Paris of the North: NK’s French Couture Atelier 1902–1966
September 17, 2021 through September 18, 2022
Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams
September 10, 2021 through February 20, 2022
By DARYL KING, January 2022
For a fleeting moment in 2021, Armory Week coincided with Fashion Week. And in the same vein, The Nordic Museum’s exhibition, Nordic Paris, NK's French women's tailoring, 1902–1966, coincides with the Brooklyn Museums' presentation of Christian Dior's work. From 17 Sep 2021 to 18 Sep 2022, the Nordic Museum presents the history of NK's founder, Josef Sachs, whose family ran Joseph Leja.
Joseph Leja was coincidentally one of Sweden’s largest retail companies. As CEO, Sachs created the limited company Nordiska Kompaniet, which eventually grew to the point where the store had Sweden's first escalator. The building was a French kiss from the architect Ferdinand Boberg. Clients entered the studio via a gold elevator, like the gold escalator at Public, the Ian Schrager Hotel. Within the first 20 years, NK had stores in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Buenos Aires.
Josephine Baker, Christian Dior, Diane von Furstenberg, and other royalty were frequent customers. Princess Sibylla, Queen Louise, Astrid Sampe, Nanna Svartz, Greta Garbo, and Zarah Leander were also some of their long-term clients. "The customer is king, and the king is customer," and "First with the latest" made NK the “first to launch jeans, the Barbie doll, toys from Lego, the nylon sock, frozen vegetables, flat furniture packages, and the TV, among many other products” in Stockholm. Currently, the store features the likes of Balenciaga, Valentino, and Loewe.
Greta Garbo's career moment was made possible by the seamstresses from NK. Even Christian Dior went to Stockholm to visit NK. NK's copies of his designs were so well made that he wanted to celebrate them. Torun Hegardt and her sister, Marianne, were hosts to Dior, himself because their father was responsible for the women’s side of the business. He launched the first French fashion week in Stockholm, creating a scene of local sculptures and tapestries.
A ceremonial fashion week was held in honor of Dior. Although he first appeared to be "shy and reserved," Torun's parents still invited him home to enjoy a family dinner and to meet two new, young directors. Torun was 17 then, and Marianne was 13. One of the directors decided to play some music after dinner.
Monsieur Dior was the first to hit the dancefloor with Torun's mother, followed by dances with the two girls. A six-page letter was soon out in the mail addressed to Torun’s family, expressing Dior’s humble gratitude.
The extremity of haute couture seems like a distant dream, but it leads to the creation and evolution of new professional roles, techniques, materials, and processes. Models of Coco Chanel's, Christian Dior's, and Yves Saint Laurent's work were retrofitted for the geographical area. Clients appreciated that NK still maintained a sense of style.
The Nordic Museum worked with Susanna Strömquist as the guest curator for the exhibition. She is a fashion critic and cultural journalist at Dagens Nyheter and ELLE Sweden. She wanted to commemorate the end of an haute couture era, as everyone in fashion realized the power of prêt-a-porter. Respectfully, the bootleg and knockoff copies of designer bags you find on Canal Street reflect how the original prêt-a-porter copies of haute couture expanded the domain of fashion.
To celebrate this moment, the museum worked with NK and Bukowskis to garnish fifty deposits from clients and other museums. New pieces, first-hand stories, accounts suddenly appeared. Jane Wikström, a Swedish fashion designer, testifies to a fairytale moment when she was 15 and working for Astrid Sampe at NK's Textile Chamber.
Cooper Hewitt describes Sampe “as a pioneer. In 1951, she wove the first fiberglass fabric and in 1979, she made the first computer-based textile pattern in Sweden…. After opening her studio in 1972 in Stockholm, Sampe was commissioned by the Swedish government and cultural ministry to design several interiors of public buildings, including theaters and museums.
Throughout her career, she was awarded several medals and belonged to many design associations, including the American Institute of Interior Designers.” At NK, Wikström was given the task of running Sampe’s Chanel, and other designer, garments to various locations. Another NK client was the wife of a Special Attaché to the Swedish Embassy.
Before moving to London for her husband’s special assignment, she rushed to the last sale of Franska Damskrädderiet. She ran up the stairs while other clients crowded the elevator. She instantly saw the item she wanted; however, all sales required cash. Therefore, the mysterious client had to use a postal savings bank book. In less than five minutes, she was at the post office downstairs and back upstairs, the proud owner of a new piece of Nordic couture, based on a sleeveless piece of Chanel haute couture. WM
Daryl Rashaan King currently works as a Teaching Artist with Leap NYC; a Chef de Partie at CUT by Wolfgang Puck, The Four Seasons Tribeca; and the Vice President of the Asian American Film Lab. He is the founder/ principal of kokuoroi, a multidisciplinary creative studio. The studio focuses on problems derived from urban living, viewed through the perspective of King, a Brooklyn native. A graduate of Columbia University, who originally specialized in painting, some of King’s goals include obtaining both an M. Arch and an Expert Diploma in Culinary Arts. He would also like to pursue various art and design programs and to live abroad. King has already earned certificates from Parsons in Streetwear; completed part of the Sustainable Design Foundation at Pratt Institute; and volunteered in Cusco, Peru at the construction site of a new Lower School. His work has greatly evolved since taking an Information Architecture course focused on Future Cities, hosted by the Department of Architecture at ETH Zurich. A former varsity wrestler, King has hopes of learning and practicing new martial arts. When he isn’t working, enjoying music, or playing video games, King’s focus is on the future.view all articles from this author