We met with Sonja Bent, a fashion and knitwear designer for LazyTown, a wildly popular children television program in America that’s produced both in Iceland and overseas. In the production room, Sonja took a break from making some rather tacky red and green Christmas sweaters for LazyTown’s closing show this season to tell us about her various design projects, both independent and collaborative.
How did you wind up at LazyTown?
I started out as an intern here, when I was studying fashion design at the Iceland Academy of the Arts, and I was offered a project of making knitwear for the winter show. Now I am a costume design assistant to María Ólafsdóttir, who is the main costume designer for the show. I love working in this kind of an action driven environment, where creativity levels are very high. All the characters have their own colour palette, which is a great challenge.
Is it difficult to design for puppets?
Well their proportions are so different from humans and for instance, one puppet on the show is quite the challenge because of its big belly.
Have you worked in other mediums, in the Icelandic film industry perhaps?
Yes, my first film project was to work on the wedding scene in the film ‘Brúðguminn’ (“White Night Wedding,” 2008), which takes place in the beautiful island of Flatey. The environment is fast-paced, and it can be very artistically exciting. It’s a huge change to go from doodling to working with a challenging team of filmmakers, which need things done on the spot. My biggest project in film was when I was the costume designer for the film ‘Kóngavegur’ (“King’s Road,” 2010), portraying Icelandic trailer trash characters in a trailer park.
What was that like, given that we don’t have real trailer trash culture in Iceland?
Well, we had influences from America of course, but the director, Valdís Óskarsdóttir, had a strong vision for the characters so that was very helpful in the process. The costumes were reality-based worn out eccentric pieces that we put thoughtfully together for each character. We thought of the Icelandic eccentric, in fact, which is what made the creation of the costumes come to life.
Do you borrow most of the clothing for these kinds of projects?
No, we have many fantastic second-hand shops here in Iceland. The Salvation Army and Red Cross, for instance, are very important for the film industry.
They aren’t too smelly?
No, not at all. I use a magical chemical that eliminates odours and germs. This has made life much easier for us, using used clothing as costumes in general.
Are you working on any new film projects now?
Yes as a matter of fact, I am working on a short film called ‘Stúlkan á rauða hjólinu’ (“The Girl On The Red Bicycle”), which is in production now. My husband directs it and one of our friends, a filmmaker, coproduces it with us. My costume design for this film is pretty unique, as it is for a married, middle-aged man whose story is told through clothing. The man is always waiting to win the lottery, and the audience understands his emotions based on how he is dressed. If he feels like a clown, he is dressed as a clown, and if he feels like a million dollars, he is very sleekly dressed. This concept is very interesting to me.
You are a fashion designer and knitwear specialist on top of all this, how is that going?
Yes, I don’t think you can just be a fashion designer all the time, especially in Iceland. Sometimes you have to work on projects, but for me it’s a great mix. It’s not as if I’m working at a café alongside being a designer. I am a knitwear designer, and I sell my pieces at Kirsuberjatréð at Vesturagata 4. I think my projects—working for LazyTown, Icelandic films, theatre and commercials—go well with my personal freedom of being an independent designer. That’s what makes me happy, and I will probably want to do more of it in the future!