thing, as it makes designers have a more international outlook."
"The group we have picked represent a new wave of Swedish fashion, they take what they have from Sweden and put it in an international context. Bringing this show to London was a bit daunting, as it was important to understand the background of Swedish fashion to show that these designers are pioneers."
Why do you think that the Japanese market feels such an affinity with Swedish fashion labels?
"For some reason the Japanese audience seems to obsess about the whole range of Swedish fashion; denim brands such as Acne, fast fashion companies (H&M successfully opened a new flagship store in Tokyo last year) and more avant-garde designer labels.
There is a history of official cultural exchanges between Japan and Sweden, but I don't think that's the whole explanation. My guess is that both countries share a feeling of being outsiders in the international fashion system and therefore relate to each other. There are also similarities in taste, for example an inclination towards a minimalist aesthetic.
An area where they differ is that the Japanese audience seems to accept avant-garde expressions much easier than the Swedish fashion consumers. It is my impression that the Japanese relate to fashion in a much more conceptual way than Swedes, which is why Japan is a very important market for progressive Swedish fashion designers such as Ann-Sofie Back and Sandra Backlund."