A new wave of designers are making themselves heard, while the classic icons are rediscovered. Lighting, rainwear, wool and passports are among the Norwegian designs that are attracting worldwide attention.
“Stylish Scandinavia”. You don’t have to eat form and function for breakfast and subscribe to a myriad of classy design magazines to have heard this expression before.
Scandinavian design first emerged as a common term in the 1950s, when designers from Norway and the neighbouring countries toured the world with their products, characterised by minimalism and functionality.
Norwegians haven’t perhaps been as skilled or eager as our Swedish and Danish neighbours in promoting our post World War II-era design icons. But this could be seen as an advantage: the new generation of designers are now able to express themselves more freely, without having to constantly live up to a legacy.
Already, many are gaining international recognition. They work with multiple formats, but the common thread is the willingness to experiment and take risks.
Many of the Norwegian designers are now working with the international market in mind, inspired by global trends. That means that it can be difficult to define a unified Norwegian design, even though factors as nature-inspired forms, graceful lines and light are prominent.
The Norwegian nature, weather and way of life have also set its mark on the work of many designers. It’s probably no coincidence that some of the most renowned clothing brands the last few years have produced rainwear, or warm garments made of wool. They make clothes for ordinary people with a sense of style, while luxury clothing made from Norwegian fashion designers are a rarity. Norwegian designers have worked a lot with lamps and lighting - perhaps natural considering the long and dark winters.
Norway also has a large public sector, and some of the most exciting design works of the last few years have actually been done for government agencies. New banknotes, designed by Snøhetta and The Metric System, have been hailed as an instant classic, as has a redesign of the Norwegian passport with fresh colours and simplified depictions of Norway’s natural landscapes.
The Guardian reports about the latter: ”If the passport is a symbol of national identity, then the new design for Norway’s travel documents has undoubtedly cemented the country’s reputation as a land of sleek, minimalist beauty”.
Norwegian Andreas Engesvik believes that poetry can improve design. He is an internationally renowned designer of furniture, tableware, and other industrial design for a great variety of brands including Iittala, Muuto, Fontana Arte, Ligne Roset and Asplund. His studio is based in downtown Oslo.
Photo: Siren Lauvdal
What makes Norwegian design unique?
“I think Norwegian design is somehow free and more poetic than its Scandinavian counterparts. Moreover, it’s undoubtedly rooted in strong Scandinavian design traditions, which has become more relevant than ever.”
How does Norwegian design play an international role?
“We live in a rapidly changing time which happily forces us to thinki new. Design solutions from our part of the world thrives to resolve challenges. I also strongly believe that Oslo is an arena for innovation and design.”
What is the main force behind Norwegian design?
“I think design here emanate from a healthier type of consumption. A trend that will be dominating in the near future.”
How is this change noticeable?
“My best indicator of this boom in Norwegian design, is that I sometimes find myself loosing track of the many newcomers. For the first time in many years, there is a strong, fast-growing community of Norwegian designers.”
Where do you go for design updates?
“I like to pay frequent visits to Norway Designs, a dignified, traditional shop with an unusually well-curated mix of classics, as well as small scale productis, by new talents.”
What’s your best buy ever?
“Well, it may be the Ekstrem chair I used to have in my house. Ekstrem, designed in 1972 by Terje Ekstrøm, is an independent piece of furniture designed with numerous unimaginable associations, a true masterpiece in the history of Norwegian design, and also fun to use.”
In summary, what should one expect from Norwegian design?
“First and foremost, it has the solidity, functionality and ability to let people become emotinlly attached to it before it breaks.”
Photo: Erik Five Gunnerud
“I think Norwegian designers have a great notion of freedom in developing new projects. Compared to our neighboring countries, we're lacking a strong national industry which otherwise could serve as a unifying and at the same time limiting platform.”
“Since many designers search for partners outside of Norway, there might be a tendency for each designer to cultivate their one personal strengths, interests and expressions thus adding expanding an already rich and broad field of young Norwegian design,” says the designer Kristine Five Melvær, an award-winning designer of tableware, lighting, furniture, textile objects and graphic design.
A pink tractor. That’s perhaps the most known clothing icon from Norway the last few years, as the brand Moods of Norway has become an international fashion powerhouse with flagship stores in New York City and Los Angeles, among other big cities.
Happy clothes are for happy people is their motto, and strong colours and patterns characterize their blazers, jackets, shirts, shoes, and an array of accessories.
While Moods of Norway is a more crowd-pleasing brand, Norway has a lot of designers that operate in the high end of the fashion spectrum. Several of them are sold in the most important fashion stores in places like New York, Tokyo and Paris.
Norwegian Rain and Swims are classy rainwear brands, while Holzweiler produce a rather unique scarf collection in cashmere, silk and wool. The importance of seasons in Norway is underlined by a brand called Fall Winter Spring Summer that produce women’s clothing with a no fuss Scandinavian aesthetic that equally balances femininity and masculinity.
The brand Johnnylove from Trondheim is an example of many exciting things happening outside of Oslo as well.
It’s easy to think about furniture or electronic products when someone mention the word “design”. However, more and more focus at schools such as The Oslo School of Architecture and Design has been on the role designers can have at problem solving in society in general – both in the private and public sectors.
How can designers work to reduce emissions and contribute to a sustainable society? Or to build public spaces where children can move and play on their own terms? A much-discussed example of this was when a team of designers worked together with Oslo University Hospital on the process of cancer diagnosis, and the project managed to reduce the waiting time from 12 weeks to seven days.
The design institute at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design are today ranked among the world’s best, and at The Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture (DOGA) you can experience exhibitions, conferences and other events that promote good use of design and architecture.
Photo: Dusan Reljin
For his music video “The Stars are out tonight”, David Bowie (1947-2016) asked Iselin Vollen Steiro to play him as a young man. Since her career exploded in 2003 she has been known as an international supermodel, highly present at numerous catwalks, magazine covers and more. Lately Iselin has also studied architecture and is co-owner of a Norwegian fashion brand among other activities.
She grew up in Harstad, a colourful coastal town in Northern Norway, is married to actor Anders Danielsen Lie, and is listed "Industry icon" by the model ranking site models.com.
What is the strength of Norwegian fashion design within the Scandinavian tradition?
“It’s clean, simple, practical and yet elegant by using traditional materials of rich history. The design remains true to these materials without compromising on innovation.”
How crucial is this natural feel for the position Norwegian design now has earned in the international arena?
“I believe the world out there look at our design footprint as natural and to a certain extent untouched. Traditional materials like wool helps strengthening Norway and the rest of Scandinavia as a brand. Wool has numerous qualities tentatively imitated by high tech materials, in fields like breathability, isolation, and water repellency.”
Iselin Vollen Steiro mentions several newcomers to the scene of Norway’s ever new design shops, among them Oslo-based F5 at Øvre Slottsgate 5 with Norwegian clothes only, Numer 9 at Riddervoldsgate 9, Studio Bazaar at Louises gate 21, as well as the interior venue Kollekted by at Rathkes gate 4 with its cleverly curated selection of furniture and design objects. If these should be temporarily there will be other likeminded venues in the neighborhood.
“Local identity is a bonus for fashionable designers choosing traditional materials”, states Iselin, who will continue to take special assignments as a model and actor and help the fashion community to make use of untapped opportunities.
In the late 1960s Norway discovered oil in the North sea, and that may be a contributing factor in explaining why other areas of Norwegian industry, such as product design, became less of a priority.
However, much has been done the last few years to rectify this. A very successful exhibition, called Norwegian Icons, have toured places like Tokyo and New York with more than 500 works of high-end decorative arts and furniture made between 1940 and 1975. Among the designers represented in the exhibition are Torbjørn Afdal, Grete Prytz Kittelsen, Tone Vigeland, Fredrik Kayser and Sven Ivar Dysthe.
If you’re looking to see or buy more modern Norwegian design works, among the most renowned manufacturers operating today are the lamp designer Northern Lighting, inspired by Scandinavian simplicity and the ever-changing character of the Nordic light.
A lot of exciting things are happening around the glassworks Hadeland Glassverk, known for the beauty of its mouth-blown glass (english only) and its tradition of pushing the boundaries of production and design, while still adhering to the same methods it employed 250 years ago.
The New York Times did a piece on Norwegian design talents in 2015, and among those named were Anderssen & Voll, the young ceramicist Victoria Gunzler and the furniture designer Sara Wright Polmar, Hallgeir Homstvedt, Runa Klock and Stokke Austad.
Even though a lot of the most famous product designers traditionally have been men, it’s pleasing to see more and more female designers taking the world of decor by storm. Look out for the works signed by designers such as Ingrid Aspen, Kristine Bjaadal and Silje Nesdal.