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Style, innovation & equality

Let it rain

How Scandinavia became the epicenter for innovative rainwear.

Words Jonna Dagliden Hunt

A new uniform has appeared on the streets of Scandinavia. It is made to be wet and dry at the same time. It can be light or heavy. Long or short. Bold or safe. We’re talking about the raincoat — a new fashion statement to be worn in the capricious weather conditions that Scandinavians both love and hate.

The rise of Scandinavian raincoat brands can be linked to our heritage — it’s simply part of our DNA to wear functional clothing to protect us from the unsteady weather conditions. According to Johan Åkesson, head of trends at Stockholm—based innovation agency Sprillo, people in the Nordics have in fact learnt to embrace the grim greyness with pride.

— Many like to indulge in a life lived in bad weather. Not just out of stubbornness but also because of the strong culture built on the conditions of a cold, poor, rainy part of the world, he says.

Brands are in fact capitalising on these values Åkesson believes, and he continues,

— Just like Volvo has made adverts of melancholic drives through dark and cold forests, some fashion brands now also dare to visualise a romantic image of the cold and grim land of the North. Creating a uniform for the proud Scandinavian would naturally include a raincoat, so the way I see it, it’s not surprising how many choose to either build a business around this specific uniform or include it as a part of their standard collection.

The Swedish raincoat brand Stutterheim is famously built on the theme of melancholy. In 2010, Alexander Stutterheim asked himself, ‘Why the hell should I not be able to dress well in the rain, without having to look like a sad golfer lost in town?’ Shortly thereafter, he accidentally found his grandfather’s ‘drop dead cool, rugged black fisherman coat’ in an abandoned barn and the question turned into an idea.

— I decided to bring the old coat back to the city for an update. I was also curious to see if I could build up a world around the raincoat. To build a brand based on values important to me and to communicate every word and image with a personal, authentic and Swedish melancholy theme, Stutterheim says.

The slogan became: Swedish melancholy at its driest.

— For me, feeling blue from time to time is an essential part of being a human being. And to live a full life, you shouldn’t fight it. And that is the analogy with the raincoat. You should go out and embrace the rain... enjoy it.

The raincoat craze in Scandinavia comes at the same time as other functional fashion has reached the intersection of coolness and mainstream. Åkesson elaborates,

— The athleisure trend, the practical — prepper mountain hikers, the bike commuters — it’s all a matter of fashion and function. What’s exciting and distinguishing about the classic raincoat is that it is in fact not so functional, other than keeping you from getting soaked. It does however signal that you are not afraid of the outdoors, you are just not willing to compromise on style. The straight-cut, mono-coloured parka coats are very much aligned with Scandinavian minimalism. It is classic rather than new. I wouldn’t call it fashion so much as a timeless evergreen.

One of the pioneering brands that has turned the raincoat into a fashion saviour is Norwegian Rain, which launched in 2009 and produces functional and waterproof outerwear in the rainiest city of Europe, Bergen. The average downpour here is 3106mm of rain per year, compared to, for example, 510mm in Stockholm. Bergen is also very close to nature as seven tall mountains surround the city. Here a green hillside meets the urban street. Creative director and co-founder of Norwegian Rain, Alexander Helle, says it’s quite simple why he embarked on a raincoat brand.

— We live in the rainiest city of Europe. We had to improve the life quality of living here. It rains two out of three days. Helle’s partner, designer, and tailor, T-Michael adds,

— You either loathe it or you actually work with it. We saw a pleasure in that. Even though rain is a negative thing per se, it can be a positive resource. It closes up the atmosphere and the air is very fresh.

Norwegian Rain saw the need to make people independent of the weather. The philosophy is simple: Hardcore functional and waterproof outerwear that does not compromise on stylistic preferences. The high tech is hidden. Helle says,

— From my side, traditionally, Scandinavian design has been honest, simple and a problem solver. It is functional. What people relate to in Scandinavian design is still very relevant. We live in harsh conditions and you have to make a product that lasts in that environment. Silk dresses wouldn’t get used that often. It’s as simple as that. We need to stay warm and comfortable. Basically, it’s in our DNA to be sorted out. It’s not about being perfect.

In a similar vein, Danish raincoat brand Rains, which launched in 2012, aims to make people prepared for when the weather turns. Founder of Rains, Philip Lotko, says that rather than embracing the so-called Scandinavian melancholia, he wants people to see the beauty of rain.

— I’m raised in Denmark and know how the climate works. We want to make sure people associate outdoor moments with joy. Their lightweight raincoats can easily be carried in a bag so that you’re never caught out by a surprise downpour. To Rains, the raincoat equals a new type of stylish uniform, regardless of the weather. Lotko concludes,

— A raincoat can be both practical and fashionable. We wanted to turn the traditional raincoat into a Scandinavian uniform to wear when it rains but also as a styling object even when it’s not raining. It rains 121 days a year in Denmark so when you think about it, you have to be positive about it, otherwise you would be depressed all the time. Rainy weather can be beautiful, inspiring and colourful, no?