Swedish Melancholy at its Driest
Stutterheim Raincoats
Words | Jonathan Poh

The Scandinavian region is one of breathtaking beauty, but it’s also well known for its harsh weather conditions, including notoriously long and dark winters. Not surprisingly, the Nordic area has also produced a design tradition renowned for its functionality, earthiness and beautiful simplicity ­­ a sort of practical minimalism appreciated around the world. There’s the affordable functionalism of Ikea, for instance; the minimal, yet high-­tech wizardry of Bang & Olufsen; or the pared­-down furniture of iconic industrial designers like Arne Jacobsen or Hans J. Wegner; not to mention the boxy, safety­-first designs of classic SAABs and Volvos.

The emphasis on function and utility is a thread that also extends to the Scandinavian fashion industry, where, most recently, brands like RAINS and Sweden’s Stutterheim have cornered the market on sartorially­ minded rain wear. The latter, in particular, produces minimalist, but heavy-duty garments for the occasions when one wishes “to be well­ dressed, even in bad weather conditions.” Its sleek, monochromatic designs ­­ all of which are completely wind and waterproof ­­are individually numbered by their seamstresses, and hearken back to a time when classic raincoats were stylish and protective in equal measure. Since its launch, Stutterheim has been embraced by everyone from fellow Scandinavians and stylish New Yorkers, to hip­-hop trendsetters like Jay-Z and Kanye West, and has become a go ­to for modern outerwear that transitions from the countryside to the city with ease.

The brand itself was founded in 2010 by Alexander Stutterheim, a former copywriter who was inspired by the discovery of his grandfather’s raincoat in an abandoned barn. The garment was, in Stutterheim’s own words, “big as a tent” but it also sent old memories bubbling to the surface ­­stories of his grandfather’s fishing trips on the open seas, “the heaviest rains and the loudest of thunderstorms.” With great care, he brought it home and ­­ without any technical expertise or fashion know ­how ­­created a slimmed­down, contemporary version that was an homage to his grand father and “the quest for life.” Stutterheim’s first 200 coats – dubbed the Arholma Svart – were made and sold in his apartment and have since provided the foundation for his “experiments within the realm of rain and darkness.”

These weather “experiments,” it seems, have taken the designer far and have now transcended even rain wear. Most recently, Stutterheim garnered some attention for the Estate Svarte, a car cover made in collaboration with fellow Swedish company and Scandinavian automotive legend, Volvo. Using the marque’s Concept Estate as a base, Stutterheim handmade the cover using hand­ stitched seams on a high­ quality, rubberized cotton fabric ­­ the result of which is something like a unique jacket for your favorite automobile. “It was a design concept that spoke to me in its calm Scandinavian presence, immediately linking Volvo to what we are trying to do here at Stutterheim,” he explains. More importantly, it’s a functional design that, like his raincoats, keeps one’s automobile “safe from outer demons” and “warm and ready for adventure.”

For more insight into the brand, as well as Stutterheim’s own relationship with Volvos and the idea of “embracing Swedish melancholy,” we recently sat down with the designer and automobile enthusiast for an insightful discussion that can be read here in its entirety.

Can you tell us a bit about the history of the brand, as well as your own personal history with rain wear?

It all started as a reaction to my former hectic life in the advertising industry. I felt a deep urge to work on one project, take my time and do things very well from the start. As a coincidence, my grandfather passed away during the same time and we went out to the archipelago to clean up his house and look through his stuff. On that sad day, I found his old raincoat which was huge like a tent. I remembered that he used to wear it when I was a kid and we spent our summers at the family estate. He always put the raincoat on and went out fishing in the worst of storms and downpours. When he returned, he read stories for us grand kids.

Later the same week I returned to town for a meeting. I was early, so I took a coffee in the late summer rain and saw people protecting themselves with broken umbrellas, Gore­Tex jackets and newspapers over their head. This was a bit strange to me, as Swedes tend to dress very well on all other occasions ­­ but not in the rain? I decided there and then that I should try to update my grandfathers raincoat for the contemporary conscious consumer. It was supposed to be my slow-
scale project, where I made everything right from the start.

In the following months, I made prototypes, patterns and looked for a factory. I learned every day and was very happy and melancholic at the same time. The first 100 coats I gave away for free to friends and relatives as I learned that I underpriced it. But, in retrospect, that doesn’t matter today.

Scandinavian design is quite distinct in its aesthetic. What do you think makes it ­­ and in particular, Swedish design ­­ so appealing and fascinating to people?

I think our climate keeps people inside during most of the time and they are forced to create stuff. What’s fascinating about Swedish and Scandinavian design to me is that the great brands tend to do everything very, very well. I think that’s the case because Swedish people tend to take time and not stress about a solution. Also, I am very fascinated by brands that do one thing very well. It doesn’t matter if it is boots, bags or, in my case, coats. I think stuff ends up much better if you focus your heart and mind into one thing, and not a hundred things at once.