Destinations | The Smooth Guide

A long weekend in Stockholm with Jonny Johansson

As creative director of directional Swedish fashion label Acne, Jonny Johansson knows a stylish hangout when he sees one. He divulges his favourites to Nicola Copping.

October 21 2010
Nicola Copping

“There’s only one thing to do to understand Stockholm: listen to Dear Old Stockholm. It’s an old Swedish folk song that was later played by both Miles Davis and Chet Baker in which the whole ambience of the city is captured. When you hear the instrumental, it epitomises Stockholm, its calmness, and it brings to my mind the light falling on the water.

I come from the north of Sweden, eight hours from the capital. For one month of the year there is total darkness there. When the light finally comes out, the Swedish people become like flowers, they look for the sun, and everyone is super-happy. In Stockholm, where I moved when I was 19, there is the same feeling towards light: even if it’s a bit cold, we are always outside.

It’s not necessarily laid back in Stockholm, but there is a true sense of tranquillity. That may be because Stockholm is very close to the water; you can sail wherever you want. You must therefore stay in one of the waterfront hotels. The Grand Hôtel is the most obvious choice. It is a beautiful, classic hotel close to everything but without being in the centre.

The Grand has a good piano bar called The Cadier Bar. With live music, there is often the chance to meet interesting people. I think that’s exciting. I go there quite often and I’ve met musicians who are passing through Stockholm. I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen in there.

The Grand also happens to be home to the best restaurant in Stockholm. It is run by Mathias Dahlgren, a guy from the north of Sweden where I grew up (I think he played in the same football team as me) and it has a Michelin star. He makes amazing food and a lot of the menu triggers memories of home. Try the birch sap, or the regional bread where the butter is inside and falls out when you break it open, and it comes on a piece of half-burnt wood with all those smells mixing together. The fish is also good – he cooks it for a long time at a low temperature. He lays the fish on stones from the seaside.

The best way to get around Stockholm – particularly if you are interested in architecture – is to walk. From the Grand, walk to the Moderna Museet [Modern Museum], towards the end of the island. It is a bit like Tate Modern; there’s always something important going on.

I’d advise you to go for the view from the first floor. Look across the sea and into the building opposite, the Vasamuseet, and you can see a 17th-century ship. Once upon a time, a rich king of Sweden built this amazing, modern, 69m-long boat. As the crowds were waving it off, it sank. In 1961, the wreck was salvaged from the seabed and they put it in a purpose-built building. What a funny thing.

The Old Town, or Gamla Stan, has a nice medieval vibe. Head towards the castle – you can tell if the royal family are in residence as the flag will be up – and check out the historical costumes. I like the old guard uniforms the best. They are nice and simple; blue with flashes of yellow.

If you want a very different dining experience, Frantzén/Lindeberg in the Old Town is just perfect. I think it has two Michelin stars now. The food is, how shall I say, a little anal. You go for the foams, for the little bombs of taste, and you can listen to different music for each course – I think you even have an iPod. It’s total madness; food beyond control.

From the Old Town you should walk to the south of Stockholm, to Södermalm or South Central Island – it’s about a 10-minute walk from the Old Town. If you want to stay in this area, which is surrounded by 18th-century Swedish buildings, go to Hotel Rival. Benny Andersson of Abba owns it – Swedes think Abba are fantastic. I felt like they never did anything else but music, and all of a sudden, Benny buys a cinema and converts it into a hotel; it’s a must.

Bistro Berns is a low-key option for lunch and it’s very central; from here you can reach almost any part of the city. It’s in the middle of Berzelii Park and it looks almost like a boat. It’s French but done in a Swedish way – there’s more fish – and I would recommend the cod. Something classic.

The best place to shop in the south of Stockholm is SoFo, short for South of Folkungagatan. This is where all the cute shops and coffee places are and it’s a good place to hang out. We have an Acne shop there in an old grocer’s store. Look out for the Lisa Larsson vintage store. I bought a lot of clothes there when I was a kid and when I did my first fashion designs. I bought a pair of Spanish tap-dancer shoes – to walk in, as opposed to tap in. I wanted to be noticed!

I am very interested in design. In 2007 a Swedish politician said, “We need doctors, we need engineers” because everybody wants to be a designer, shoe-maker or musician. So you cannot come to Stockholm without visiting the design stores. Go to Jacksons for historic Swedish furniture; that’s where I learnt a lot about 20th-century Swedish furniture design. You should look out for everything in the decade up to 1930 because that was the celebrated Swedish Grace period when the break from modernism took over Europe.

Then there’s Svenskt Tenn, a store that worked with Josef Frank from 1934. There are these amazing patterns that he did for furniture fabrics. We’re a young company, just 12 years old, and to find a historic place with references is something I relate to a lot.

The Swedes love glasswork. I worked with Ingegerd Raman, who is well known in Sweden, and sometimes I swap ideas with her about fashion. At one point she said, “Why are you designers always decorating the chest of a woman, why can’t you decorate the neck or the shoulders which are the most beautiful part of the woman’s body?” As well as pieces for our stores, she creates amazing designs for vases and champagne glasses, for celebrated glass and crystal companies, including Orrefors. She has quite a minimal style but then decorates pieces by sandblasting them.

To get my design inspiration I go to the Konst-ig independent art bookseller. It’s in the south part of Stockholm and the two women who own it will tell you anything you need to know about the subject. They are very nice and very intelligent. I go there every weekend and the last book I bought was a big museum book about colours.

For a snack between shopping trips you could go to Koloni café in the Nacka neighbourhood, where I live. The café serves delicious organic fare and is next to the Olle Nyman Gallery, which displays work by the Swedish artist in an 18th-century house. Another good place for a snack is Konstnärsbaren. Upstairs it hosts an art society and there is a little gallery; often the artists are drunk and there are always elderly ladies there wanting to chat. Try one of their traditional Swedish desserts, such as the chocolate pudding, cheesecake, or simple strawberries and ice cream.

Close to Konstnärsbaren is Riche – the hot place to meet for a drink. The interior is by the designer Jonas Bohlin – it has a “Swedish fishing” feel. I would drink a martini, or try the traditional Swedish cocktail; straight vodka with ice and water. It tastes good, I assure you.

For the true culinary experience, go to the Östermalms food hall. I love to cook, and here you can sit down and eat a sandwich and drink a glass of wine or buy food. I go there for meat or fish but the best thing is this berry they stock from the north of Sweden called cloudberry. It’s yellow and tastes totally different – you make a dessert sauce out of it. The guys selling in the food hall are quite funny, too. They’re a bit stubborn and always want to tell you what to buy.

No visit would be complete without a trip to the archipelago. Make the Hotel J your base. It is nautical in style and has a reception with an honesty bar and open fireplace. From here you can explore: leave your luggage in the hotel and stay overnight in one of the guest houses on the islands. They are just beautiful.”

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