It's cool up north: Modern classics from Copenhagen and Stockholm

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Style isn't all about Paris and Milan – Copenhagen and Stockholm are hot on the heels of the fashion capitals when it comes to modern classics, statement pieces and quirky design, says Harriet Walker

There hasn't been such an influx of Nordic talent since the Middle Ages, but fashion is enjoying a Viking invasion at the moment, with a host of Scandinavian designers bringing their own brand of cool to our favourite shopping haunts.

"The rest of the world has had their eye on Scandinavian design for quite a while," says Keld Mikkelsen, creative director of Day Birger et Mikkelsen, "but I think the recent attention spur is because of the success a lot of us have been fortunate to experience abroad, especially in the UK." The label is sold in more than 1,000 shops across 25 countries, offering a distinctive range of modern classics, chic tailoring and quietly sleek, directional pieces.

Mikkelson's former co-designer Malene Birger, who founded her own range By Malene Birger, opened a flagship store in London earlier this year and posted her best-ever sales results. So why have the Scandis captured our imagination?

"Our style is very basic and down-to-earth, yet innovative and daring," says Emy Blixt, who set up her retro-kitsch shoe label Swedish Hasbeens after finding over 300 pairs of authentic Seventies wooden-soled clogs in an old factory. The clompy, stompy designs are the perfect accompaniment to this season's denim trend. "We are very creative without drawing exaggerated attention – and we get a lot of attention because of that. It's a contradiction in a way, but a really great one."

The likes of Ann-Sofie Back (Sweden) and Peter Jensen (Denmark) have been grabbing attention for several years with quirky pieces that perfectly balance strong design with pragmatism and wearability. Their international cult status is proof of their success, with Jensen now showing in New York and Back making a triumphant return to the London catwalk last February. Acne is another Swedish brand going from strength to strength; after starting out in 1997 by making jeans for friends, they saw Kylie Minogue sporting a pair earlier this month and launched an exclusive boutique at Harrods last week.

"Copenhagen Fashion Week is now as important for us as Paris or New York," says Joanne Watkinson, a buyer for My-wardrobe.com, "not just for hunting out new brands, like Designers Remix and Mini Market, but for inspiration. Their interpretation of fashion is never contrived or over-styled – it has an insouciant feel which filters through the collections."

It's this insouciance which is at the heart of the current love affair with all things Nordic: fashion's favourite look at the moment is one of deconstructed basics thrown together, pared down and layered. Add to this the slightly grungy feel that many Scandinavian brands have at their heart – loose jersey, baggy knits, denim and T-shirt dresses – and you have an aesthetic that chimes with all the major trends of the season; something rather rock chick, romantic and gothic, with a little bit of minimalism thrown in. No wonder street style photographers The Sartorialist and Facehunter find the pavements of Copenhagen and Stockholm such fertile hunting grounds.

Swedish fashion journalist Caroline Blomst keeps a blog of her outfits from day to day; her style is an easy mix of international labels and homegrown finds. "Scandinavian fashion is very wearable and easy to like," she says. "And because fashion has become more accessible in the past few years, we have really branched out. The Scandinavian sense of style brings something fresh and new."

Nowhere is this more evident than in Topshop's EDIT collection, a biannual capsule of young, hyped international brands that shoppers are unlikely to find anywhere else. Swedish label Nakkna, whose aesthetic is relaxed and ultra-hip, creating shape and elegance with simple drapery and loose frills, has been included for the past two seasons, while Danish Diana Orving, known for her graphic prints and structural detailing, will feature in the autumn selection this September.

There's also plenty of variation on the scene: if pared down isn't your thing, then Dagmar – created and run by three Swedish sisters – is known for its glamorous cocktail frocks, available at ASOS. "Swedish style is uniquely clean and minimal," says head designer Kristina Tjäder "but Dagmar is different – our look is more sensual and feminine." Swedish stylist-turned-designer Ulrika Lundgren's collection Rika also plays with girlishness, and her star-embellished bags have become a firm fashion-pack favourite. "You get quality for modern prices," she says, "and small countries make people ambitious!"

Julia Lundsten, the Finnish brains behind the shoe label Finsk, is also convinced of this: "There's the attitude that everyone should be able to enjoy good design – it's not elitist. And we're also good at problem-solving, not just fantasy."

Whatever the reasons, there's definitely more coming out of Scandinavia right now than pickled herring and ABBA. "I really don't know what it is," muses Peter Jensen. "I think we all like day-dreaming – maybe that helps."

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