Scandinavian Design in Downtown Los Angeles
Located within blocks of downtown Los Angeles' newest fashionable destinations—Acne Studios, Aesop and Ace Hotel—Swedish design emporium Austere recently opened in a 5,000-square-foot space that was once the garage for a 1920s-era department store.
"I find it serendipitous that we are opening a department store and it used to be part of a May Co. department-store garage. Volvo was also founded the same year, 1927. I [appreciate] the connection," said Austere's Swedish-born creative director and founder, Fredrik Carlström.
Located on the corner of Ninth and Hill streets, Austere serves as a multi-purpose space. It is a showroom and retail compound where high-end to smaller-scale design events will be held, and it is an exhibition space for visual artists and furniture designers. The store's Nordic specialty items range from modern home décor and furnishings to emerging fashion designs. A 2015 Volvo SUV sits in the midst of it all. A swinging LED chair suspended from the vaulted ceiling hangs next to an Electrolux model kitchen while Aalto stools align the window display and a beautifully made Louis Poulsen "Ph Artichoke" chandelier peeks over it all. The space's wood-paneled restroom resembles a sauna.
The minimalist space features highly curated items merchandised so it is clear and visible to the consumer. Carlström received assistance from Acne Creative, the creative arm of Acne Studios, as well as The Guild LA and Volvo. "The Guild LA is amazing. They fabricated everything in the space—with the displays, pods, tables, railings—and co-designed most of it," Carlström said. "Acne Creative is our technology partner and responsible for building the whole website. Volvo [participated] early on as partners and supported us in securing the launch."
Carlström's career began in advertising. One of his first assignments involved helping to re-brand a houseware company, Iittala. This was Carlström's introduction to designers such as Thomas Sandell, Thomas Eriksson, Ross Lovegrove and Jasper Morrison. Carlström also got to experience the transformative process of design and what it was like to revamp a brand with "rich history," he said.
In 2000, he moved to New York, where he helped many Scandinavian designers break into the U.S. market.
Austere is both an extension of Carlström's marketing and consulting experience and the realization of an idea to build a showroom that would give brands an opportunity to tell a story.
"When you go to larger department stores, the customer is usually overwhelmed," Carlström said. "I wanted the space to be like a lifestyle magazine but one you could touch and smell with a digital component. I had this idea to introduce the best of the best. Women and men buy things this way—their favorite jeans, etc., almost like a uniform. So for lighting, furniture, design and fashion, we wanted to collect the best of each category."
Austere carries men's and women's apparel and accessories, including Our Legacy, a classic menswear line with a modern edge using clean lines and dark tones. Stutterheim is a raincoat collection that recently developed a collaboration collection with rapper Jay-Z and Barneys New York. (Stutterheim also created a custom car cover for Volvo's Concept Estate Car.) The White Briefs makes undergarments for men and women using environmentally friendly fabrics such as organic cotton. The brand has collaborated with notable individuals such as fashion forecaster Nick Wooster and photographer Peter Lindbergh. Swedish duo Natalia Altewai and Randa Saome of Altewaisaome create women's clothing with clean silhouettes and stark colorways. They received an Elle award for "Best Newcomer of the Year" in 2012 and the "Designer of the Year" award at the Elle Gala in Stockholm this year. Schnayderman's, which means "tailor man" in Yiddish, is a casual button-down men's line that uses mother-of-pearl buttons to accent the shirts. Jewelry lines Ebba Brahe and Johnna Dauphin offer unique, one-of-a-kind pieces.
"As for apparel brands, the space will act as a showroom where members of the media and buyers can experience it on a personal level and as a retailer," Carlström said. "Customers can purchase items on a cash-and-carry basis, [and] Austere will be launching an e-commerce site very soon."
Carlström is not only focused on introducing Scandinavian brands but building a community within downtown Los Angeles. "I hadn't spent much time in downtown, but while one of my good friends, Mikael Schiller, chairman of Acne Studios, was working with the Ace Hotel to open Acne's Los Angeles location, I fell in love with the [energy] here. It felt like Soho 15 years ago," Carlström said. "There is a sense of something unfinished here, and it is evolving. It is [like] finding a gem within a gem."