From Iceland — The New Kids On The Block

The New Kids On The Block

Published October 28, 2014

Skyrta will make you a made-to-measure shirt

The New Kids On The Block
Fred Q. Labelle
Photo by
Saskia Vallendar

Skyrta will make you a made-to-measure shirt

Laugavegur, quite the dandy’s lane, is swarming with trendy menswear addresses that all offer a certain vision of what lavishly dressed men should be. Enter Skyrta (“Shirt”), a newly launched Icelandic made-to-measure shirt company that lets the local peacocks decide what spiffing shirts should look like. With customers in our blogger era more fashion-savvy than ever before, giving the reigns of design to the customer makes total sense.

To learn more about Skyrta, I visit founder Leslie Dcunha and art director Terence Samuel Devos at their headquarters on Klapparstígur, just off Laugavegur. They have clearly worked hard to make it cosy and homely. It breathes comfort with its authentic Icelandic antique furniture, making it look like Don Draper’s office, were he a modern Scandinavian gentleman.

Their average customer, they say, is an “office suit,” but they also have fishermen coming in to treat themselves, as well as people with odd bodies who need particular tailoring. “I’ve got really long arms for my height, so I need longer sleeves,” Terence said, demonstrating the problem in his non-Skyrta shirt. “It’s the same for the bodybuilders and their massive arms, they can’t fit in any shirt that’s out there.”


Gold rush or gold crush?

“My approach was, ‘what is the Icelandic clothing market missing?’ and I noticed a hole with suppliers. I’ve got a friend who has a factory in India, so I started Prowler, a garment and textile supplier. With a small team, we visited factories and chose seven, some of which supply the likes of Tommy Hilfiger, Wrangler and H&M,” Leslie said. It seems though that he wanted to do more, to create.

“I’ve got a background in design, I love fashion, and there is so much creativity going on everywhere you look in Iceland, so it was a natural move,” he confided.

Starting a company in a foreign nation has to bring a few challenges, and even though Leslie and Terence learned the ropes marrying into Icelandic families, the local idiom has its mysteries.

“The vast majority of paperwork is obviously in Icelandic, so I had to ask a translator for help, and ‘Google translate’ stuff, which wasn’t always helpful. However, my father-in-law helped and now I’ve got Icelandic colleagues for questions,” Leslie said in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Minus that, it’s all quite easy in the end, which Terence corroborated. “Here, compared to London, the bureaucracy is so small, you can sort everything in one day, you go to this person and there isn’t a long queue, so it’s pretty easy, and everyone was genuinely helpful,” the art director went on.

Many local designers I’ve spoken to mention the difficulty of importing samples. “The taxes are pretty high, so it’s very expensive to make a shirt here, but the system is pretty straightforward,” Leslie confirmed. “You do it once, then the authorities know you and it becomes very mechanical, simple.”


An Icelandic essence

I had to ask them, as the devil’s voice, what was Icelandic about their product, since neither of them grew up in the land of skyr and hunang. “There is playfulness here. I’ve seen it with food, clothes, art, drinks, they bring that little twist of individuality. There is freedom in the way of doing things. Being so small, they’re constantly trying to do something fresh, new. There are so many individuals here that do it their way, and we see ourselves in that,” Terence explained.

I’ve noticed myself that the local Vikings love to peacock around, in a sort of bravado, and Terence went on to summarize what he sees as being an Icelandic essence, which they tried to engrave into their brand.

“Íris Hildur Eiríksdóttir, one of our designers, is very Icelandic, in the way she chooses colours and she does designs that you wouldn’t see elsewhere. Icelanders don’t do the trends in the same way Americans or Londoners would. Icelanders do tweak a lot of what they touch, to make it personal,” Terence said, which Leslie agreed with.

And it’s true that your average local hipster isn’t the same you’ll see on the continent. “Icelanders, being such a small nation, are terrified of losing their identity, so they change things a bit,” according to Terence. “It’s the same with foreign words, they create their own. It grows all over the place.”

Skyrta just opened a store on Skólavörðustígur 21.

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