Norway warms up to ‘Nordic Cool’

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Norwegian commentators may roll their eyes at the expressions “Scandinavian Cool” and “Nordic Cool,” but some fairly major media events and exhibitions far beyond Norway’s borders have been showcasing what they consider “cool” Norwegian design and culture in recent weeks. Now Norwegians are also taking part in a major exhibition in Washington DC, designed to portray the entire Nordic region as extremely cool indeed.

Characteristic moose made out of wood have been set up near the Kennedy Center in Washington in connection with "Nordic Cool." PHOTO: Nordiskråd/norden.org

Characteristic moose made out of wood have been set up near the Kennedy Center in Washington in connection with “Nordic Cool.” PHOTO: Nordiskråd/norden.org

The “Nordic Cool” art and culture festival opened at the Kennedy Center this week and will run until March 17. It’s featuring everything from food to furniture, with lots of art and music in between.

“This is the largest cultural event about the Nordic countries held outside the region,” Norway’s minister for culture, Hadia Tajik, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “It’s great that a place like the Kennedy Center, which has such a good reputation, has chosen to make a priority of showing off the Nordics and Norway.”

The Nordic countries encompass Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland, with Greenland, Åland and the Faroe Islands included with their own identities as well in the “Nordic Cool” event. It’s backed by the Nordic  Council of Ministers, a cooperative group made up of all the sovereign Nordic states.

“There’s international hype around the Nordic countries right now,” Jesper Schou-Knudsen, communications chief for the Nordic Council in Copenhagen, told newspaper Aftenposten. “It involves everything from the Nordic welfare model to core Nordic values like equality and sustainable development. I think the fact we score high year after year as happy and well-off also has made an impression on the Americans.”

Schou-Knudsen said officials at the Kennedy Center themselves have been responsible for the program for “Nordic Cool.” Its management traveled several times to the Nordic countries to choose each exhibit, and the various musicians and artists.

Terje Inxxxx ice music will be featured along with artists including Tord Gustavsen and the Hemsing sisters. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/norway.org

Terje Isungset’s literally cool ice music will be featured along with artists including Tord Gustavsen and the Hemsing sisters. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/norway.org

They’ll include, from Norway, jazz pianist Tord Gustavsen, the violin-playing Hemsing sisters and Terje Isungset’s ice music, along with a National Theater production of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and the dance troupe Carte Blanche.

There will also be Norwegian chefs on hand to cook up Norwegian cuisine, plus literature panels and exhibits on architecture and the Nobel Peace Prize. Tajik thinks it will open new doors for the Norwegians involved.

Norwegian fashion hits the runways
Meanwhile, in New York, Norwegian fashion designer Nina Skarra was recently the first Norwegian to be included in the city’s annual week of fashion shows, among the likes of Ralph Lauren and Marc Jacobs. Her clothes were branded as “Scandinavian Cool,” simple and classic, in her own words, “very Norwegian.” Skarra told Aftenposten last week that the experience was “fantastic,” and she confirmed that “Nordic design is very trendy and exotic in the US right now. There’s a lot being written about the pure, sculptural, clear lines that are typically Scandinavian.”

Crown Princess Mette-Marit, shown here in a Nina Skarra gown, has long been a fan of the Norwegian fashion designer. PHOTO: Kongehuset.no

Crown Princess Mette-Marit, shown here in a Nina Skarra gown, has long been a fan of the Norwegian fashion designer. PHOTO: Kongehuset.no

Skarra, who started out redesigning packaging for Body Shop products and now makes clothes for Crown Princess Mette-Marit, thinks a “a new, enormous market” is opening up in the US, “and it’s a gift.”

Other markets are opening up in Europe for various designers, and three young ones from Norway, Sweden and Denmark were also invited to show their wares at London Fashion Week this month. Scandinavian design “is on is way onto the world stage,” Dorothea Gundtolft, a curator who’s written a book entitled “Fashion Scandinavia: Contemporary Cool.” She told Aftenposten last week that she think the designs’ appeal are “the simple, the minimalistic, combined with details of high quality.”

Ingvild Abrahamsen and Trami Ngo, both age 25, are two of the young designers from Norway chosen to show their work in London. Commentators back home seem pleased on their behalf but skeptical of all the hype over “coolness” and Nordic solidarity. They question the idealistic common platform, given the differences among the individual Nordic countries.

“Maybe all this market-building can create more Nordic language and cultural interest internally within the Nordic countries also,” mused columnist Ingunn Økland in Aftenposten this week. “From now on I’ll stop clarifying what’s Swedish, Danish and Norwegian when I’m abroad … Volvo, equality, Tivoli, the Nobel Peace Prize, ABBA, IKEA, salmon, cod, oil … it’s all just Nordic.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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