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Style, innovation & equality

Christoffer Lundman

Words Konrad Olsson Photography Lars Brønseth Styling Mattias Karlsson

Christoffer Lundman photographed exclusively for Scandinavian MAN during a campaign shoot at Villa San Michele in Capri, Italy.

When Christoffer Lundman was appointed the first ever creative director of Swedish tailoring house Tiger of Sweden in 2017, it became a hot topic in the industry. Never before had a Scandinavian designer gained so much creative power overnight. Since then, he has infused the brand with a clear sense of beauty and tradition. In an exclusive interview, the 41-year old designer talks about his formative years at Central Saint Martins in London, his time at Acne Studios and Tom Ford, and his recurring themes of Swedish craft and culture.

Christoffer Lundman loves to fika.

The Swedish tradition to gather around a coffee and a sweet pastry seems almost outdated in today’s connected, fast-paced world. But when the 41-year-old fashion designer picks a place to meet for this interview, he chooses Ritorno in Stockholm’s Vasa­stan district. It’s a traditional Swedish coffee house founded in the 1930s where the yellow tobacco stains of yesteryear still paint the ceiling.

— I come here quite often, he says. A place like this tells you a lot about how Sweden used to be. It’s a place that fills a social function. When I travel, I will always find an old café, in Vienna or Milano. It will be me going to cafés and reading. I’m probably much more romantic than I would like to admit.

He laughs, then he gets serious.

— There was this old café not far from here called Valand. It was intact from the 1950s, the interior hadn’t changed a bit. They closed it a year ago, and now it’s a cat café. That would never happen in France or Germany. In Sweden, we sometimes fail to understand what we have. Instead of embracing the beauty, we just look for newness.

During the last two years, Christoffer Lundman has taken this approach to beauty and tradition and applied it to one of our most established fashion institutions — Tiger of Sweden. When news broke about the appointment of Lundman as the brand’s first ever creative director, it became a hot topic in the fashion industry. Never before had a Scandinavian designer gained so much creative power overnight. But it was also seen as a hopeful move for a brand that had lost its identity following period of extreme growth.

Tiger of Sweden is deeply ingrained in Swedish culture. The brand was founded in 1903 as a fabric supplier in the south of Sweden. It would later become the first Swedish company to sell ready-to-wear tailoring, and move on to become the biggest house for men’s tailoring in Scandinavia. During the aughts and 10s, the brand became synonymous with the skinny suit and established a women’s line, a sub-line for denim, and several stores outside of Sweden. But in the midst of this, many thought that the brand lost some of its creative appeal, with separate designer teams, and many non-Swedish designers.

When Christoffer Lundman took the job in the summer of 2017, he moved back to Sweden from London, where he had spent the last 20 years ­studying at Central Saint Martins and working for Tom Ford, Burberry, and Swedish fashion phenomena Acne Studios.

— I’ve had quite an interesting 15 years or so after I left Saint Martins. I think I was ready for a challenge and to take on something that was more holistic, where I could work on many aspects of a design process. I was ready to look at branding and communication as well.

Lundman simultaneously brought an international appeal and a Swedish credibility to the brand. His first collections drew specific inspiration from Swedish cultural heritage — from the brutalist architecture of the Film Institute, to the glass blowing tradition of Orrefors, to the nature patterns of Carl von Linné.

— There are many things to be proud of and to feel a sense of wonder for as a Swede, says Christoffer. Having lived in a country that does not embrace newness as quickly made it even more important to uplift all these things. I see that we haven’t taken care of what we have. We used to have a very thriving craft industry. We used to have skill sets and amazing talents, and it’s just been washed away. The Swedish mindset has changed.

Christoffer Lundman wearing his own design in the study of Villa San Michele. ”We sell mostly notch lapel, but for me it’s always peak lapel.” Blazer Giavio, t-shirt Cappe, trousers Thomas, and shoes Balans, Tiger of Sweden.

For Lundman, the move set him on a path to ­discover what it meant to be Swedish.

— I think it’s very hard for a Swede to be proud of being Swedish. We’re not very nationalistic, and I think that’s a great thing. I think it’s scary that nationalism is on the rise. But I think you can balance pride with still having a relaxed attitude to what it means to be of a particular nationality. For me, the only way to approach Tiger was to look at Sweden for inspiration. It’s part of our name. It’s Tiger of Sweden.

This thinking instigated a complete redesign of the brand, including the logotype and tiger symbol. The old school tiger was brought out from the archives and he made all the words in Tiger of Sweden carry the same weight.

— Tiger is one of the most registered company names in the world. There are many Tigers, but we are Tiger of Sweden. It felt important to give the words the same importance.

His first collection was inspired by the Swedish film producer Harry Schein. It was presented to the industry at a redesigned pavilion at the menswear trade fair Pitti Uomo in Florence in January 2018. The collection was remarkably sparse, with muted colors and basic pieces. Suits in navy and black, beautiful knitwear, Chelsea boots. The feeling of a reset was almost comically obvious. It was back to basics, but it never felt boring. Cuts were distinct. Splashes of humour — like an undersized man-purse, or flag-coloured details — made the collection feel aware and distinct. The response from editors was positive. ”Tiger of Sweden is looking better than ever”, wrote British GQ’s fashion editor Teo Van den Broeke.

I visited the stand the first day of the trade fair. My own recollection of Christoffer was of a focused professional, who could talk about his collection with precision and ease. It was a person who was unapologetic about his task, to return the brand to its roots, but also someone who had a unstoppable dedication. Apparently, he had arrived in Florence the evening before, and stayed up until the early hours making sure the stand was impeccable, making all the flower arrangements himself. A remarkable effort for someone who never meant to work in fashion.

— To be honest, I never had a plan to become a fashion designer, Christoffer Lundman says of growing up. I was raised to work. The big thing for me — and this sounds quite silly now — was to not do what everyone else was doing.

”In Sweden, we sometimes fail to understand what we have. Instead of embracing the beauty, we look for newness. There are many things to feel a sense of wonder for.”

”I don’t know if I would have been in fashion without him”, says Lundman of his friend and collaborator, stylist Mattias Karlsson.

Christoffer Lundman was born in 1978 in Luleå, a shipping and mining town in Norrbotten, the northernmost county in Sweden. He grew up in a working class family in a projects-type suburb. ”A completely bland, boring area” that was not made for ”anyone who didn’t like sports”. It quickly became clear to him that he was not like everybody else, nor that he wanted to be.

— Sweden in the 90s was not an easy time. It’s difficult for younger people to understand that it was still a time of restrictions. I’m not only speaking as a homosexual. In general, you were supposed to be like everyone else. In high school, Lundman studied graphic art, media, and photography, and found his peers in the local leftist youth movement.

— I found amazing people there. Being left youth in the 90s in the north of Sweden meant that you, by definition, were different. I met some incredible people. I had some friends that were, for the time, super open‑minded. His mother was a children’s worker, his father a builder. ”There’s no one more hardworking than my dad”, he says of his father, who used to hold down three jobs simultaneously. This work-ethic trickled down to teenage Christoffer.

— From the age of 14, I was always working. I’ve been a cleaner, I’ve fried hamburgers, I’ve done dish washing. I’ve literally done any job in the lower segment of skill sets that you can imagine. But that meant that I made money and could buy clothes. In the beginning, they were mainly secondhand, but later I would take the night train to Stockholm to go shopping. In those days, it took 14 hours. I would book a seat, not the bunk-bed, because it was the cheapest. There was a shop called Nitty Gritty in Gamla stan, where I discovered Helmut Lang.

That’s how you discovered fashion?

— Yes. I also bought i-D magazine. They would get one or two copies in Luleå, and I would buy one every month. That’s when I first saw the work of Wolfgang Tillmans. This was a big eye‑opener for me. It was incredible. There was these naked pictures of Lutz, his best friend, and this woman Alex. Both Alex and Lutz went on to become my tutors later on, at Saint Martins. Of course, I couldn’t have dreamt of that then. When I was 17 I visited an art museum in Budapest that had that first Taschen Wolfgang Tillmans book. I was just so blown away. I think it was i‑D and that book by Tillmans that was the reason I moved to London.

Villa San Michele was the home of Swedish physician Axel Munthe, a source of inspiration for Christoffer Lundman. His bedroom, pictured, ”is the most beautiful part of the house.”

After high-school, at age 19, Christoffer Lundman moved directly from Luleå to London.

— I had never been there before. The first time I set my foot in London was when I moved there. It was a very strange place to come to. We moved to a place called Peckham, which today has had a revamp, but at the time was considered very unsafe. I was lucky to arrive in London at a time when it was still a rough place, and you could actually afford to be student. The food scene hadn’t happened, the museums hadn’t undergone these massive renovations yet, and standards were much lower. You would freeze in the night. And going to these schools, before they had been renovated, you would be sitting in a barrack, basically, with a little electric heater in the center of the room. As a Swede, it felt like you had been transported back to a developing country.

You say you didn’t want to be fashion designer at this stage?

— No. The plan was to potentially become an interior designer, but there wasn’t really a plan. I started at Chelsea College of Art, and the first year, you try a bit of everything. Somehow, in the fashion course, I just thought it was a nice group of people, and it just seemed like a lot more fun. I did pattern cutting after that. I enjoyed being able to make things. I think fashion became my thing because it suited my personality. It’s fast. It changes. You can see where you’re going quite quickly.

What happened then?

— I was lucky to study at Saint Martins when it was still on Charing Cross Road. There was no space. The old exit had been turned into a cafe, and you were sitting in the stairs. I was also lucky to study with Louise Wilson [a legendary professor who taught Alexander McQueen, Jonathan Saunders, and Christopher Kane], which was a turning point for me. Like many of us, I had to work to be able to afford being in college, which meant that I had to come in very early, because I could never do any work on the weekends. I was always one of the first one’s in, and Louise was always in early. She started to notice that I was there.

What was she like?

— She was one of the most remarkable people and the best thing that ever happened to me. She was a devil and angel at the same time. People were absolutely petrified of her. She could be horrible, and she could be loving. When she screamed at me, I didn’t mind it, because I always thought she was right. She was painfully accurate. She could see and understand. I think she was too intelligent for her own good. We kept in touch when I left. I would call her when I had problems. I saw her only a few weeks before she passed away. We had breakfast together with a friend of mine. For me, she was a mentor.

Who were your peers back then?

— I lived with a Swedish group. Ida, Mia, and Anna. Mia is a successful illustrator now, living in Sweden, making children books. Ida has a design studio called Joyn. She made the interior for the Frantzén restaurant. Anna is a set designer. So it was a very creative household. Then I met [fashion designer] Ann‑Sofie Back and [stylist] Mattias Karlsson, and Andreas Larsson, who is a photographer. Mattias is still my best friend. He is extremely talented. He sees the world with very gentle eyes, and he’s a very kind person. I was lucky to meet someone like him and not some fashion bitch [laughs]. I don’t know if I would have been in fashion without him. I wouldn’t have been at Acne without him because he’s the one that introduced me to Jonny.

”There was never an interest in pushing some kind of extreme fashion agenda. I don’t think that’s what Tiger of Sweden should be about.”

Christoffer Lundmans final collection at Central Saint Martins was inspired by a photograph of Grace Coddington by Bruce Weber called "Pioneers of Nebraska," published in British Vogue. His first job after graduation was for a high-street brand. He then quickly got a job working for Jonny Johansson at Acne Studios, which by that time still was called Acne Jeans.

What are some of the most important things you’ve learned in those years?

— The one thing you should always trust is your gut instinct. If you over‑think things, it’s never good. If you rely too much on consensus, it’s never good. I have a way of working with my team, where I always ask everyone what they think, but I always make my mind up myself. That’s something I picked up at Acne. Also, I’m not someone that’s scared of mistakes or failure. I think I got that from Acne. When I was there, to take a risk was OK. That’s something I have struggled with afterwards, to work with people where this sense of freedom didn’t exist.

Was it a big contrast going to Tom Ford right after?

— Of course. I was there a year and four months. In that time, I had a crash course in luxury‑making with these amazing people in Italy. I was working with the best factories in Italy and very passionate people. It suited my temperament because I’m not scared when people show passion. You’d be fighting and screaming about the solution for a button hole. Six hours later, you’re having dinner together, and you’re all in a good place. The one thing I took away from my time with Tom Ford was this obsession with quality.

What was Tom like?

— I don’t know if this is the forum to talk about him [laughter]. He’s a very talented man. He sees the world in his way. Everything is considered and thought out. At the same time, it didn’t feel like it was too serious. That’s all I will say, I kind of liked him.

Did you go directly from Tom Ford to Burberry?

— No, I took some time out and actually came home to Sweden. My partner was living here. I started doing projects for my own sake because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My friends Max [Schiller] and Jonathan [Hirschfeld], who has the company Eytys, opened up their office for me. Max used to work with me when I was at Acne. He’s become a very important person in my life. I had a desk and I sat there working on projects, kind of aimlessly. Had you put some money away?

— Yes, and I just wanted some time to think. We took a very long holiday. I was in Sweden, saw friends, spent time in London not working. I worked on these projects and started seeing agents. I ended up at ­Burberry through a recruitment agent. It’s the only conscious decision I ever made. I wanted to see what it was like to work in that type of environment. What do you mean by "that type"?

— It was huge. 2 000 people. As you walked in, it was like entering a bank, a big atrium, security guards. I wanted to try what that was like. I started as design director. I worked on the catwalk collection at the same time as Christopher Bailey switched to doing runway straight to shop. Interesting time.

How did relationship to London change?

— London is this complete love and hate thing for me. It’s a city where you’re eternally a teenager. It doesn’t matter how much money you make because you always end up living in a small flat with high electricity bills. In the last few years, it’s been an amazing place for art and food and culture. It’s a constant place for inspiration. It has these two sides. I don’t miss living there, but I miss it every day. I miss the mix of people. I miss that everyone is from someplace else. If you are restless like me, it’s an amazing place, but it’s also a hard place. It’s a tough place. Do you think you will move back?

— No.

You’re done with it?

— I think so.

Lundman at the roof terrace of Villa San Michele. Denim shirt Rit, t-shirt Cappe, and jeans Jud, Tiger of Sweden.

In the spring of 2017, Christoffer Lundman was approached by the then-CEO of Tiger of Sweden regarding a new position at the company. They kept in touch for a few months before the job materialised.

— When we started the interviews, it wasn’t certain that I would take on everything. It was a very frank conversation. I was very honest with what I felt about the brand.

Was there a specific ask from the company that they wanted you to do?

— It was a conversation. I do a lot of writing. I did a piece in which I summed up, in different chapters, each aspect of the company: heritage, future, wardrobe thinking, different things. Then I did a book. You did a book?

— Yes. It’s a way I tend to work. It was a sort of picture journal. I work with pictures in A5. I have them bound as small books.

Like cut and paste? How do you do it?

— I print the inspiration images, very small, less than A6. Then I work with them as memory cards. I place the order on the floor at home. That’s how I build my portfolios. It’s low‑tech. I’m not very good at Illustrator or InDesign, and I’m terrible in Photoshop. I knew a printer in London and made them with him. Very simple. They’re like paperbacks.

What was the reaction? Did you send it to the CEO?

— I presented it in person. I guess it’s always good to have something to show. Words can mean so many different things. This was a picture book for Tiger. A lot of the images came to influence my first two years. There are many things in there that we have actually used.

*What were some of the ideas that were in that first book? *

— The first idea was probably far too big. It was focused on Swedish craft. There were people like Bruno Mathsson, Ivar Tengbom, Gunnar Asplund. A lot of architecture, a lot of furniture, intersected with this idea of nature and travel. Also the idea of play, a kind of modern businessman. A lot of images centered around nightlife, going to dinners, meetings.

What function do they have for the design process?

— They just give the design team a space to be in. That space could be Empire State Building if we wanted to, but we pick something Swedish because it’s close to home. The boards have become smaller now because my team ­understand me.

Why did you choose Harry Schein and the Film Institute as your first inspiration?

— I started in June, and I had forgotten that the office closed all of July. I had booked my holiday in August, which meant I had one month to work on my own. It was literally just me in the office. I started with a very wide research brief, and I felt quite good about it. Just before I went on holiday I watched a documentary on Harry Schein, and that made me realise that I needed to focus. It also reminded me of this person that was a part of my childhood.

How?

— Harry Schein was in the news and TV studios all the time. He was best friends with the Prime Minister Olof Palme and married to Ingrid Thulin. He was quite provocative, being this glamorous, socialist, multimillionaire. I was very young at the time, but I still had a strong memory of him. It’s also related to this building he created, the Film Institute. It’s a building that never would have been built today. Culture isn’t necessarily top of the agenda anymore.

*I’m sure that must have been a huge part of the job, to make people understand your vision internally. *

— I think it’s always a challenge to get people to understand what you want to do. I’m very happy with that collection, the way we presented it, but there are always people who want five key words written down on a piece of paper, I guess with those people I struggle, because it’s not how I work. I’m curious about the brief that you got. You came to a company that had experienced a decade of growth, but had stagnated. Why did they give you this creative power?

— I have no idea. I actually have no idea. And there was not a brief, as such. The one thing that was clear to everyone was that we had a brand with many different arms, and they were all saying different things. It wasn’t working anymore.

”For me, being human is about getting to know stuff. I get super‑stressed if I feel like I’ve wasted my time.”

Why wasn’t it working?

— Because the world had changed, you need to be much clearer. Attention spans are shorter, so I think having this fragmented world was not working. Was there something that you really had to cut? Like, ”We need to get rid of these super skinny suits now!”

— No, I think we should be very proud of the skinny suit. It might not be how I want to dress, but it’s a suit that makes many men happy. It’s what we sell. And to be honest, it’s a well‑cut suit.

*One of the things that was so bold with your first collection was how understated it was. I’m sure it must have been tempting to arrive with splash and say: ”Here I am!” *

— It didn’t cross my mind that we should do something crazy. For me, it was about finding proportions, shapes, new silhouettes, and building a wardrobe. I don’t even know if it’s bold. For me, we’re a wardrobe brand. Even though we’re moving with the times, we’re a heritage brand. There was never an interest in pushing some kind of extreme fashion agenda. I don’t think that’s what Tiger should be about, to be honest.

It begs the question: what type of designer are you?

— Haha! I don’t know if there is an answer to that, but I definitely know what type of designer I’m not. I’m not a fantasy designer. I can’t look at historical paintings and come up with fantastical things like Galliano. If you look at what I’ve done before, and at my graduation collection, you see this red thread of realistic and real fashion. And I hope people can see a sense of humor.

Someone told me that, going back to Acne, you ”were the one who designed everything that actually sold.” Is that true?

— Haha. I had some hits when I was there. I guess I always had a sense of what feels nice to wear, or how it should feel or look on a body. Since the beginning, you have published these journals, these small books, that describe each collection, but they also contain essays and other stories. In this day and age, why was that important to do something so old school?

— I felt it was important to be honest with what you stand for and to share that with people. We have shorter attention spans now, people want information very fast. But I think there’s still a value in producing something thought‑through, and beautiful, that you have to immerse yourself in and read through.

*One of the things I find fascinating is that on the one hand, you have this super‑tangible attitude about wearable products. On the other hand, you have this in‑depth storytelling. *

— For me, it’s just the way I work. I’ve never been someone that was able to just brush the surface and not immerse myself. For me, being human is about knowing and getting to know stuff. There’s a sense of urgency to always amass knowledge. I get super‑stressed if I feel like I’ve wasted my time. Relaxing is not something that I find very easy.

Why is fashion important?

— That’s a question I’ve struggled with my whole life [laughs]. For many of us that do fashion, it’s an act of selfishness. It gives us pleasure. If you dissect that, it’s not so important. If you take it down to the pure basics of being human, it is no more important than having something that protects you. Fashion on the other hand reflects our times, our society, and is part of culture. It definitely fills a function. If it’s important, I still haven’t managed to figure that out. It’s been important to me as a way of communicating.

After this enormous period of growth, the world of fashion is scrutinised more than ever. With talk of sustainability, it’s almost like an awakening.

— It’s an awakening and a reckoning. It caught out a lot of people with a real sense of shock. When you take a step back, you realise that it was always in front of you. Certain ways of doing things were not good. We all knew it. But it’s just so fragmented. The fabrics are made somewhere, cut somewhere else, and made somewhere else. All the while we are here in Stockholm. It’s very difficult to connect all the dots. As an industry, we’re extremely driven by creating these images, which is another sort of waste. You do a runway set-up that’s only used once, and then it’s thrown away. Like a Swiss village that is built and used for 15 minutes, just to create Instagram images. There’s so many elements of this that need to be questioned. Hopefully we’ll go back to being about the clothes, and the craft, and the quality, rather than this image. It’s a huge topic, and it’s very hard to focus.

Let’s be specific about your work, then. How have you changed the way you that you design?

— We’re much more questioning of what we need. I’ve been at brands where the collection starts out at 500 pieces, and when the showroom opens it’s 200. That’s been the process for many companies, that you overproduce and then you condense it. I guess the worst contribution is produce something that’s never used. We have changed the way that we sample things. We work in a different way with fabric cards, for example. Also, we’ve stopped using virgin cashmere, and only use recycled. A very difficult decision, since cashmere is one of these amazing fibers that we all love, but it’s a decision we had to make.

On Instagram, I see all your stories are posted from various train cabins. Have you changed the way you travel?

— Yes. That’s not to say I don’t travel or don’t fly anymore, but I’ve managed to reduce it significantly. This year my travel days are down 60, 70 percent. When I travel, I try to not do connecting flights. To be honest, train travel has always been a part of me. Travel is positive for us. It’s very good for the mind to be on the move. I find them very creative, these train rides. It might take me a few more hours, but I see it as part of something. It gives me a lot.

Are you still the red‑hearted Christoffer from Luleå?

— There is no other way. I think there will always be an activist in me, and how that person ended up doing this is still a mystery. I think my team and I can promote positive change. Tiger can be a company that is inclusive and stands for empowerment of people. A company with a clean slate that doesn’t work in a way that abuses anyone or take advantage of anyone. That’s a big side of fashion that is important and… no, that will never change. I definitely feel that I have a center that is still the same.

A bust of Axel Munthe in the lush garden.

Overlooking the Capri harbour. In Munthe’s day, the only way to reach the Villa was by climbing the 921 steps of the Phoenician Steps.