Thoughtful Beauty: Jeweler Efva Attling


Whether it’s fashion, furniture, or Ford models, Sweden has a long history of exporting its beauty to the rest of the world. The celebrated Swedish jeweler, Efva Attling, who has six concept stores in Scandinavia, as well as more than two hundred retailers around the world, has branded her line of jewelry with the moniker “Beauty with a thought” – a sentiment that beautifully illustrates the leggy Swedish former model’s well-lived life as an activist for love.

At sixteen, Attling was apprenticing with one of Sweden’s best-known silversmiths when she was approached by a modeling agent from Eileen Ford in New York. For the next twelve years, Attling’s visage graced the covers of multiple fashion magazines as she catwalked her way around the world – and today, Attling still enters a room with pantherine grace and inimitable style.

“My new bag,” she says to me, when we first meet at the Hotel Rivington in New York, showing me a brand-new Chanel purchase from Bergdorf’s. Attling has paired the bag with a thrift-shop find: a perfectly-tailored, white leather safari jacket that she found “right over there,” she says, pointing out the window.

Beauty with a Thought

Attling is a stunning woman, and over the course of a week during which we meet at several locales in both New York and Stockholm, it becomes increasingly clear that she exemplifies her adage: Beauty with a thought.

“I’ve been married four times,” she says, laughing, “and three times to the same woman.” That would be the consequence of Sweden’s evolving LGBT civil rights laws, which in, 2009, became gender-neutral, enabling Attling to marry her long-term partner, Swedish singer, Eva Dahlgren.

Together since 1996, the two women were also married in Vegas, at a chapel – “with ’Elvis,’” says Attling, producing an iPhone photo of the event.

Asked how it was for her family to accept her coming out as a lesbian, Attling speaks about her father, a Swedish pastry maker, who loved jazz enough to make a pilgrimage to Harlem. “We grew up listening to Billie Holiday,” says Attling. “There was always music in the house. And sometimes my father would say, ’He’s queer, but he’s okay. And him, too – he’s queer, too. They’re okay.’”

“Hello, Mothers”

It was in 1981 that Attling started her own band, the X Models, for which she wrote the chart-topping hit “Two of Us.” And it was during her years fronting the band that Attling befriended the pop singer, Eva Dahlgren. Throughout the years, when both women were in the music world, they remained in touch, albeit just friends – until, in 1996, when “lightning struck,” says Attling, smiling like a Cheshire cat. When told of Attling’s attraction to the Swedish pop star, Attling’s father said, “Oh, I like her.”

As for her two sons, conceived with her former husband, Attling told Dahlgren, “These are my sons; they are yours as well!” And it is with particular delight that Attling shows me a text from her youngest that briefly interrupts our interview: “Hello, Mothers. When are you coming home?”

The Swedish emphasis on secularism (rather than religious hegemony) in most areas of government and culture fosters an attitude of acceptance across Swedish society. When asked about her sons’ reactions to her marrying a woman, Attling smiles and recalls that her youngest boy wrote a wedding speech. “He toasted to his two mothers,” she says, smiling, “and he said, ’Mom, I’m really glad that you went a dyke.’”

“Love Is In the Air”

Early in December, the two wives, Attling and Dahlgren, made an orchidaceous entrance at the “Love Is In the Air” reception in New York. VisitSweden and SAS Scandinavian Airlines (as well as Efva Attling, Inc.) were sponsors of the event, whereby two LGBT couples were married in Swedish air space, 38,000 feet above ground, while a third LGBT couple was married in the Great Hall of the IceHotel in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden nearly one hundred miles above the Arctic Circle. Attling had designed all three pairs of wedding rings and she was giddy and gorgeous in a Lanvin-designed gown, which was the prototype for Alber Elbaz’s Lanvin line at H&M.

While clearly gratified with her career successes in the fields of fashion and music, it is Attling’s role as a jeweler that perhaps most wholly fulfills her. “My jewelry connects people,” says Attling – and she’s not only referencing the newlyweds’ rings. For those who were lost in the 2004 tsunami, Attling created a necklace, the profits of which went to charity (more than $50,000 thus far) – but beyond the monies raised, there was the moment of solidarity that came from those wearing the necklace when they recognized it on each other “It was connection,” says Attling.

“The Knowing Man”

Attling’s Homo sapiens line came about when Dahlgren noticed k.d.lang wearing a button that read “Homo.” Attling’s take on this statement was to divide the phrase “homo sapiens” (Latin for “the knowing man”) into two dog tags, with one of the two words on each side. The end result is both coy and assertive, enabling viewers and wearers to recognize the bonds between all people. “What I want to say is that all human beings are equal,” states Attling, a fact that her Homo Sapiens line reminds everyone – whether you are homo or sapiens – or both.

When asked about the secret to a strong and long relationship, Attling replies, “Respect and humor.” And then she pauses before saying, “And don’t carry the dreams of others.” It’s a telling remark – and one limned with experiential wisdom. Ironically, in spite of her silversmith training as an adolescent, it wasn’t until Attling was a fashion editor that she recalled her fondness for making jewelry. “I was working with a young model who said to me, ’I have to leave for my silversmith class,’ – and I realized right then what it was that I most wanted to do with my life.”

Memento Vivere: Remember to live life

“My philosophy is memento vivere,” says Attling, quoting the Latin phrase for “Remember to live life.” It was the death of Attling’s mother that inspired Attling’s Lifeline collection, based on fingerprints. “I sat by her bed, holding her hand, and I asked her if I could take a fingerprint of her hand.”

“My line of jewelry called ’Me, myself, and I’ is about focusing on what one needs to do and wants to do,” says Attling, “whether it’s letting go of something bothersome, or ceasing to worry about something, or getting up off of one’s butt and getting to the gym.”

And then there’s the exquisite diamond-and-aquamarine ring that Attling was wearing at a dinner in Stockholm. “It’s called ’Bend Over,’” she told me, grinning, a name which once caused a Frenchman to reel back, saying, “Non, ça n’est pas vrai!” – before smiling and laughing with Attling.

Flipping through her iPad, Attling shares photos of her and Madonna, and Jennifer Aniston, and Kylie Minogue, amongst others, all of whom have fallen under the spell of Attling’s “Beauty with a thought.”

Winner of Guldknappen Accessory Award 2010

Recently named on the list of Top One Hundred Most Influential People in Fashion, Attling also designs eyewear for Scandinavian Eyewear, as well as crystal for Orrefors – so it was perhaps to be expected that Attling was the recent winner of the 2010 Damernas Värld Guldknappen Accessory Award. Asked how she feels about being the recipient of such honors, Attling laughs and says, “This is the peak of my life – again.”

There’s another Latin phrase that Attling has used in her work with silver and gold and precious stones and that is “Amor fati.” Often construed to mean the acceptance of one’s fate, for Attling the phrase is more closely connected to the well-known Monty Python skit. “Two characters hear a whooshing sound, whizzing by their eyes,” says Attling, “and one says to the other, ’What was that?’ ’Your life,’ says the other.” Attling laughs at the memory. “You get this life and you make the most of it,” she says, smiling. “It’s both a freedom and a responsibility.”

Beauty with a thought – or in Efva Attling’s case, a thoughtful beauty.

LINK: Efva Attling

LINK: Homo Sapiens

Mark Thompson

About Mark Thompson

A member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and New York Travel Writers Association (NYTWA), Mark Thompson is an editor, journalist, and photographer whose work appears in various periodicals, including Travel Weekly, Metrosource, Huffington Post, Global Traveler, Out There, and OutTraveler. The author of the novels Wolfchild (2000) and My Hawaiian Penthouse (2007), Mark completed a Ph.D. in American Studies. He has been a fellow and a resident at various artists' colonies, including the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and Blue Mountain Center.

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