Flying Tiger Copenhagen–the cheap Danish home decor chain that opened its first U.S. location in Manhattan this past May–is a bit like Ikea’s manic pixie dream girl little sister. From nose-shaped pencil sharpeners to oven mitts with teeth, most of its quirky, colorful products sell for less than $10.
This super-affordability is unusual for Danish design, known for its exquisite craftsmanship and hefty prices (think Arne Jacobsen’s leather Egg Chair, $15,000 at Design Within Reach). “Our mission is to make coveted yet often very pricey Danish design accessible to everyone,” Tina Kanter, managing director of Flying Tiger Copenhagen tells Co.Design in an email. “But we’re also focused on more than just product–we’re focused on how our clever items can inspire customers to have fun, smile, and engage every day.”
The result of this mission: most of the stuff in Flying Tiger’s whimsical tchotchke land looks like it was designed by Danish elves on sugar highs for the sole purpose of stuffing Christmas stockings. So when my editor suggested I do all my holiday shopping there, to investigate how Flying Tiger’s take on Danish design translates to American tastes (or doesn’t), I bravely ventured forth.
On Broadway and 23rd Street, this dollar store of Danish design is laid out as one long, snaking aisle from entrance to checkout. After five minutes in the maze, my basket was filled with cute little knickknacks that none of my family or friends would actually need: neon erasers shaped like gorillas ($1), a holographic elf notebook ($2), lip-shaped fridge magnets ($2), a miniature air hockey table ($5), cactus candles from a 24-foot-wide candle wall ($3), a robot pencil sharpener ($2), glittery cat brooches ($1), and a color-changing heart-printed mug ($3).
Flying Tiger’s hodgepodge of kitsch is inspired by the flea markets where the chain’s founder, Lennart Lajboschitz, used to sell overstock. The upside of Denmark’s spin on the flea market aesthetic is that despite cheapo prices, Flying Tiger’s products don’t look like junk, thanks to simple, creative designs. You’ve probably seen stuff of the same quality and aesthetic for sale in Urban Outfitters’ home goods section for five times the cost. (Cultural differences between Copenhagen and New York City aren’t so vast that the store’s design registers as “foreign” or “exotic”–if anything, it’s the reasonable prices that set it apart from the American approach to retail.) But since everything is mass-produced, no matter how original or eccentric the designs, it’s harder to find gifts that feel unique or meaningful at Flying Tiger than it is, say, at an actual flea market, where one-of-a-kind vintage goods reign.
Still, in the mustache section (the store’s products are arranged by theme), I came across a few things I hoped would have deep significance for their recipients. My brother has a bit of a thing for mustache memorabilia. In high school, he kept a fake mustache in a red velvet-lined jewelry box and called it his “secret stache.” From the shelves heaped with mustache stuff, I pick three $1 mustache-printed drinking glasses, some $2 mustache pushpins, and a $3 mustache-shaped piggy bank.
The next section was themed around noses. Both my mother and grandmother have elegantly prominent noses that, after years of teenage self-consciousness, they now wear with pride. For these ample-schnozzed matriarchs, I pick two gifts that honor their strong profiles: A magenta nose-shaped eyeglasses holder ($3) and a ceramic mug with a big nose-shaped handle (also $3).
It was harder to find presents for grown men, like my dad, who is not an adorable knickknack kind of guy, if there is such a thing. Material goods he appreciates include drum sets, medicine balls, and the occasional cigar, none of which Flying Tiger stocks. But as I was about to lose hope, I saw it: A jar labeled “Glowing Slime/Slim selvlysende” for $2. It was perfect: He could mold the slime into whatever mysterious thing he secretly wanted for Christmas, and its glow would light up his life. There really was something for everyone in this Danish wonderland.
Toward the end of this consumerist endurance test, I grab a $5 LP frame for record-collecting friend (Urban Outfitters sells the same thing for $18); a $5 miniature pool table for my college-aged sister; $2 spools of yarn for a knitting friend; plus some lovely blue plates ($3) and a few $1 elf-patterned washcloths for whoever I forgot about. The grand total for 21 gifts for 12 people: $79.
If $79 worth of cheap Danish design didn’t convince my friends and family I really cared about them, I hope that, in the words of Flying Tiger’s mission statement, these things would at least serve as inspiration “to have fun, smile, and engage every day”–or, if not every day, for a few minutes before opening their next gift.