If I throw a few words out there such as: Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, preppy, classic, maritime, countryside, colorful fall foliage...chances are these words will evoke something within you, certain images perhaps. This holds true whether or not you’ve actually been to Martha’s Vineyard or Cape Cod, or whether or not you’ve witnessed the explosive colors of a New England fall. The fact that we perhaps know something about the place, whether it’s through reading, seeing pictures, or hearing stories about it, is enough for our imagination to start spinning. Quite often we are more open to acting on pure imagination when we are not faced with the barriers of reality that facts will pose. This phenomenon is at the core of what in literature, art, movies and design would be called romanticizing. Quite often romantic rendering comes across as phony and harmful, but sometimes, for some people, it actually kind of works... This is the story of the hugely successful Lexington Company, an entirely Swedish company (although often mistaken for American by Swedes), that embodies the so called “New England design” trend.
Lexington Company was founded in 1997, and one of the founding partners and now CEO of the company is a Swedish woman by the name Kristina Lindhe. Her ambition has been to create a New England inspired life-style brand that includes everything from bed linen, towels, pillow cases and napkins to a new clothing line. The fabrics are very much inspired by the American flag in terms of colors and patterns. Stars and stripes, for example, are very prevalent. The materials have a high quality feel and look, and the home items, bedding, and linen are always beautifully shot in authentic New England locations and presented in big luxurious catalogues. Other characteristics of this style is the mix of the perception of “American preppy” with the rustic, and relaxed country-living. Dark wood furniture is set against white-washed walls and sofas covered in starch white fabric, trying to evoke perhaps a beach-house on the Cape. The name Lexington, a historic town in Massachusetts, was chosen, one can only assume, because it creates “the right” associations.
There is only one problem, however, with this so called New England style, I don’t quite recognize it from my time as a New England resident. The white interiors, with lots of natural light are more typical of Swedish decor, and I haven’t seen stars and stripes being used that widely on linen and quilts etc. in Boston or the Cape either. I’ll agree to that there are elements of what I would characterize as typically New England that are included in this life-style concept. But it also contains a lot of Swedish aesthetics, creating a new style that is a unique blend of Swedish and American, and hence, a Swedish version of New England, where the romantic view of an area has inspired into the making of something different and new. It is perhaps the fact that Lexington has managed to integrate the essentials of Swedish aesthetics while at the same time tapping into Swedish consumers’ dreamlike notion of the American east coast, that they have become so successful.
So far one could say that Lexington is in a way “passing” for an American company. The logo, the website, the catalogues ooze Americana. In an interview in Sweden’s biggest daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter, a journalist asks CEO, Kristina Lindhe, why a brand such as Lexington hasn’t dared to enter the US market yet. Lindhe answers that it is part of the plan, but the timing has to be right. “You only get one chance”.
If and when they do, it will be very interesting to see if Lexington will be able to continue presenting itself as mainly “New England” or if it will start emphasizing its’ connections to Swedish design as well. From the Medici point of view, I think this story is interesting, because it shows how a unique style, inspired by one side of the Atlantic, has developed and merged with Swedish style on the other side of the Atlantic, and managed to gain ground. The innovative aspect and the appeal to the Swedish consumer probably lies in this mix of aesthetics, even though the consumer, because of smart marketing and lack of knowledge about New England, may not always be that conscious of the mix, and accepts the style as mainly American. This life-style concept thus, both forms, confirms, and nurtures the consumer’s dreamlike notions of the east coast in a continuous interplay. And as such, the dream is kept alive...