The Killing on Topic

Anyone who has watched “The Killing (Forbrydelsen),” or even glanced at its poster, has likely noticed the protagonist’s choice of attire: a white sweater with black snowflake-like patterns. If you’ve watched the show, then you’ve probably noticed just how prevalent this article of clothing is—it is indeed a character in its own right. Since “The Killing” premiered in 2007, both the show and the sweater have achieved cult status of mind-blowing proportions. Now that Topic is bringing the show to North American streaming audiences for the first time ever, it’s only natural to revisit this beloved jumper by meeting the people who helped catapult it into infamy.

“The Killing” follows Deputy Superintendent Sarah Lund, whose retirement plans are put on hold when the body of a young girl is discovered in a car with ties to a prominent politician. The series’ first season was such a smash hit that roughly a third (!) of Denmark tuned in to watch the season two premiere. With the perfect blend of gripping procedural, emotional weight, and a flawless performance by Sofie Gråbøl (who plays Lund), the series quickly earned a spot in the Nordic Noir canon.

But number of fans aside, the real testament to any show is what the fans do when they’re not watching it. In this case, hordes of people were tracking down the knitwear company behind Lund’s infamous sweater in order to purchase their own, and knitwear vendors have been creating lookalike patterns in tribute to the show, one of which was worn by Sofie herself. So in order to completely unravel the illustrious object that is Sarah Lund’s sweater, Topic is pulling multiple threads.

Why a sweater?

There has been no shortage of iconic attire in TV history, from Walter White’s pork pie hat to Saga Norén’s leather pants, but rarely have on-screen badasses ever chosen something that could be classified as “warm and fuzzy.” So why does Sarah Lund? “We had a costume meeting and I saw that sweater and thought: ‘That’s it!’,” Gråbøl told The Guardian. “The reason it’s so perfect is because it tells so many stories. It tells of a person who doesn’t use her sexuality—that’s a big point. Lund’s so sure of herself she doesn’t have to wear a suit. She’s at peace with herself.”

Subverting the male gaze is not new, but choosing to do so with a chunky sweater is a brilliant move that makes Lund nuanced beyond gender expectations. “I wore this sweater and so did my parents. That sweater was a sign of believing in togetherness. There’s a nice tension between those soft, human values and Lund being a very tough closed person—because to me it says that she’s wanting to sit around a fire with a guitar. It gives a great opposite to her line of work and behavior.”

The Origins of the Sweater

So where does this particular sweater come from? Fans were quick to discover that the exact make and model was by Guðrun & Guðrun, a luxury knitwear brand based in the Faroe Islands, a self-governing archipelago that is part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Named Vón, which is Faroese for “hope,” the sweater was inspired by the classic boatman’s sweater, which can be found in the closets of just about every Faroese man, including co-founder Guðrun Ludvig’s father. After simplifying the typical Faroese boatman’s sweater into a black and white design with a simple snowflake-like pattern, Vón was born, and can be seen on Deputy Superintendent Sarah Lund in all three seasons of “The Killing (Forbrydelsen).”

Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery, Right?

But clearly one shop was not enough. In response to the insatiable demand for the infamous Sarah Lund sweater, other knitwear designers saw an opportunity to create their own versions, and soon became entangled in some woolly controversy.

In order to prevent copycats, Guðrun & Guðrun filed a lawsuit against a Danish shop after it started selling a less-expensive lookalike. “It went on for years and almost ruined the owner of the shop,” Anne Brusendorff, owner of the Etsy shop Knit by Brusendorff, told Topic. “Then a local woman from the Faroe Islands sent in a picture of her daughter in the exact same sweater, a picture that was taken in the ’60s.” In the end, it was proven that the pattern is in fact hundreds of years old. “So Guðrun & Guðrun lost,” Brusendorff explains. “The pattern can not be copyrighted by them.“

The court ruling enabled knitwear designers like Brusendorff to continue creating and selling their own patterns, and it’s clear from the item descriptions that these vendors are not only fans of the classic Faroe Island design, but are huge fans of the series. Brusendorff’s reads: “When…’Forbrydelsen’ (The Killing) premiered…back in 2007, I saw the main character Sarah Lund…wearing a very cool sweater, I instantly knew I had to knit a similar one for myself.”

TiggsTogs on Etsy
TiggsTogs on Etsy

A Community of ‘Killing’ Fans on Etsy

Brusendorff isn’t the only seller on Etsy paying tribute to “The Killing.” Katherine Calmejane, who owns the Etsy shop Tigg’s Togs, has not only re-created the famous pattern, but has created a new one that became a sensation in its own right. “I submitted a design for a red and white jumper that I named Strawberries and Crime, which was gifted to Sofie Gråbøl herself,” Calmejane recounts. “I cannot begin to describe the squeal of delight when I received an email and opened it to find a photo of Sofie wearing my sweater and holding the flashlight and gun with their matching koozies!” Yup, you read that right: she also knitted koozies for Lund’s gun and flashlight in the signature black and white pattern.

So why is Sarah Lund’s sweater such an inextricable part of her identity? “[Sarah] too has some irregular stitches,” Calmejane explains. “She’s a little bit scratchy and rough around the edges.” At the end of the day, “it’s a bit like a superhero costume, but more comfortable.”

The One Book Every ‘Killing’ Fan Needs

Just when you thought “The Killing”’s fans couldn’t get any more endearing, there’s more. In 2012, superfan Emma Kennedy published a companion book called “The Killing Handbook,” a guide to “everything you’re going to need to pretend you are Danish,” including a variety of crafts inspired by the series. In order to rally other fans of the show, Kennedy launched a competition on Twitter calling for craft entries. Among some of those selected were Calmejane’s designs and a knitted mini Sarah Lund doll. The book also offers explainers for some of the show’s potholes, Danish language lessons, recipes, dating tips, and even a foreword by Gråbøl herself.

“The book is great fun,” Calmejane says. “There are so many tidbits and extra details [from the show] that are easily missed, insights from the cast, and a quiz to check if you are a true fan.” It’s not only a tribute to “The Killing,” but to Danish culture in general. “In fact, it even explained the concept of ‘hygge’ years before it became a buzzword for anything involving a blanket and a handful of candles.”

So perhaps that’s why the larger-than-life sweater from “The Killing” has become such a cult obsession. Yes, it’s fetching and gives Lund’s character an unexpected complexity, but it’s also a metaphor for Denmark itself: elegant, timeless, and oh-so cozy.