Things have got a bit too cosy in the state of Denmark. Now the country’s design establishment is facing up to some uncomfortable truths.
A backlash is underway against ‘hygge’, the quintessentially Danish art of ‘cosiness’. The popularisation of, and subsequent hostility towards, this uncompromising regimen of candles, blankets and goodwill is the culmination of a decade long international love affair with Danish culture, starting in the UK with the arrival of “Nordic noir’ television series The Killing.
Its unfair to blame Denmark for the commodification of its wholesome lifestyle in an effort to flog Faroe Island knitwear and modernist chairs, but a harsh spotlight has a way of making one self conscious, which may explain the soul searching now underway among the country’s design establishment.
The Nordic Council has responded to the attention lavished on Scandinavia as a whole by appointing a consortium led by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels to draw up a rebranding strategy for the region.
“Danish design has sat on its laurels for too long – we need this injection of global perspective to reinvigorate and redirect our energies”, says Danish Design Council. Chair Jens Martin Skibsted, who proposed the initiative.
“When I started being invited to Danish design events, I was surprised how out of touch the industry was with the rest of world. Danes tend to be too observant of Danish design and Anglo Saxon thought – we need to broaden our horizons as global powers shift.”
It would be an overstatement to suggest Danish design is in decline. Indeed, classic fields such as furniture and architecture are doing as well as ever.
But theres a clear sense that past glories are no guarantee for future success in a changing world, where the term ‘design’ is increasingly loose, where boundaries between technology, products, services and manufacturing are blurring, and where such as China and South Korea are increasingly competitive.
The reliance on the eternal popularity of classics was broken at the turn of the century by a new generation of more inventive brands, such as Muuto and Hay, which championed new designers, but heritage remains a chilling factor.
Ultimately the objective is for Denmark to lead not follow. If that is to happen, its clear that it must unashamedly apply to newer forms of design the values that made its name in the first place.
If it can force these social democratic principles too the global agenda, rather than capitulating to the economic logic that keeps entities such as Uber and Deliver spinning, Denmark might continue to be a design superpower.