The wonders of a life abroad have always enticed Swedish-born designer Claudine Eriksson, her fascination perhaps stemming from the fact that the opportunity to travel always seemed tantalizingly within her reach.
“I grew up in Helsingborg, a small town in the south of Sweden. I could see Denmark across the water from the circular window in my childhood bedroom.”
Having grown up so close to the border, Eriksson was both intrigued by the world outside her window while reassured by its familiarity. Thus, it was no surprise that a week after completing high school, Eriksson set out for a job in Copenhagen.
“We were about to get in the car for ‘the big move’, when I found out that the new job I was starting got cancelled. Miraculously, a friend of a friend knew someone that had an open position and I went straight to the interview when I arrived. I was so young and excited but the move was really crazy.”
Averting what could have been a tumultuous start to her life in a new country, Eriksson adjusted quickly to the pulse of life in Denmark’s capital, working as a visual merchandiser and exploring the city in her free time. But after two years, Eriksson again felt the all too familiar tug to explore a new place, this time her heart set on a city nestled on the opposite side of the Atlantic.
“My mom invited me on a New York trip when I was 18, and I was immediately fascinated by how different it was. Sweden is very quiet, minimal, clean, and organized and when I came to New York, everything was loud, bright, colorful, messy. I loved the contrast.”
At the age of 20, Eriksson moved to New York and enrolled at Parson’s School of Design. Her first big gig came when she was offered a position as an art director for Martha Stewart, where she worked with props stylists, food photographers and editors on both photoshoots and the design of books for their special issue publications.
“It’s such a collaborative and hands-on place to work—and Martha Stewart is a hilarious women.”
After putting in a year with Martha Stewart, Eriksson tried her hand at working in smaller studios. The foray into two disparate career paths awakened a desire within Eriksson to expand her own talents and explore more in the design world.
“After working in both a corporate and small studio setting, I realized I wanted to explore and experiment more through my work and that’s when I decided to go back to school at the School of Visual Arts.”
With the intent to seek new challenges and to push herself to work outside her comfort zone, Eriksson expanded her design practice to new mediums such as film and installation.
“When I started playing with design in three-dimensional space through installation and in motion through film, everything changed. It gave a new perspective and it is in many ways informing the all work I do today. I wanted to break out of “traditional design thinking” and SVA and its professors gave me all the right tools to do so.”
While at SVA, Eriksson studied under the tutelage of Pentagram’s Paula Scher. Halfway through her senior year, Eriksson was asked by Paula if she wanted to work for Pentagram, an offer she graciously accepted.
“Working with Paula, a designer and bosslady that I have looked up to since I started dabbling with design, was an incredible experience. She is natural educator, so while working together I got to tap into her endless knowledge about design, as well as the business side of design.”
Though her time in the United States has been riddled with success, Eriksson confides that there still was a learning curve for her, particularly in her early days in New York.
“I’ve always been a bit shy, and I didn't use to feel comfortable talking about myself with new people. Generally people here are very open and straightforward (which I appreciate) and they do expect the same from you in return—so I was quickly forced to learn how to talk about myself and what I do.”
After living in the U.S. for about 8 years, Eriksson has overcome most of the big cultural hurdles, but still finds herself missing things from home in Sweden from time to time. In between small outbursts of laughter, she rattled off the four things she missed the most.
“I miss free healthcare, my family and 8 weeks of vacation. Other than that, herring. I really miss pickled herring.”
Lack of pickled fish product and inferior healthcare aside, Eriksson believes her time in New York has helped her to grow into a more open-minded designer and person. The vibrant and diverse culture of the city has shaped her in ways she could never have expected.
“New York has made me more open minded, both in my personal life and with my design work—I still love the gridded, minimal, European design, but now I have a greater appreciation of things that are intuitive, irregular, and imperfect.”
As always, we asked if Eriksson had any advice she was willing to offer prospective immigrants aspiring for a life in New York.
“Give it a good six months before you decide if you like it or not—it takes a while to get to know New York. Say ‘yes’ to things you wouldn’t normally say ‘yes’ to and you will end up meeting a lot of new people and seeing many more unexpected things. You will most likely be sleep deprived and you might run out of money, but you will have a lot fun...”