Shopping in Iceland – Icelandic clothes design
From outdoor wear to haute couture
Words by Ester, one of the expert local guides of Your Friend In Reykjavik
I am a closet fashionista. I would love to dress in designer clothes every single day but I have always thought that I don’t really possess the body shape for it, being somewhat squat; short and, well, pudgy. But I accepted the challenge of checking out Icelandic fashion designers and whether they were offering anything that a middle-aged woman could wear to feel and look good. I was in for a treat! I met the most gracious staff in every shop – willing to help me choose what would look best and take plenty of pictures on my phone. So, this is an “organic blog” – just me and my phone – no styling, no hair and make-up and no size zero adolescents doing the modeling.
Outerwear first – you need to know how to survive the elements
Iceland is the third windiest place on earth (and nobody lives in the other two), with rain/snow/sleet accompanying the wind on most occasions. Outerwear is therefore extremely important and it better be good quality… If you have not brought proper gear, here are two great, Icelandic brands to look for.
A good, rain and windproof coat is a must. I tried on two of Zo-on’s coats and I think they can withstand almost anything. The yellow one leaves almost none of your upper body exposed to the elements – perfect for hard-core glacier hiking. Just be sure to get pants as well. Although the coat made me look like the Michelin Man, I felt sure I would never get cold in it. I would be willing to sacrifice vanity for practicality on this one. The light gray one is great streetwear on those icy, windy winter days.
This outerwear brand is Iceland’s oldest and is well known, not only quality outerwear but also for their unusual advertising campaigns, featuring brooding Icelanders in inclement weather. Their products are meant for heavy-duty outdoor activities, but they are very popular as streetwear as well. I am a city rat and you won’t find me hiking except up a garden path, but once I had these sturdy pants on, I could see myself attacking a mountain (OK, a hill…). The orange jacket, I would definitely wear any time for added warmth and comfort.
Out of the wind and ice – inside where it is cozy
At the Kringlan shopping mall I went into the Geysir shop. They have more shops at the center of Reykjavík but the weather was miserable, so the mall was my choice that day. First, I tried on a long, black dress which I would never in a million years have tried if the shop manager had not persuaded me. I was ready to see pictures of a strung sausage but instead, I looked almost tall and lean. At least close enough for me to reconsider these figure-hugging dresses I have been avoiding.
They also had this delightfully soft cardigan in a lovely dark-green color, with a bit of gold glitter. I will not need to sacrifice glam for warmth!
In the same shop, and elsewhere, As we grow : children‘s clothes are sold.
I picked out a couple of adorable items to show you. The overall has all sorts of Icelandic references, from the use of wool to the circular pattern, reminiscent of the traditional Icelandic sweaters.
The dress is bright and functional with pockets for all those little things kids like to stow away.
Yet another brand designing children’s wear is Farmers Market, who also designs for the discerning adult. At their flagship store, which is at the up-and-coming hip area of Grandi, I tried on some very nice garments and took a look at the children’s line as well. The sweater is a twist on the traditional design with lightweight, super-soft wool and a bit of glitter.
The skirt was yet another surprise for me. I would never have tried a full-length, flowy skirt but adding the matching scarf to my hair made everything look sleek and soigné.
The baby’s overalls were just adorable. There are no babies in my family at present, but I know where I’ll go shopping when a new one has arrived!
Moving on to Ásta Creative Clothes, sold at the delightful little co-op of Icelandic designers – all women – at Kirsuberjatréð. I met with Ásta herself and we had great fun picking out pieces to put into my blog. The cape is such a versatile garment and it keeps your shoulders and chest warm. It is handmade so each one has a slightly different, asymmetrical shape.
The fur mittens are such fun and they come with a string to thread through the arms of your coat or jacket, so you don’t lose them.
At the Kvartýra N°49 boutique where Eygló sells her clothes, you will find edgier designs. When I saw the black skirt in the picture on the hanger, I had to ask what type of garment it was – a top or a skirt – as it looked very strange. However, once I tried it on, it looked super sexy – I loved it! I can just imagine fishnets underneath and stiletto heels…
The matching top and pants were quite out of my comfort zone but I felt very powerful and feisty once I had them on. I had a blast trying on stuff that I normally shy away from and finding that I could make it work and enjoy it.
Aftur designs speak loudly to me as a die-hard recycler/upcycler. They design very cool clothes out of old ones, usually in a patchwork style, which ticks yet another box in my heart as I do patchwork myself, out of recycled materials. The use of menswear shirts in this particular design is really well done and the extra button line as a decoration was a cinch. The details, people, it‘s all about the details!
One of my favorite clothes‘ shop in Reykjavík is Herrafataverslun Kormáks og Skjaldar a mouthful of a name if there ever was one. It literally means Kormákur and Skjöldur‘s menswear shop. They offer old-fashioned tweeds, hats, oil-cloth jackets, and other British gentlemen’s wear. They design many of their clothes themselves and, in recent years, they have been offering clothes for gentlewomen as well. Their designs are not very avant-garde or particularly “Icelandic” but they are such fun! The lovely lads at the shop helped me pick out the perfect outfit for a stroll on the estate grounds…
One of the longest-standing designer duos in Iceland; Hugrún and Magni, with their Kronkron brand was next on my visit list. Hugrún was there herself and gave me invaluable assistance in choosing clothes. Kronkron has very colorful designs, which are a relief from the stark white/gray/dark mantra of most Icelandic women (the daring ones put on a pale rose or tan scarf…).
I love colors but I had misgivings about the dress and the shirt which Hugrún picked out for me as I wasn‘t sure the colors would look good on me. She definitely proved me wrong and I vow to be more adventurous from now on! The shirt’s piping accents framed the lively pattern really well and the “tie” hid the buttons, which always gap on my chest.
I picked the sheath dress directly off the rack and it hugged in all the right places and gave in all the other ones. The busy pattern also drew the attention away from lumps and bumps I sometimes feel have attached themselves to my body overnight.
I needed some persuasion to try on the colorful dress and I was glad I gave in because I loved it. Not only did the colors work really well but it was like wearing a cloud – the material was so light and airy.
Another colorful and adventurous creator is Hildur Yeoman. I met Hildur herself in the shop and she helped me see that a dress on top of my ratty jeans worked just as well as a sweater. The dress is very versatile, with a fun pattern in colors that will work with almost anything. It has fun little details, like small notches on the sleeves – those little things that make it different and cool.
Usually, I don’t much care for sweaters. I much prefer cardigans which are easily taken off when a woman of my age starts feeling a bit hot and just as easily put back on when she has cooled down. Still, I was so taken with the sky blue of the sweater that I just had to try it on and I must say it does me justice. Both the color and the cut are perfect for me.
Hildur also had a lot of glittery-glam outfits which I‘d love to take dancing.
The last on this particular list is one of Iceland’s finest designers, Steinunn, whose low-key shop in the Grandi area feels more like a Paris atelier. Her designs are timeless and elegant and the quality is exceptional. She mostly uses black and very muted colors, with emphasis on fine cutting and gorgeous materials. I don‘t think you could ever go wrong wearing her clothes… Steinunn herself helped me pick out a fabulous jacket and a matching cap, which I would probably not have tried without her suggestion but which looked very chic.