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Cay Bond: We have 500 shades of grey

Pragmatism over poetry, culture over short-lived trendsSwedish trend analyst Cay Bond on what sets Scandinavian design apart

Swedish designers Färg & Blanche at their studio, using a ‘wood-tailoring’ technique. Photo: Färg & Blanche
Swedish designers Färg & Blanche at their studio, using a ‘wood-tailoring’ technique. Photo: Färg & Blanche

Founded in 1966, the French agency Promostyl is a pioneer in trend-forecasting methods for fashion and lifestyle brands. And Cay Bond, who is Swedish but was educated in Paris, was one of the first people it hired to analyse sociocultural attitudes to help businesses understand the direction they should take. After a long stint in France, Bond returned home to Stockholm and continued to employ those methods for Scandinavian brands. In 1981, she founded one of Sweden’s first glossy fashion magazines, Clic, which became known for its photography. She went on to write for the Swedish edition of Elle and became a familiar face on national television in Sweden, reporting from international fashion shows.

Author of the book Bordel De Mode, (Clothing As Culture And Personal Expression, 2002, Wahlström & Widstrand), Bond’s primary work lies in fashion and design, but she believes “everything is connected and everything is born of culture". Her writing and lectures range from subjects like food, art and film to design and architecture.

On the sidelines of the Stockholm Design Week (5-11 February), Lounge caught up with Bond at the La Colline restaurant, designed by the iconic Swedish interior architect Jonas Bohlin. Soft-spoken, insightful, and quick to laugh, Bond slipped into bits of French and Swedish as she spoke of the cultural nuances behind Sweden’s design industry, and Scandinavia in general. Edited excerpts:

Cay Bond. Photo: Heinz Angermayr

Tell us about trend forecasting and your early work in it.

Forecasting has a long tradition in France. But we never used the term trend-spotting. We were studying tendencies, drawn from the French word “tendance". You have to look at cultural movements in society, and from there you understand what you can do for the nearest future. The textile and fashion industry was one of the first to adapt this into their system because they had to plan for two seasons ahead of time and they needed to know what they should invest in.

This may surprise you, but when you interpret a cultural tendency to make it commercial, then it’s already out of style. As you see with blogging today, a fashion blogger may pick up on a feeling about an object or a style, they promote it and it gets commercial, which is why it instantly goes out of style. It’s become a game.

Scandinavian design has been ahead of the curve globally. Is there a cultural reason for this?

Last evening, I was at a presentation at the Norwegian embassy. The Norwegians are now known for their new generation of architects, who have done quite well worldwide. One group, Snøhetta, based in Oslo, has led this. Now there’s another group called Vestre that’s coming up. At this Norwegian embassy event, Jan Christian Vestre, the CEO of Vestra, talked about the emerging talent in Norway and he attributed it partly to the coming together of the industry and the government. While there might be design talent in a country, it’s the support that the community is given. They invest in it.

You see a lot of collaboration at the Stockholm Design Week, as well as in India.

For a long time, architects and industrial designers didn’t work together, but now they collaborate, which has been very fruitful for the furniture industry. Look at (Swedish designer) Monica Förster’s woodwork collection with Bosnian company Zanat (made in a rare handcrafted technique). It is quite lovely and we are proud of her.

Designers or creators want to have their tradition somehow even in contemporary products. Even in this globalized world, you can notice things around you that are typically Swedish or typically English or typically Indian. If you want to be present, and be seen, you have to bring forth a bit of your own upbringing and traditions, yet it should be of use to someone in China or Japan or in a different part of the world. That is the future, I think.

Scandinavian design has a particular identity and aesthetic, but what really makes it?

I would say there is no Scandinavian design. It’s only an expression you have outside Sweden or Norway or Denmark. We are all very different. Denmark is more daring. They oppose things. We don’t do that in Sweden. Finland has a different story, because they’ve been close to Russia. Unfortunately, their textile industry died when they lost the Russian clients.

What about the similarities that come together to make a Scandinavian aesthetic?

It comes from nature, the landscape, the quality of light. We have some 500 shades of grey. There’s a folklore tradition, though we haven’t taken care of our craft traditions. In Sweden, historically, we’ve looked to other cultures and adapted what made sense to us. Sweden was the first country in Europe to adopt the American easy-come-easy-go consumption, with plastic things and low-priced products. The French sneered at it. They didn’t want any chain stores in Paris. But in Sweden it went with our social democratic values then, that everyone can buy anything at the lowest possible price.

Our fashion, however, is quite political. Mind you, “youthquake"—a time when the market was suddenly interested in the youth—happened here in the 1960s. Even today, the youth are very aware and vocal. They care about beauty and sustainability but possibly feel shame in wearing H&M.

H&M has driven fast-fashion the world over. How did it affect Sweden’s own textile industry?

We had a traditional textile industry which gradually died. It’s the biggest scandal in Sweden ever, but no one wants to touch it. There were small, family-owned factories. We even made jeans; Algots used to be a very successful company. But everything shut down when chain companies like H&M and Lindex started to outsource in the 1960s through the 1970s. Thousands of people lost their jobs and a lot of knowledge was lost. Now, after all these years, you can see a glimpse of hope as the local textile industry is being revived. There is a change in values but it is petit à petit (little by little).

I always say that we must take care of our refugees because many of them specialize in crafts. Instead of opening dry-cleaning and repair shops, they must be involved in the textile industry.

But the Swedish furniture industry is highly evolved and successful.

They were quick to realize that it makes sense to be present here, because we have a lot of wood. We have craftsmanship and knowledge, and we take great pride in it. The (Stockholm Furniture And Light) Fair is an example of that.

What can the global design fraternity learn from Sweden?

How we treat wood.

I remember when we were at Promostyl, back in the 1980s, we wanted to know about the environment and how to work with it. In our research, I found out that many of the Swedish architects were already working in ways that were very ecologically sound. But they didn’t realize it. It was a natural thing to do. It can be quite moving that they didn’t really know themselves that they were so ecologically sensitive and sensible.

Japanese-American designer George Nakashima’s book, ‘Soul Of A Tree’ is quite a poetic ode to working with wood.

That’s the difference between a Japanese designer and a Swedish designer! (laughs). We would never write a poetic book about the spiritual experience of working with wood. A Swedish designer will give you a step-by-step guide. We are too practical for that. We have to be, because of our harsh weather.

The writer was in Stockholm at the invitation of Sweden’s ministry of foreign affairs

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