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Icelandic Individualism

Icelandic Individualism

Iceland, Design –

Surrounded by harsh seas and rugged mountains, and lacking available materials to work with, these DESIGNERS IN ICELAND are pushing the boundaries in creative originality and resourcefulness

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IN RECENT YEARS, design and art have been rapidly blossoming in Iceland, growing from its craft-based roots into fundamental industry involving thousands of people and significantly contributing to the economy. Folklore, heritage, history and a touch of nostalgia influence designers, attempting to define and celebrate a national identity.

Lack of available materials is a challenge, causing designers to think creatively and seek new possibilities. Wool, however, remains a trusty material, now with a fresh approach. Eco-consciousness plays a fundamental role in Icelandic design, as manifested in the recycling and repurposing of objects, as well as the utilisation of remnant materials.

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SIGRÍDUR HJALTDAL PÁLSDÓTTIR AND THÓRUNN HANNESDÓTTI – THE PRODUCT DESIGNERS BEHIND NORTH LIMITED

Designers Sigrídur Hjaltdal Pálsdóttir and Thórunn Hannesdóttir on North Limited’s brand concept:

All of the products and furniture flow well together, uniting function with beauty and timeless aesthetics.”

The Basalt Mirror is a versatile sculpture where the base is formed of Icelandic Basalt and the mirror can be twisted in multiple ways to create a look that fit’s it’s surrounding
Stefnir serving plates in lava, marble, gabbro and basalt
Lómur porcelain vessel – named after an Icelandic seabird known for its hardiness and streamlined shape
Island Coasters in Iceland shapes
Berg – Made of steel, concrete and aluminium, the tables are built to last – both indoors and out. Berg can function as seats as well as tables. Designer: Thorunn Hannesdottir – FÆRIÐ

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North Limited is a design collective formed by Icelandic designers Sigrídur Hjaltdal Pálsdóttir and Thórunn Hannesdóttir, known for their style that is contemporary and warm, mixing elegance with Icelandic quirkiness. All of the products and furniture flow well together, uniting function with beauty and timeless aesthetics. North Limited focuses on classic design with high quality production.

1 Is Icelandic design the same as Scandinavian design?

The culture and society in the Scandinavian countries are quite similar to Icelandic culture, so it can be very hard to pinpoint what the main difference is between Icelandic and Scandinavian design. But I think the difference between the two is the manufacturing process, in general, and the fact that the Scandinavian countries have a longer tradition which Iceland lacks a bit. Because of the isolation of being an island, Icelanders have had to think differently in terms of source material – so we think differently than our neighbours in the north. Similar to Scandinavian design, however, our designs from North Limited are all built on functionality, simplicity and clean lines.

2 What inspires your designs?

Inspiration can come from anywhere; from music, the streets or movies. Our designs are mostly inspired by Icelandic nature and functionality of the product. We enjoy experiencing and improvising, and creating some sort on interaction with the user.

3 What materials do you like to work with?

We love working with natural materials, and we really enjoy being quite experimental, as mentioned before. At the moment we have been working quite a lot with stone, such as marble, Icelandic lava, gabbro, and such. We have also worked in ceramics, porcelain, textiles, wood, metal and, now lately, recycled concrete.

4 You are keeping Icelandic handicraft and design alive. What other vanishing arts and trades should Iceland keep alive, and young designers like you preserve?

The Icelandic craft of weaving is something that should definitely be kept alive, and hopefully more Icelandic designers will learn about this wonderful heritage.

5 Can you tell us what’s good to eat in Iceland?

Seafood is a must when you’re in Iceland

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The best thing to have on a cold winter’s evening is, without doubt, the ever so traditional Icelandic meat soup kjötsúpa, which is a hearty broth soup with carrots, potatoes, swede and lamb meat. Nowadays you can get different varieties of this soup and every household will make it. Each family might uphold their own traditional recipe where they add stuff like millet, split peas or barley in the soup, or even make it vegan! But this soup is the best traditional Icelandic food to have during the cold months, and it’s a great meal to share with family and friends.

But, no one should come to Iceland without trying some of our delicious fish!

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HELGA LILJA MAGNÚSDÓTTIR – THE FASHION DESIGNER BEHIND HIGH STREET LABEL HELICOPTER

Helga Lilja Magnúsdóttir, on people who inspire her:

My grandmother was a very great composer all her life, and even Björk has sung one of her songs.”

Window to the Heart dress
Merino Wool V Neck sweater for BAHNS, known for big, comfortable sizes in quality materials. Helga and Stephan Stephense only design and release garments when they feel like it for this label
BAHN’s swimsuit in red. Swim trunks in blue
Back to the 90s black bodysuit

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With a Bachelors degree in fashion design from the Iceland Art Academy in 2006, and an exchange programme stint at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, Helga Lilja Magnúsdóttir started her high street label Helicopter after receiving good reviews for her work at a pop-up design market. Helicopter can now be found in various global enterprises including the UK, USA, Japan, Italy and Germany.  She also designs for BAHNS with Stephan Stephense, a label known for big, comfortable sizes in quality materials – all inspired by Icelandic nautical markings and symbols.

1 Is Icelandic Design the same as Scandinavian Design?

Icelandic design is very different from Scandinavian. We do not have an easy access to fabric wholesales or trunk shows so we tend to make our textiles ourselves. Grass root designers in Iceland tend to make very colourful clothing and prints. Our design inspiration is often derived from the wild nature that is ever close in Iceland. Even when you live in the city.

2 What inspires your designs?

I have been inspired by many different things – such as my grandmother’s music. She was a very great composer all her life, and even Björk has sung one of her songs; my ex-boyfriend’s art, rocks found in the east of Iceland, and jellyfish. For my latest designs, I was inspired by a wineglass. When the sun shone through the wineglass it broke so beautifully – it took me a long time to grasp the feeling it gave me – I hope my fans will like it as much as I do.

3 What materials do you like to work with?

I’m in love with viscose. It’s the main fabric I work with. It comes in so many shapes and textures. Many times I am drawn to a fabric that I believe is something else but it almost always turns out to be viscose.

4 What do you aim for in your creations?

I always go for comfort. Feeling good in your own skin and in your clothes has a positive effect on everything you do.

5 Can you tell us what’s good to eat in Iceland?

Harðfiskur! You have to try harðfiskur – our dried cod that we spread butter on!

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BRYNHILDUR PÁLSDÓTTIR, GUDFINNA MJÖLL MAGNÚSDÓTTIR AND THURÍÐUR SIGURÞÓRSDÓTTIR – TEXTILE DESIGNERS OF ICELANDIC SHEEP WOOL FOR VÍK PRJÓNSDÓTTIR

Icelandic sheep wool textile designers (from left) Brynhildur Pálsdóttir, Gudfinna Mjöll Magnúsdóttir and Thuríður Sigurþórsdóttir are inspired by myths of their homeland
Icelandic sheep
“Icelandic sheep wool is a combination of fibres unlike any in the world, unlike any other sheep. We are working with an ancient yarn.”
Shield of Wings
The mystical figure of the Shaman is that of a healer and a visionary. To be in his hands, is to be under the protection of a magical power drawn from the spirit world
The Twosome Blanket

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From wings to anchor motifs to cosy hands that comfort during harsh Iceland winters, Vík Prjónsdóttir is a product company selling mainly Icelandic sheep wool designs and products. Co-owned by designers Brynhildur Pálsdóttir, Gudfinna Mjöll Magnúsdóttir and Thuríður Sigurþórsdóttir the design company is inspired by myths and stories of Iceland. The trio’s production process is based on working closely with traditional, local knitwear factories and producers, working almost exclusively with Icelandic sheep’s wool, a unique and sustainable resource that has evolved in isolation over 1000 years.

1 Is Icelandic Design the same as Scandinavian Design?

I think we definitely share some aesthetics, but the difference is that Icelandic Design is very young, much younger than the design of the other Scandinavian countries. I think our strength is in concepts and imagination. The design is not so much based on materials but perhaps the ‘exploring’ of materials. There is also a strong sense of individuality.

2 What inspires your designs?

We are fascinated by natural materials, and we enjoy discovering adventures hidden in unexpected places. Each design piece has a story, inspired by everyday magic, Icelandic myths and folklore.

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3 Does your understanding of human interventions with natural cycles influence your designs?

As we work with wool, a source that comes from a living creature, we connect with the natural cycles of life, of grass and the land, and the human connection in all of this. Many of our designs are inspired by the laws and colours of nature. We are also proud that our designs are produced here in Iceland and that we are responsible, eco-friendly designers.

4 What materials do you like to work with?

We work almost exclusively with Icelandic sheep’s wool. We like that the Icelandic wool is a sustainable resource and has evolved in isolation over 1000 years. Icelandic sheep wool is a combination of fibres unlike any in the world, unlike any other sheep. We are working with an ancient yarn.

5 You are keeping Icelandic handicraft and design alive. What other vanishing arts and trades should Iceland keep alive, and young designers like you preserve?

It was not that long ago when Iceland was a poor country and, of course, bitterly cold so there were not that many trades. People were thinking of basic survival and food. So in a way, we have a blank page to start from. There were some basic trades like working with fish skin and wool and carving wood and so on and I think most Icelandic designers including the young ones are looking to preserve these or evolve these as part of our heritage and culture.

6 Can you tell us what’s good to eat in Iceland?

Try our meat stew kjötsúpa – it’s usually made of lamb

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The best thing is kjötsúpa, a meat stew that consists mostly of Icelandic lamb, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, rutabaga, and rice. It’s perfect in winter and really warms you up, especially after a swim in outdoor pools during a blizzard.

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Story by Carol Kraal. Photographs courtesy of respective designers and brand labels North Limited, Helicopter and Vík Prjónsdóttir; model for Helicopter photoshoot: Tessa Patrov; cod dish photograph by iceland.co.uk; harðfiskur photograph by https://icelandicfoodstories.wordpress.com