Do you remember the world before the Scandinavians restyled us? They were grubbier, gloomier days when we had to furnish our rooms in dour bits of Victoriana salvaged from ancestral attics or skips. The typical kitchen was either a chamber of horrors - a tiny food factory in lurid lacquers, carpeted with patterned tiles to better disguise the gravy stains - or overly bleached, sanitised and about as welcoming a place to dine in as an Ebola ward.

And then the Scandinavians swept in to save us with their tasteful, purist designs and changed the way we live forever. Walk into any home today, be it in San Francisco, Skye or Sydney, and one will feel their influence instantly: the nursery fitted with a single blonde wooden toy and the printer’s block letters spelling out the B.A.B.Y’s name; the simple furniture thrown over with a stone-coloured blanket; the pale rooms - and co-ordinating outfits - enlivened by artisanal feature rugs. Our Nordic kinsfolk have even got their grip on Westeros: it was lately revealed the Night’s Watch capes in Game of Thronesbegan life as rugs from Ikea.

Simple interior in scandi style
Simple interior in scandi style
Image: iStock

Surely, as a culture, we’ve reached peak Scandi by now? Aren’t we sufficiently sated with their lingonberry-flavoured cordials, elegantly depressing dramas and pink-cheeked pop acts with names such as Astrid? Surely your plastic Trofast boxes are now exploding with the detritus you daily stuff into them in your effort to maintain a charade of effortless spatial economy? Apparently not. Because, just as I thought the Dala horse of decorative legend had finally had its day, along comes another Scandi export to seduce us.

Arket, meaning “sheet of paper” in Swedish, opened its first store in London on August 25, alongside an online shop shipping to 18 European countries. According to its managing director Lars Axelsson, the new brand will be a “modern-day market - both physical and digital - offering a broad but carefully curated assortment of products for men, women, children and the home”. It will also house a café, “based on the new Nordic food manifesto” (whatever that is) and sell “a solid foundation of products designed to be used and loved for a long time that are priced competitively enough to provide good value but high enough to maintain the level of quality our customers demand”.

Part Muji, part Margaret Howell, Arket’s merchandise (pictured) is strong on basics in trans-seasonal, utilitarian designs. A cotton T-shirt collection will come in three different weights and styles, from £12, the jeans are priced from £55. Arket’s promotional literature is steeped in the language of craft and sustainability: a printed floral is based on art work from the archives of a fabric manufacturer, the cashmere is knit with a recycled yarn where possible. Axelsson is also especially proud of the identification system that will issue each product with a nine-digit code “to make it easy for customers to find, and re-find products, as well as being a tool for our archive”.

So far, so rustik. But don’t be fooled by the in-store, single-origin blend Swedish speciality coffee, Arket is a big corporate beast. Owned by the Swedish H&M group, it will become the eighth brand to launch under its umbrella - which also includes Monki, & Other Stories and COS - and will represent the latest attempt by the Swedish retailer to corner new territory on a high street already well colonised by its stores. The group reported sales of SKr51.4bn (£4.8bn) in its second quarter in May.

The question is whether we still have room in our lives for another Nordic knit or Klippan blanket. Which gap can this new brand possibly fill? “We believe that Arket complements the existing retail market by offering a destination that goes beyond apparel and addresses the needs of a customer who has high demands but little time,” says Axelsson. “Our assortment is conceived to simplify choices rather than overwhelm customers.”

The Arket rhetoric is big on words such as “solid” and “quality”. Axelsson says Arket’s strategic priority will be “to listen and react to customer feedback and continually refine the concept and the products”. So far, it has focused resources on product rather than marketing, and has only shared scant information about the brand on Instagram. As to how big it expects Arket to be, Axelsson won’t say: “The H&M group generally do not disclose figures for individual concepts but rather for the group as a whole.” But it all suggests the group is inching away from its core fashion base to become a bigger lifestyle brand: a bit like Ikea, with sweaters and dresses and a higher grade of hot dog.

Whether the group can encroach on the dominion of Inditex (the Spanish group that owns Zara) remains moot. But based on the preview I saw, it should spook the Japanese-owned Uniqlo. The menswear category is especially strong - and comes at a price that should satisfy even the most parsimoniously minded.

The supremacy of Scandi style looks set to stick. Asked why we still find it so irresistible, Axelsson replies: “The elements of our Nordic heritage we take inspiration from are a desire for simplicity, functionality, and durability. These values are not uniquely Scandinavian, but we are happy to see that more people share them.” What a wholesome, sensible and typically Swedish thing to say. Pass me a cinnamon bun...


This article was originally published by the Financial Times.Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017.

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