Step inside the Fjallraven Store at 262 Mott Street in New York City and you enter a time warp where wool pants, waxed jackets, and backpacks with leather straps and metal buckles adorn the walls. Fjallraven — pronounced “Fee-Yell-Raven” — means arctic fox in Swedish, and the brand has roots in the country’s northerly regions where snow piles deep and polar gales blast from Valhalla and other points past the Arctic Circle.
Fjallraven was founded in Sweden 50 years ago. It is a widely-recognized name in its home country, where school kids for a couple generations have slung on the company’s boxy Kanken backpacks. Parkas, bags, and outdoors clothing are staples in the line.
The flagship New York store, which I visited last week, is a basement space with white walls and an Army-surplus feel. Gear is arranged on shelves and hung on the walls, including Fjallraven products and items from other niche brands. There are few electronics, a lack of known outdoors brands and, except for the chopping axes, almost nothing that is “cutting edge.”
Indeed, the Fjallraven aesthetic and the store in general is in drastic juxtaposition to almost every other product and current theme in the outdoors industry. The company makes jackets for ice fishing and polar treks. The clothing has a traditional outdoors look that your dad or grandpa might have worn. Fjallraven eschews Gore-Tex in favor of iron-on wax! Indeed, the company sells blocks of wax, which can be melted with an iron and rubbed into the fabric of a jacket to make it waterproof.
The products are not cheap, either. The Fjallraven Arktis Parka — a down-insulated piece made for, among other activities, ice fishing — costs $775. It has a hood with synthetic fur and is marketed with features including a breast pocket “large enough to hold a thermos.” The Norr Shirt, $125, is a cotton flannel button-up with a decorative yoke and two chest pockets with flaps.
In New York, the Fjallraven store feels like an anachronism amongst its neighboring boutiques on trendy Mott Street. The staffer that helped me out, Maria, had a Swedish accent and an enthusiasm toward the Fjallraven brand, which she says has been present in her life since she was a child.
Clearly, the company is riding the retro or vintage wave with its idiosyncratic line. The look is pure and classic 1960s and ’70s design, like an LL Bean catalog page from decades back. It conjures nostalgia and warm fuzzy feelings to anyone who grew up camping and hiking in similar gear. Mott Street is a good venue for a brand where authenticity can blend with fashion, plus, perhaps, a dash of subtle irony tossed in on the side.
To me, that’s what Fjallraven is — neat and fun, but not likely the products I’d pick for anything more than casual hiking and camping. At the store, Maria attempted to sell me on the concept of polyester/cotton fabric blends, waxed jackets, and boxy little backpacks. I do love traditional and crafty products where they make sense. But this winter I am going to have to stick with my modern-day backpacks as well as Gore-Tex instead of wax and an iron to rub it on, no matter how cold it gets outside.