While it may be a small, isolated country, the cultural footprint of Iceland has always been larger than you’d expect. Certainly we’re all familiar with the country’s music, famed hot springs and all around geographical wonders, its seafaring history, and, somewhat more on the ignoble side, its recent economic crisis. But the island nation of around 325,000 people has long been a hotbed of creative activity that gets less attention, including in the fashion and design worlds. This week that will all be on display when the Reykjavik Fashion Festival kicks off on Thursday.
The festival was founded in 2010 by four Icelandic labels, and since then has grown and contracted year by year. This year’s festival will focus on a smaller, curated pool of six homegrown designers, including JÖR by GUDMUNDUR JÖRUNDSSON, Sigga Maija, Magnea, EYLAND, ANOTHER CREATION, and SCINTILLA
We asked festival director Thorey Eva Einarsdottir to explain more about the festival, and the culture of fashion and design in her home country.
Tell us a little bit about the designers that are showing this year.
This year is exciting as we have three Festival newcomers with extensive experience within the industry, along with three returning labels. So six lines total, and everyone is from Iceland. JÖR by GUDMUNDUR JÖRUNDSSON, was a breakout of last year’s Festival offering beautifully tailored men’s and women’s-wear, as dark and gothic as it is luxurious and chic. Sigga Maija and Magnea also return this season with gorgeous ready-to-wear collections. Sigga Maija balances androgyny with incredibly feminine silhouettes and textiles, while Magnea’s impressive knitwear earned the label’s 2014 collection a nomination for Iceland’s prestigious Iceland Design Award.
ANOTHER CREATION, a very anticipated collection owned and operated by three women (Ýr Þrastardóttir, Anna Lilja Johansen and Hrefna Sverrisdóttir) will launch its first women’s collection at the 2015 Reykjavik Fashion Festival, as will SCINTILLA, an iconic Nordic textiles brands that was established in 2009. EYLAND, will present their second collection which mixes minimalist style with classic tailoring and bold, graphic patters.
How did you get involved with Reykjavik Fashion Festival? Have you been there the entire time?
I was born and raised in Iceland, but over the past 13 years I’ve lived and worked in Six different countries as a producer throughout Europe, South America, Asia, Scandinavia and the United States. Four years ago I relocated back to Iceland. My sister, Birna Karen Einarsdóttir is a fashion designer and one of the RFF founders, along with my sister in-law, Íris Björk Hafsteinsdóttir. I was initially invited as a guest to the first festival and things developed from there. This is the fourth festival I’ve managed, along with an amazing team and wonderful foreign friends and supporters.
Has it changed over the years since is started?
RFF is dynamic and changes year to year. It’s been larger, and now it’s returned to a smaller scale, so we’re able to provide a better experience to all involved. The local industry is growing and RFF engages in collaborative projects that strengthen designer partnerships and what we’re able to offer participants. Our partnership with the creative agency Atelier Kontrast has affected the shape and level of show design, bringing the overall production to a higher level, which has been very important. And we have many brilliant, creative minds that have gone abroad, gathering experience, which they incorporate in the industry when they return. We have several people on our team that work and live aboard but come home for RFF to offer their assistance and consulting.
How does it differ from some of the other fashion weeks that people are more familiar with?
Well, the first difference is in the DNA of its name: the Reykjavik Fashion Festival. We were very intentional to define the event as “festival”, if only to keep things less formal, with more possibilities. The total population in Iceland is just over 325,671 thousand, so while there is only so much that can be done on a local level, the idea is to provide our designers with the best possible global platform, and for our guests to gain insight into their influences. We invite foreign guests to enjoy the Festival, meet the designers, visit their studios, but also see the country a bit, as we believe the environment here is a massive factor influencing Iceland’s many, many artists and creators. The fashion “industry” remains very small but it’s incredibly visible nonetheless. There are independent and designer-owned clothing stores everywhere. There’s also incredible street-style and a boldness in fashion that is a reflection of the possibilities that exist in an emerging market. And who knows what the future might entail with rapid changes in technology and trends? The film industry, for example, has gone though a huge boom, making tourism our number 1 business trade, pushing the fishing industry to number 2. Not sure how many would have put their money on that 15 years ago!
Are there advantages to working on that smaller scale?
Yes, it offers access to leading powers in the country, there is next to no hierarchy and you can get things done. And it creates a foundation for courage, for just doing things. Our designers are fearless in both execution and style.
Am I going to have to try whale if I come?
I rather recommend trying dry fish with creamy butter!
Is there something about the character of the country that is reflected in the designs typically, and in this year in particular?
It’s probably harder for me to detect the details in influences, as we are so accustomed to our environment, and the designers are diverse, so it varies where they seek inspirations year by year. But, the weather and landscape are both unforgiving and astonishingly beautiful. There is a sense of toughness and practicality that I think make their way into the creative consciousness. I think that is manifested is all of the collections.
Any common throughline you’re seeing with the designers this year?
There is great interest in improving business structure and efficiency. Launching a collection in Iceland can be very DIY, so it’s good to see the majority of the designers are teaming up with talented creative directors, to develop and strengthen their teams. In terms of common visions, you’ll have to see the collections to know if those parallels exist.
What are some of the other events going on around the festival that people might be interested in?
In the city centre we have a Fashion Night Out on Thursday, where stores stay open late. The city is pretty crowed with events, interesting collaborations, installations, great exhibitions at the art museum, as well as DesignMarch, which is running in conjunction with RFF this year.
A lot of people from outside Iceland come to the festival? What’s their usual reaction to the city and the country?
There are too many answers to this question It all depends on one’s experiences and really what the weather God, Thor, decided to offer you during your stay. That said, in my personal experience visitors are impressed with our dramatic contrast in nature, the fact that nearly everyone speaks English, the kindness of most of the locals, and of course, the level of design and creative minds.