Gudrun Sjödén - A Colorful Universe will open at the American Swedish Institute, Minneapolis on July 26. The exhibition on artist, designer and entrepreneur Gudrun Sjödén will cover many of the ingredients that have made her brand one of Sweden’s largest fashion exports, second only to well known mega retailer H&M. It will run in Minneapolis until October 28 but is expected to tour the U.S., likely opening in the Northwest in early 2019. We’ll keep you posted on its next destination.
The exhibition was developed in cooperation with long-time friend and designer Wanja Djanaieff and will include collections from various time periods but also delve into aspects of entrepreneurship, sources of inspiration, the design process and Sjöden’s manufacturing and sustainability thoughts and philosophies. It feels safe to say we’ll be both entertained and inspired.

Gudrun Sjödén on the upcoming exhibition: An exhibition steeped in art opens in Minneapolis
While the majority of Sjödén’s customers are still in Europe, New Yorkers and Americans have embraced her colorful world with gusto. Close to 30,000 regular customers in the U.S. shop the brand online or in the flagship store on Greene Street in New York’s SoHo district—a 40% increase over last year. Sales in the U.S. are expected to increase 30% this year, and the SoHo store has quickly become a meeting spot for Sjödén customers from all over the U.S. Gudrun herself is often there—her next visit coincides with the store’s 5-year anniversary in May.


Building business with care
Gudrun Sjödén designs for women who care — about the environment, about the finer things in life and about who they are, how they look and the values they project to the world.
“Our clients are often intellectual, individualistic women,” she says. “They work in the humanities and have an interest in culture. It really has very little to do with age, but yes, my designs seem to appeal to women who like to come across as mature and self-reliant.”
Sjödén is among the most successful Swedish fashion designers to make it under their own name. Many fashion aficionados, especially in Sweden, talk about the country’s burgeoning fashion industry, referring to the successful export in recent years of Swedish brands such as Acne, Filippa K or Tiger of Sweden.
But if you Google “Swedish fashion,” Sjödén’s name rarely appears; search for it on Visit Stockholm and she doesn’t come up either. The fact is that her brand has grown under the radar for many years. It could be that the brand’s back story just isn’t hip enough to be trendy in the eyes of the Swedish fashion know-it-alls.
A child of the progressive 60s but never political, Sjödén graduated from Sweden’s “Konstfack” — University of Arts, Crafts and Design — in 1963. With a degree in textiles and fashion, her first job was actually as a columnist for women’s magazines. She started designing clothes for other brands in the early ’70s but tired after a few years of not being allowed to present her entire collections to the end consumer.
So, she and her late husband Björn, a photographer, opened their first store in Stockholm in 1976. Around the same time, they started creating their own mail order catalogues, more or less around the kitchen table. Björn photographed Gudrun’s collections while she wrote the descriptions for every item.
Sjödén now has 22 stores, and only six of them are in Sweden; the rest are scattered around Europe, in locales such as Berlin, Frankfurt, Copenhagen and London. With the U.S. under her belt since 2013, her next market for a store could be Canada or down under in Australia, where online sales have taken off. (In fact, mail order and e-commerce remain the company’s largest sources of revenue.) “We strive to be where we can meet our customer,” says a company spokesperson. The same is true for the U.S. so don’t be surprised when you see a new store near you elsewhere in the country.

Recognizable style
Being green is certainly nothing new and was never a marketing ploy for Sjödén. The philosophy of sustainable design via nature’s own materials was always part and parcel of her conviction, though. It could just be part of her roots, the results of growing up on a farm southwest of Stockholm or the early realization that what women really want is to both look good and feel good about what they’re wearing.
Sjödén’s pieces are pretty, colorful and comfortable, made from organic natural materials whenever possible, and genuinely well made. There’s always been something recognizable about her basic wardrobes. Among her core audience anywhere, the Sjödén groupies are easily identified — her items are personal, unique, often artsy and worn by women with their own careers and in search of their own personal style. It’s not middle of the road, in either style or in quality.
Sjödén is sharp yet laid back and casual, but her comments, like her designs, are straightforward, thoroughly realized and prepared. The designer lives her own brand; she enjoys going to the opera, browsing indie stores wherever she is, and in New York, walking the newly renovated high line or sitting down at the corner café and bookstore on SoHo’s Crosby Street.
The designer turned 70, proud of the fact that the business is still family owned. She has no plans to retire. In fact, the first time we spoke, her plans were to run the company for another 20 years. Five years later when we ask whether plans have changed, the reply is simply, “absolutely not!”
“I’m an artist and convinced I can offer humanity something of my own, something of value that will remain,” she says. “This is also my vision for the company and the brand — I’d like us to make it long-term. I’d like our full line to remain available and accessible for all of the women that have found what they’ve been looking for.”

“We are not a chain: You need a structure to grow as we do but we stay true to our vision: We’re a company with a soul.”

Ulf Barslund Martensson
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