Discover the stories of five Scandinavians slaying the game in NYC
While in New York for fashion week, Stockholm-based Verona Farrell catches up with five Nordics paving their own stylish path in the neighbourhoods of The Big Apple
I’m not surprised when Blue tells me she’s a New Yorker, born and raised. From the moment I meet with her, she oozes the ‘no fucks’ attitude her city is famous for. She comes out of her apartment with a tampon up her nose, sporting a kid’s t-shirt she picked up from the Italian market an hour before, with an extra tucked into her pants for good luck.
In the land where having five job titles is common place, Blue’s CV is no exception. A true “hustler at heart”, with modelling as her primary profession, she lists another 10 as add-ons, including stylist, painter, waitress and creative director.
Growing up in New York to a Swedish father and Italian mother, she stays close to Scandinavian roots with trips to Sweden every year, hand-delivered 'princesskaka' from her dad for each birthday, and a shared secret language with her Swedish girlfriends. She jokes about the American perception of the Nordics, saying “they kind of put on this weird Swiss-German accent” an often assume she speaks ‘Scandinavian’. She is good-humoured about their curiosity and has taught her friends, and New Yorker boyfriend, about Sweden by bringing them to her country house to bask in a place impossibly different to their usual stomping ground. She admits she has little appreciation for the calmness that many associate with Scandinavia, “I like the stimulation…the never stopping”. When she goes to Sweden, she takes that ‘New York Blue’ with her, saying that Sweden is way more fun when she brings that big city fearlessness with her. “Sweden could use a little New York attitude here and there”.
When I stop people on the street to shoot their outfit, more often than not, they work within a creative industry like fashion, music or art. What has always sparked my interest more is when they tell me they work with something unexpected, something less creative and more conventional like a banker or a teacher, and I’m left watching my own assumptions unravel.
This is the case when I meet Mohammed Smesem, who is 24-years-old and one of the forty Swedish representatives at the United Nation headquarters in New York. Not a conventional job per se, but not one I had associated with attracting a particularly fashion-obsessed staff. Born and raised in Sweden, he came here in January as a trainee for the Swedish UN Mission and ended up staying on – and I immediately get the impression that he has found home in the Big Apple.
When I ask Smesem about being an ‘outside-insider’ of the fashion community here, he explains that he has always gravitated towards that crowd, the common denominator being that they are typically “very creative, ambitious people…which is perfect.” Unsurprisingly, this crowd has always been intrigued by his line of work. “The fashion community here is so huge…so when someone else comes in it can offer a fresh perspective”. I like the way he describes this use of fashion as a means of expression for many different personal identities. “I get to work in the general assembly hall, and at the same time be the person dressed up in Balenciaga, running around Brooklyn like I own the damn place”. At the same time, he notes how the fashion industry isn’t dissimilar to the working landscape of a diplomat, laughing to himself that “it’s all about networking and being social. I suppose we’re models in a way…for our government”.
When he thinks about what he has learnt since moving, he says “New York has taught me that it’s okay to be whoever you want, and I don’t say that from a 'Tumblr quote' perspective. It’s so diverse here…being in a non-white community has taught me a lot about myself, growing up in a setting where most people are white and then coming to a place where it’s quite the opposite." However, he concedes that “maybe it’s not a lifetime thing. New York consumes you, burns you out. I think the stability and the peacefulness of Scandinavia will take me back”.
Philippa Parnevik and Kalle Bergh
As many modern love stories go, Tinder was at the heart of Philippa Parnevik and Kalle Bergh's introduction. She spotted him on a friend’s phone as she swiped through potential suitors, liked what she saw, and wasted no time in reaching out to him herself. Their relationship blossomed during Parnevik’s time spent in Sweden during Covid, but soon she headed back to the life she had built in New York, having studied sustainable fashion there for four years. Bergh soon realised Sweden wasn’t getting her back any time soon, so, in the name of love, followed her to New York.
Primarily working as a model, Bergh soon assimilated to the New Yorker’s ‘jack of all trades’ attitude and began his own influencer marketing company, KB’s People. Similarly, Philippa’s work is multi-faceted, acting as a creative consultant for the new Swedish fashion app Styles, as an ambassador and product developer within sun protection, while also exploring her creativity through film photography when she can.
They tell me about the loneliness that can sometimes come with living here, with Parnevik advising any budding New Yorkers to always start out having roommates: “It’s so easy to feel lonely here when you’re new”. Similarly, Bergh highlighted the joy of being with a partner amidst the madness. “Love makes you pause here. New Yorkers, they don’t really stop for anything.” For visitors, Philippa recommends embracing and playing with the city’s different styles when dressing for your trip, “Get into the characters of the neighbourhoods when you dress up. You can do an uptown moment and dress like you’re in the fifties, or in Dimes Square, you can go wine hopping and for dinner at Kiki’s and dress a little bit more edgy”. Couple goals or couple goals?
Photographer and content creator, Ella Karberg, is in the city purely for fashion week but intends to move to New York in January to study and benefit from the wealth of creative job opportunities. Having always been fond of travelling and living abroad, she plans to “jump into it and see how it goes”. I marvel at her courage to move away from her friends, her boyfriend and cosy Copenhagen life to pursue something so big. She says she feels overwhelmed now, organising an apartment and facing the administrative turmoil of getting a visa, but she is sure she’ll feel at home when she is settled.
When it comes to dressing in New York, the city makes her want to evolve upon her super Scandi style, wanting to “do more” and “work more with iconic ‘it’ pieces”. She tells me a fantasy, à la Carrie Bradshaw, of getting her groceries in a pair of heels, something she would never dream of doing in Copenhagen.
When it comes to fashion week, Karlberg loves the small community feeling of Copenhagen, where it feels like “a small village comes together to dress up”. She explains that for her, New York Fashion Week feels more like work, where Copenhagen’s equivalent “feels more like fun”, having grown up with it always happening in the background. Her favourite New York show this season was Mirror Palais. “I always thought it would be cool to have a show in a church and he did that…there’s something about it that gives me goosebumps”. She tells me how, right now, she loves to "dress up a bit more sexy when I go out," and how she connected with the liberating sensuality and flattering fits of Mirror Palais's pieces.
Originally from Århus, as a teen, Sofia Lindborg was told by her parents never to move to America. So, naturally, that’s what she did. Having never been to New York, she applied for acting school without telling her parents but the secrecy didn’t last long when she was accepted with flying colours. They soon came to terms with the fate of having a daughter halfway across the world, but suggested that if she was going to do it, she might as well apply for Stella Adler School of Acting from which she graduated last year.
Having spent the bulk of her early twenties in New York, she explains how she lost her feelings of invincibility and naivety. “I think I’ve lost a bit of my confidence but found it in a very different way…I’m more aware of what’s happening around me," Lindborg tells me. “We learned this thing in acting school where our teachers would tell us to close our mouths when we’re out on the street in New York. If you have your mouth open when you act, it typically means you’re more receptive and open to things," noting that “if you’re perceptive to everything here, it’s going to wear you out."
She spoke about how the city affected how she likes to dress, and how her American boyfriend encourages her to lean into the courageousness that it permits. “He pushes me to wear things that I want to wear but don’t have the confidence to. And in Sweden my mom pushes a little bit to be more conservative. So I have this battle where my boyfriend’s like "show your tits!" and my mum’s saying "cover yourself!" and then there’s me trying to find that balance, because in New York you can be whoever the hell you want”.
Influencer and CEO of clean hair company Ceremonia, Swedish Latina Baba Rivera mothers two kids and juggles multiple jobs. Having worked closely with the launch of Uber in Sweden, Rivera was offered the opportunity to relocate to New York to head up fashion partnerships for the company. Without any current plans to leave the Big Apple, she quenches her Nordic cravings with Scandinavian summer trips, always appreciating how Swedes carve out the time to be outside, regardless of weather.
A frequent fashion week-goer, Rivera prefers the intimate feeling in Copenhagen to the extravagance of New York, the scale of the latter allowing “for more people to be on sort of the same schedule. You’ll naturally run into your friends, and everything is biking distance…New York Fashion Week on the other hand is so much longer, bigger and busier which means you can sometimes end up quite lonely on your schedule because everyone is on their own schedule each season”. Her favourite New York show this season was one by Ukrainian designer Bevza, saying “this season was extremely special after everything that’s going on in her home country, and how she still managed to put together such a special collection while also honouring her roots with a minute of silence before opening the show”.
For visitors, she recommends “abcV for a great vegetarian dinner, Dimes square for fun bars and drinks, Colonie in Brooklyn for brunch or dinner and Felice for amazing Italian lunch”.