Advanced Style is the name of a New York-based fashion blog-turned-book documenting the various attires of people over 60 whose common denominator is their sense of style and unique taste in fashion. Think “Humans of New York” meets the fashion veteran’s Vogue. Then came the documentary, released last year to critical acclaim, which follows seven vibrant New York women, whose attitude to couture has guided their approach to aging while challenging our conventional ideals about beauty and bias towards youth. Curious to see if Stockholm had a set of similar characters, I started dropping in on elegant boutiques and revered vintage shops in search for those senior fashionistas that have been perfecting their look since before the nylon stockings were invented.
Fashion designer Gunilla Pontén needs very little introduction. Ever since her shocking entry at the royal court in the 50s where she sported an unconventional outfit, she’s been busy designing clothes in Italy, writing books about fashion and having her life’s work showcased at Nordiska Museet. Pontén was Sweden’s first teen model, her career kick-started as she was stopped by a photographer on the street wanting to capture her distinctive clothes, which she designing herself even back then.
“I started drawing and sewing doll clothes when I was just a child. In the 40s there was no fashion like we know now, and I used to make my own dresses to wear to school, with colourful and stripy socks. These type of clothes weren’t to be found anywhere at the time so I really stuck out. When I became well-known as a model young girls started writing to me, but the grown-ups were skeptical since the sense of dress was still very conservative. Clothes then all looked like they were made for old women, and I wanted to change that. I thought, ‘one day you’ll all be dressing like this, even though you don’t dare to just yet’.”
“My designs were ahead of their time in Sweden, so I got offered to work for Elle in Paris, but I was still young and didn’t dare to move there by myself, and by that time I was also in love with someone here. I remember being in Paris in my bright orange and pink colours and the French were crazy about me!”
“I’m really inspired by the 1920s, when fashion started being more daring and creative. I wear a lot of 20s-inspired hats – not old lady hats! And I never go a day without wearing make-up. I feel like people nowadays often don’t care about the way they look. There are so many people going around looking way too casual and not really trying to make an effort.”
Peter Wahlqvist is a tailor by trade and worked with interior design before opening Sundown Covey at Sibyllegatan four years ago. Peter is wearing an immaculate tweed outfit when I stop by, and he greets me with a freshly-brewed cup of tea and a plate of ginger snaps. “I love autumn because then you can break out the tweed,” he proclaims.
The shop mixes Peter’s own designs at the front of the shop, showcasing new collections every year (the latest modeled by Peter Morberg), with vintage styles of yesteryear at the back. Between the two parts, one encounters unique antiquated items, such as Peter’s proud collection of aftershaves that have long since ceased production and the old sewing machine he brought in as he has a young tailoring student interning with him over the next few weeks.
“During the mid-60s I started hanging out with a gang of boys that came from affluent families and wore fancy tailor-made suits. At that time there was not as much clothes to choose from in the shops and it was more common to have your suits tailor-made, which I couldn’t really afford. So I bought my clothes at Myrorna instead – they had been around for a while and had a lot of nice second-hand clothes that were often tailor-made with the name of the former owner sewn in. I then re-did them until they fit me perfectly!”
Peter still has the first-ever suit he made from scratch, which he brings out to show me. “There were a couple of boys in that group that went to *Skräddarskolan* and they taught me a lot of tricks of the trade, and finally they persuaded me that I should also educate myself, and I’ve been making my own clothes every since.”
It takes me a while to nail down an interview with jetsetter Yvonne Karlen, who fits me in on a quiet day between a cocktail party and a short visit to New York. Yvonne is no stranger to the city, having lived there for several years in the 60s, where she represented fashion photographers and hung out with best friend Agneta Eckemyr, the famous Swedish actress and model turned fashion designer.
“I’ve always had nice clothes, but since the 80s I’d been going around in your typical advertising agency uniform: black jeans, black T-shirt, black jacket, and a three-day beard,” Ingemar Albertsson begins as he tells me how he got to be one of the biggest tweed and vintage enthusiasts in Stockholm.
“It all started when I turned 60 and my wife humorously gave me a hat for my birthday, as that was something an old man should have. That same fall there was an exhibition at Nordiska Museet called Dandy, where a team of stylists and store-owners had created different dandy looks. Herr Judit had a typical English gentleman in knee socks, waistcoat, suspenders, the whole lot – a proper tweed attire. When you got to vote for your favourite look, my wife and I picked that, but we didn’t really know what Herr Judit was – we knew it was second-hand, but that wasn’t anything we bought at the time. Then a couple of months later we were having a glass of wine at Östermalmstorg on a Friday afternoon and afterwards we happened to pass by Herr Judit at Sybillegatan and decided to have a look. So in went a man dressed in all black, like a black Labrador (as my wife likes to say), and out comes a gentleman wearing a brown coat, a green hat and a matching scarf. It wasn’t that expensive either; if I would’ve bought the same outfit at NK it would’ve cost tens of thousands of Swedish kronor.”
“After that, I started actively second-hand shopping. Not vintage per se, just nice clothes you couldn’t get everywhere. I then realized that over the years I’d put on quite a lot of weight and that there wasn’t that many nice things available in my size. I then decided to lose weight and went from about 98 kilos to 82 kilos – and all of a sudden there was a lot more clothes to choose from!”
“The next step was discovering vintage, so basically clothes made before the 1970s. I appreciate the clothes from that time as they are of so much better quality than clothes nowadays. I then started making friends on the vintage circuit and participating in things like Bike in Tweed. Today I have around 40 vintage suits, and my wife has also been bitten by the vintage bug and has a wardrobe full of fantastic clothes!“
“I got into this line of work because I’ve always been artistically inclined and interested in all artistic expression, whether it’s painting, singing, writing or dancing,” Agneta Kusoffsky tells me as I pay her a visit in her well-known vintage store Epok at Odengatan. The shop has been in the business for over 30 years and specializes in bridal dresses and hats, the latter being Agneta’s area of specialty as she is a trained hat-maker.
“The reason we’ve stopped wearing hats is because they don’t fit in a car. In the 50s, when middle-class families could afford to buy their first car, there was a hat holder in the back.”
“What I wear depends on the occasion, but I like colours and patterns. What I thought was beautiful in fashion when I was young, I still think is beautiful today. I think much of today’s street fashion inspires designers to take up various details from our fashion legacy to renew today’s style.”
“I remember a friend’s 85-year-old grandmother who I met in the 70s. One time she was heading into town to buy white wine to have with the fish she was cooking for dinner and a new lipstick as hers was starting to run out. For this occasion she put on a 1950s skirt suit and a hat adorned with long feathers and I thought to myself, I hope I will be like her when I’m 85!”
words: Gulla Hermannsdottir
photos: Johanna Wulff