NORTH­ERN EX­PO­SURE

ICE­LAND HAD FEW DE­SIGN­ERS AND NO FASH­ION PRES­ENCE UN­TIL THE GFC ROCKED THE TINY COUN­TRY AND SPURRED NEW EN­TER­PRISE. NOW THE REYK­JAVIK FASH­ION FES­TI­VAL IS SETTING AN EX­AM­PLE IN SUS­TAIN­ABIL­ITY FOR THE GLOBAL IN­DUS­TRY.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY GEMMA ZOE PRICE

Reyk­javik Fash­ion Fes­ti­val is noth­ing like its fash­ion week coun­ter­parts in Lon­don, Paris or New York – nor does it want to be. As Ice­land’s first real step to­wards a struc­tured fash­ion in­dus­try, RFF has its own am­bi­tions, and top of its list is to lead the in­ter­na­tional scene as the world’s first sus­tain­able fash­ion week. Se­lec­tion cri­te­ria for RFF’s six run­way shows this year re­quired brands not only to demon­strate cre­ativ­ity and the abil­ity to show a full col­lec­tion, but to prove that their de­signs were built on en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious pil­lars – an ap­proach aimed at in­flu­enc­ing how brands evolve, rather than sim­ply show­cas­ing de­sign­ers’ work.

“My big­gest dream for RFF is it be­comes the lead­ing fash­ion fes­ti­val of sus­tain­able causes,” says CEO Kolfinna Von Arnardót­tir. “We have a loud voice in the Icelandic fash­ion in­dus­try, so when we de­cide to be con­scious thinkers and en­cour­age sus­tain­abil­ity it is a big state­ment and af­fects the de­vel­op­ment [of the fash­ion in­dus­try here] in a pos­i­tive way.”

The fact that Ice­land has a fash­ion week at all might be news to some. While you’re prob­a­bly fa­mil­iar with mu­sic ex­ports Björk, Sigur Rós and GusGus, this small is­land just off the Arc­tic Cir­cle, pop­u­la­tion 320,000, is much less well known in de­sign cir­cles than its Nordic neigh­bours Swe­den and Den­mark. Many of its emerg­ing brands are also ex­tremely new. Of the six that showed this year – Anita Hir­lekar, In­klaw, An­other Creation, Cin­ta­mani, Mag­nea and Myrka – all ex­cept technical out­wear brand Cin­ta­mani were founded in the wake of the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis, when a lack of op­por­tu­ni­ties prompted de­sign­ers to strike out on their own.

Reyk­javik Fash­ion Fes­ti­val was es­tab­lished in the same cli­mate of aus­ter­ity in 2009, which goes some way to ex­plain­ing its start-up agility and rene­gade ideals. Es­chew­ing twice-an­nual au­tumn/win­ter and spring/ sum­mer fix­tures, RFF holds a sin­gle fes­ti­val in the Icelandic cap­i­tal each March, avoid­ing a sched­ul­ing con­flict with other fash­ion weeks and em­pow­er­ing de­sign­ers to show what­ever they want.

RFF is ex­tremely ac­ces­si­ble. Rather than limit at­ten­dance to a fixed ros­ter of celebs, so­cialites and in­dus­try folks, a por­tion of the 600 seats per night for its run­way shows, held this year over two con­sec­u­tive evenings at Reyk­javik’s har­bour-fac­ing Harpa con­ven­tion cen­tre, were avail­able for pub­lic pur­chase. From the VIP launch party thrown by Amer­i­can so­cial me­dia mag­nate Oliver Luck­ett at his pri­vate home to the clos­ing event at Ice­land’s first mi­cro­brew­ery Bryg­g­jan Brug­ghús in the up-and-com­ing har­bour area, events had a strongly in­clu­sive, com­mu­nity feel, with de­sign­ers, ed­i­tors, vis­i­tors and Ice­land’s wealthy and fab­u­lous min­gling with­out af­fec­ta­tion over jugs of beer and snacks.

Be­cause Ice­land’s pop­u­la­tion is so small and so iso­lated, RFF is one of the few in­ter­na­tional fash­ion weeks still deeply and al­most ex­clu­sively rooted within its na­tional work ethic, cul­ture and setting.

De­sign­ers are prag­matic to a fault, happy to don many dif­fer­ent hats and un­daunted by the prospect of es­tab­lish­ing an in­de­pen­dent brand from scratch, of­ten mix­ing for­mal train­ing, her­itage crafts and self-taught skills with un­bri­dled cre­ativ­ity as their la­bel de­vel­ops. Case in point: hip-hop-cul­ture-in­flu­enced streetwear brand In­klaw, founded by two high-school friends with zero sewing ex­pe­ri­ence but am­bi­tion to make their own mu­sic-video-in­spired cloth­ing in spades.

Other de­sign­ers not only cre­ate cloth­ing suited to “the na­ture”, as they charm­ingly re­fer to Ice­land’s weather and land­scapes, but draw strong stylis­tic in­flu­ences from it. In ad­di­tion to the heavy wools, knits and furs that you ex­pect to see in a coun­try where win­ter tem­per­a­tures plum­met to −30°C, you also see the

coun­try’s colours and tex­tures – moss-cov­ered lava fields, plung­ing glacial-melt-fed wa­ter­falls, gey­sers and ac­tive vol­ca­noes – and nods to the Nordic mythol­ogy they in­spired ex­plic­itly re­flected on the run­way.

Myrka’s au­tumn-win­ter 2017 col­lec­tion fea­tured sil­ver em­bel­lish­ments to rep­re­sent ice and black silk as a nod to lava flows. Cin­ta­mani showed pieces that were not only de­signed for dis­cov­ery of Ice­land’s most ex­treme ge­og­ra­phy, but ren­dered in its colours – it may be the first time flame-red ski pants with sus­penders have been sent down a cat­walk with­out irony.

“Be­ing an Ice­lander, you are al­ways near na­ture and strong nat­u­ral forces. This shapes us in be­ing en­vi­ron­men­tally think­ing, both as de­sign­ers and con­sumers. We are proud of that el­e­ment in our cul­ture,” says Von Arnardót­tir.

Ice­land’s lack of re­sources – aside from the abil­ity to gen­er­ate geo­ther­mal en­ergy – means its peo­ple are in the habit of mak­ing things and mak­ing them last. Many of the de­sign­ers that showed this year de­vel­oped their own fab­rics – Icelandic fam­i­lies can trace tra­di­tions of pro­duc­ing tex­tiles, as well as their lin­eage, back to the Vik­ings – and most in­stinc­tively fo­cus on time­less in­vest­ment pieces over tran­sient fast fash­ion, em­pha­sis­ing durable, sus­tain­able, nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als and ar­ti­sanal de­tail­ing over throw­away, mass-pro­duced de­signs.

And while Icelandic fash­ion ap­pears to have all the hall­marks of qual­ity and dis­tinc­tive aes­thet­ics re­quired to com­pete in the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket – every de­signer at RFF17 is fo­cused on ex­pand­ing into the larger EU, US and Aus­tralian mar­kets, sooner rather than later – the lo­cal fash­ion in­dus­try is still so new that it’s un­clear how re­silient it will be when taken out of con­text.

The heavy ma­te­ri­als and muted, earthy colours shown dur­ing RFF work well in Ice­land, where a sum­mer high of 22C makes na­tional news, but it’s hard to imag­ine these de­signs work­ing in warmer cli­mates. The uptick in the value of the Icelandic króna – which plum­meted in the fi­nan­cial cri­sis, giv­ing de­sign­ers a leg up – also means it’s go­ing to be harder for brands to re­main fi­nan­cially com­pet­i­tive.

As Ice­land’s crop of de­sign­ers con­tinue to fig­ure things out, most see the fact they are the van­guard for Icelandic fash­ion as a pos­i­tive. There are no rules. There is no peck­ing order. Every­thing seems pos­si­ble.

“We have an un­writ­ten sto­ry­board in front of us that we can do any­thing with and it is packed with op­por­tu­ni­ties,” says Arnardót­tir. “Our great­est ob­sta­cle is be­ing from a small coun­try, but at the same time it can be our big­gest ad­van­tage. We help and sup­port each other. Each voice of the Icelandic de­sign­ers is strong and equally as im­por­tant.”

Cin­ta­mani Founded in 1989, technical out­er­wear brand Cin­ta­mani – think Patag­o­nia, but de­signed specif­i­cally for the Icelandic land­scape and el­e­ments – al­ready has six stores in Ice­land with re­tail­ers in Nor­way and Canada, but the AW17-18 col­lec­tion, themed “Ice­land from be­low”, was the in­au­gu­ral col­lec­tion from its new in-house team.

“Since this was our first col­lec­tion we wanted to start from the core – all the colours and pat­terns come from the caves in Ice­land,” says head de­signer Aðal­heiður Bir­gis­dót­tir, founder and de­signer of women’s snow­board­ing ap­parel brand Nikita, which she sold in 2012. “Nat­u­rally, liv­ing in Ice­land af­fects the way we de­sign—we have a first­hand un­der­stand­ing of how to dress for the weather.”

Bir­gis­dót­tir brought her Nikita team­mates David Young and Guðrún Lárus­dót­tir to work at Cin­ta­mani as art di­rec­tor and pro­duc­tion man­ager. To­gether with tai­lor Selma Rag­nars­dót­tir, they spent 18 months de­vel­op­ing the col­lec­tion to stand up to Ice­land’s ex­treme weather and ac­tive life­style. Com­bin­ing Blue­sign-ap­proved and Oeko-Tex-cer­ti­fied sus­tain­able ma­te­ri­als and cuts de­signed for com­fort­able lay­er­ing, the col­lec­tion spanned ev­ery­day pieces such as pullovers and parkas to high-per­for­mance sport­ing ap­parel, re­alised in a colour pal­ette in­spired by deep glacial in­te­ri­ors and geo­ther­mal rock for­ma­tions. Key run­way looks in­cluded earth-toned pants and pullovers lay­ered with light Pri­maLoft jack­ets and fur-trimmed, mus­tard­coloured 3L Shell rain­coats.

Myrka Chan­nelling Norse mytho­log­i­cal shamen and se­duc­tress Völva, Myrka de­signer Harpa Ei­nars­dot­tír used a mix­ture of premium leather, wool and fur, ad­ding ob­sid­ian black silk cash­mere as a nod to Ice­land’s inky black beaches, and metal­lic em­bel­lish­ments to evoke the coun­try’s lava fields and glaciers.

“The im­pact of na­ture on the de­sign is prom­i­nent – it’s easy to imag­ine wind and gush­ing water against moss and stone – and our print this sea­son is in­spired by the old Icelandic ghost story, The Dea­con from Dark River,” ex­plains the de­signer, shortly af­ter the show.

Al­though RFF 2017 was the first time Ei­nars­dót­tir had made and showed a Myrka col­lec­tion, it’s not her first out­ing in the fash­ion world. Af­ter her brand Ziska – the same moniker she uses when pro­duc­ing her sig­na­ture macabre il­lus­tra­tions and char­ac­ters in film, the­atre and on­line games – won the Reyk­javik Run­way de­sign com­pe­ti­tion in 2011, the de­signer went on to show Ziska col­lec­tions dur­ing RFF 2012 and 2014. In 2013, she co-founded brand An­other Creation with Ýr Þras­tardót­tir and Hrefna Sver­ris­dót­tir, sub­se­quently leav­ing to fo­cus on her in­au­gu­ral AW17 col­lec­tion for Myrka which she pre­viewed in a film at the Paris Fash­ion Week clos­ing party at David Lynch’s club

“The im­pact of na­ture is prom­i­nent – it’s easy to imag­ine wind and water against moss and stone.”

Si­len­cio last au­tumn. Now Ei­nars­dót­tir’s sights are firmly set on in­ter­na­tional buy­ers, specif­i­cally those for larger re­tail­ers such as Collette in Paris, Lib­er­ties in New York and DK Com­pany in Den­mark.

“The brand im­age of these lead­ing multi-brand stores is very strong in the fash­ion in­dus­try and will help to es­tab­lish Myrka Ice­land,” says Ei­nars­dót­tir, ad­ding that she plans to lever­age e-com­merce, an­a­lytic-driven ap­proaches like SEO and paid search, and so­cial me­dia to build a full life­style brand of­fer­ing ac­ces­sories, footwear and fur­ni­ture, within five years. “Other buy­ers around the world fol­low the buy­ing strate­gies of these stores, look­ing at which de­sign­ers they are pick­ing up.”

Mag­nea Since es­tab­lish­ing her epony­mous stu­dio Mag­nea in 2012, de­signer Mag­nea Ei­nars­dót­tir has stayed true to the brand’s fab­ric-first DNA, build­ing each col­lec­tion around tex­tiles that in­cor­po­rate Icelandic wool.

For her RFF17 run­way, key looks in Ei­nars­dót­tir’s AW17-18 col­lec­tion in­cluded fuch­sia and moss-green silk-satin dresses and jump­suits, fea­tur­ing knit­ted woollen de­tails made in col­lab­o­ra­tion with an Icelandic mill – de­tail­ing that echoes her early pieces, which were em­broi­dered and knit­ted from a del­i­cate mix of wool and rub­ber.

Mag­nea Ei­nars­dót­tir – a grad­u­ate of Cen­tral St. Martin’s in Lon­don and nom­i­nated for the pres­ti­gious Ice­land De­sign Award 2014 and Reyk­javik Grapevine Fash­ion De­sign of the Year in 2013 and 2015 – says her post-grad­u­a­tion plan was to get a “proper job” in the in­dus­try in Lon­don, but de­cided to pur­sue her own path af­ter re­ceiv­ing recog­ni­tion for her de­signs.

“I de­cided to say yes to every op­por­tu­nity I got for a while, which led me to op­por­tu­ni­ties such as a de­sign col­lab­o­ra­tion with Club Monaco,” she re­calls. Her big­gest chal­lenge now is to se­cure a foothold in larger mar­kets. “My vi­sion is to offer a range within the brand, where some gar­ments are fully pro­duced out­side of Ice­land, still keep­ing the el­e­ments close and true to the brand.”

Anita Hir­lekar Anita Hir­lekar – named an up-and-com­ing Scan­di­na­vian de­signer by Elle DK and recog­nised by Ital­ian Vogue among 200 in­ter­na­tional emerg­ing de­sign­ers – pre­sented the stand­out show. Born in Ice­land and ed­u­cated at St. Martins in Lon­don, Hir­lekar ex­plores beauty in im­per­fec­tions, com­bin­ing in­spi­ra­tion from fine art with con­ven­tional fab­rics de­con­structed and reimag­ined to cre­ate technical wom­enswear rich in colour and tex­ture. For RFF17, she launched her most ex­ten­sive col­lec­tion to date, ex­plor­ing prints, ac­ces­sories and new ma­te­ri­als. Every piece in the col­lec­tion was hand­made, fea­tur­ing chunky em­broi­dery in shred­ded nat­u­ral fab­rics such as silk and chif­fon, usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with evening­wear but re­pur­posed to new ef­fect by the de­signer.

“I try to chal­lenge my­self with fab­rics, so I look into fab­rics that I don’t nec­es­sar­ily love and I try to do some­thing new with them,” she says. “I wanted to tear them apart, em­broi­der with them, just to come up with some­thing in­no­va­tive.”

In­klaw

In terms of brand sto­ries, hip hop-cul­ture-in­flu­enced la­bel In­klaw stole the show.

De­spon­dent with the men’s fash­ion avail­able in their home­town, in 2013 school friends Guðjón Geir Geirs­son and Róbert Ómar El­mars­son de­cided that they would make their own. Geirs­son bor­rowed his grand­mother’s sewing ma­chine and stud­ied YouTube videos, mak­ing pat­terns from old clothes and adapt­ing them into T-shirts, leather tank tops and hood­ies. El­mars­son posted their ideas on Face­book and In­sta­gram to gauge in­ter­est from their friends, but soon started re­ceiv­ing in­quiries via so­cial me­dia from wouldbe cus­tomers in Aus­tralia and the US.

Since then, In­klaw – which now in­cludes El­mars­son’s un­cle An­ton Sigfús­son as CEO, new man­u­fac­tur­ing hand Christo­pher Can­non and so­cial me­dia mag­nate Oliver Luck­ett as in­vestor/men­tor – has amassed more than 60,000 fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram and counts Justin Bieber, Coco Rocha, a swathe of Euro­pean football play­ers and pop stars among its legion fans.

In­klaw also put to­gether one of the most en­ter­tain­ing run­ways. Known for cap­sule col­lec­tions of made-to­order min­i­mal­is­tic, func­tional hood­ies and tanks, their largest col­lec­tion to date for RFF, The State­ment, fea­tured more than 30 streetwear looks, daubed with large “X”s and ac­ces­sorised by fu­tur­is­tic gog­gles.

Ranks of mod­els – in­clud­ing so­cial me­dia in­flu­encers such as Swopes and Bri­tish celebrity Lady Vic­to­ria Her­vey -- Snapchat­ted and In­sta­grammed live as they walked. Be­cause a smoke ma­chine would have put the show over bud­get, New York-based stylist Edda Gud­mun – who works with Björk and avant garde de­signer Bernard Wil­helm – had mod­els vape on the run­way to cre­ate the same at­mos­phere.

In­klaw’s next step is to con­tinue to grow their busi­ness. While Geirs­son and Can­non – who also had no sewing ex­pe­ri­ence when Geirs­son hired him – still sew 90 per cent of In­klaw’s cloth­ing from their Reyk­javik stu­dio, they’re look­ing to move man­u­fac­ture to Euro­pean fac­to­ries, re­duc­ing their out­put from 2000 pieces a year to a few cus­tom gar­ments. “We want to keep the feel­ing of ex­clu­siv­ity, while be­ing a house­hold streetwear brand on the mar­ket, so we’ll di­vide the col­lec­tion, of­fer­ing lim­ited edition pieces made in the old way, made to order,” says Sigfús­son.

WHir­lekar ex­plores beauty in im­per­fec­tions, cre­at­ing technical wom­enswear rich in colour and tex­ture.

Hip hop-in­flu­enced streetwear brand In­klaw was founded by two school friends, one of whom bor­rowed his grand­mother’s sewing ma­chine and taught him­self from YouTube.

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