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Oslo Emerges From The Shadows As Nordics’ New Luxury Retail Center

It’s kind of hard to be the new kid on the block at 225-years-of-age, but Oslo’s venerable department store Steen & Strøm might just be the fresh prince agitating for the awakening of the Norwegian capital.

In an age of wellness, wellbeing and a desire for calm and tranquility, Oslo’s newly developed and vibrant waterfronts, the new – and huge – National Museum, the impressive Munch Museum, the opera house and library are spearheading a cultural renaissance that is being matched by a burgeoning luxury retail quarter.

To be honest, to open any of these cultural and artistic centers individually would be a big deal, so to open so many in such a short period of time should literally transform the perception of the city as a tourist attraction and bring it out of the shadows of nearby Stockholm and Copenhagen.

And few capitals have a swooping ski slope as their backdrop, or fjord water clean enough for a morning dip in among the waterside bars and restaurants.

So far, so idyllic, as long as you overlook the staggering price of a beer! But Oslo’s luxury retail offer has also been playing catch-up after being oft overlooked by the major brands in their pursuit of the emerging mega markets to the east or Europe’s established fashion citadels.

But that too might be about to change.

Curating Oslo’s Luxury Quarter

Careful real estate management by landlord Promenaden of a couple of city blocks in the retail heart of Oslo, anchored by Steen & Strøm, has likewise revolutionized the city’s luxury retail offer and in doing so has attracted not just international tourists swarming to the city’s attractions, but also affluent local shoppers.

Norwegian consumer’s, it would seem, have got a new mojo for luxury.

Pride of place right now goes to Louis Vuitton which, having moved store location for a second time, now occupies a significant corner plot on around 1,000 sq ft and two floors on Nedre Slottsgate, Oslo’s premium luxury street within the Promenaden fashion district. Dior will be joining it soon, while Hermes, Burberry and Gucci are among those already there.

Central to this emerging luxury offer is Steen & Strøm which, under the slogan of ‘The Original Influencer since 1797’, has commemorated its 225th year with a serious $36 million refurbishment that forms the first part of a complete – and much-needed – overhaul.

Promenaden’s investment includes a repositioned main entrance onto Karl Johans Gate, Norway’s busiest shopping street, a completely revamped beauty hall and a signature new atrium. The lower ground food hall and a number of areas of the fashion offer on upper floors have also been brought up-to-date, with ongoing plans for what will eventually be a top to bottom transformation of a venerable institution.

To direct the change Steen & Strøm has cleverly poached department store veteran David Wilkinson – probably best known for his work in the U.K. with Harrods and Selfridges and one of an increasingly rare breed of retail-in-the-blood execs.

His task is to attract and mix long-term luxury brands and cool new luxury designers, while encouraging international labels to commit to a market often considered too small to be worth the investment. And he’s adamant that he doesn’t want to mirror the work done at two of the world’s most iconic department stores – instead the aim is for Steen & Strøm to continue to be the “store of Oslo”.

Showing off the store and the work to date he said: “Our aim is to transform the store on two main building blocks, becoming a single destination for contemporary fashion, and creating a home and lifestyle center with an interesting mix of brands. What we have done with the beauty hall is a template for where we want to take the whole store.”

Norwegian Fashion Market Emerging

Steen & Strøm also wants to be part of an emerging Norwegian fashion scene. A partnership with SoFi – Oslo’s School of Fashion Industry – and its first capsule collection are part of its efforts to champion Norwegian creative talent across fragrance and fashion. Oslo Runway, Norway’s Fashion Week, held August 13-19, will also highlight innovations in sustainable fashion.

Head of marketing Kaia Kongsli said the retailer is “on a mission” to tell the story of Norway’s fashion designers and “young talents”, building on the brand strength of Norway’s outerwear and sportswear brands.

“I think there has been a lack of confidence within the Norwegian fashion market about promoting our own talent and skills, especially compared with Denmark,” said Kongsli. “Perhaps Norway has been the underdog in Scandinavian luxury and fashion. It’s time to change that.”