Published August 2, 2016
Having dressed Reykjavík’s residents in patterned designs and jeweled finery for the past several years, Hildur Yeoman has slowly but steadily become one of Iceland’s leading fashion designers. We met the designer in her workshop as she was putting the finishing touches on her magical summer collection, Euphoria.
Surrounded by drawings, textiles, jewels and patterns, Hildur starts to trace the beginnings of her prolific career. Because of her interest in illustration, she started studying fine arts in secondary school. Afterwards she shifted to fashion design at the Iceland Academy of the arts, graduating in 2006.
Hildur tells me that fashion had always been a mystery to her. When she was studying art, her art coursework was intellectually heavy and her work focused primarily on political matters—she eventually gravitated towards fashion design because she wanted to try something lighter. Telling stories has always been Hildur’s main focus. She uses drawings to illustrate the stories her fashion tells.
After her studies, Hildur started creating colourful accessories: bags, scarves and necklaces. Her designs were sold at pop-up markets and at the 101 boutique Kron-Kron. “I started creating accessories because they didn’t require different sizes and could fit everyone,” she says. “I wanted to start by designing something simple while I was getting on my feet.”
Hildur quickly moved on to creating full collections, including the playful Cherry Bomb collection and the darkly magical Xanadu collection, which consisted solely of showpieces. Next came her first ready-to-wear clothing line, “Yulia,” which was named fashion design of the year by the 2015 Reykjavík Grapevine design awards. According to our report at the time, the collection “swiftly became the highlight of the fashion year, and set jaws wagging throughout the design community, and beyond.”
The collection was inspired by Hildur’s great-grandmother, Yulia Yeoman, a housewife from New Jersey. “She was an inspiring woman who left her family and life as a housewife to join a motorcycle gang, quite similar to the Hell’s Angels,” Hildur says. “Everything I create is in some way inspired by her, which is why my designs are all connected even though they have different emphasises.” Hildur’s designs have been described as flattering statement pieces with beautiful stories behind them.
Strong women like her grandmother are Hildur’s inspiration. She uses interesting, prolific women as models in her photo shoots. The campaign for her second clothing line, “Flóra,” by photographer Saga Sig, included models of all kinds. “People come in all shapes and sizes,” says Hildur. “Whether they’re skinny or curvy, old or young, I want to design clothes for them. I want to make clothes that look good on all kinds of women. And they were all models that I found to be cool and chic.”
Hildur’s second clothing line was inspired by the powerful mystical energy of nature, and the women smart enough to take advantage of it. She studied herbs and grasses that possess healing powers, and can be used medicinally, or magically—for example, to gain spiritual powers, or entice hearts.
“I met a sorceress who helped me use Icelandic flowers to practice sorcery,” Hildur explains to me. “I learned how to create a love spell and a power spell and used the ingredients to create the patterns.”
The pattern in Hildur’s love spell dress should attract romance to the wearer, while the power spell pattern strengthens and helps boost confidence. “I love creating a whole world around my clothing lines,” Hildur enthuses. “I almost want people to be able to hear music and feel a certain taste when they see my shows.”
The approach has worked: Hildur’s designs are regularly seen on prominent Icelandic women, such as the singer Jófríður Ákadóttir and the actress Hera Hilmarsdóttir. “My main goal is to create pieces that are beautiful and exciting at the same time,” she continues. “I love seeing people wearing my designs, especially older women.”
A person wearing a piece of clothing doesn’t necessarily realise the amount of thought and work, and the sheer number of people, behind the creative process of design and production. Hildur starts by finding inspiration—researching her idea to the fullest, and illustrating it. She then finds the right fabric to print her pattern onto, and carries out fittings to perfect the cut. Afterwards, a prototype is created and sent to Estonia, where her clothes are sewn.
It’s an involved, labor-intensive process, especially when considering the small market and isolation of Iceland. So it’s refreshing to hear about artists like Hildur, who make a good living from the fruits of their imagination. “I’ve been designing clothes for many years, and only now am I becoming successful,” she explains. “It’s not something that happened overnight. And even though it’s going well, it’s a lot of hard work.”
Hildur recounts how the Icelandic fashion industry has changed in the ten years since she graduated. There weren’t a lot of job opportunities for new graduates, and KronKron and Spaksmannsspjarir were the only successful stores selling Icelandic designs, meaning many Icelandic designers had to travel abroad to find work. “There are a lot more opportunities nowadays for designers,” Hildur says. “The market has grown enormously with the increase in tourism, and locals choosing to purchase Icelandic designs.”
This increased desire for Icelandic design comes at a time when an awakening is taking place within the fashion industry, with consumers becoming more aware of how and where their clothes are manufactured, buying fewer garments, and reusing old textiles. “It’s a complicated subject,” Hildur says. “Clothing design is a polluting activity in itself, because of the fabric printing, transportation and manufacturing of the clothes. However, paying the people that make the clothes a good salary and having items produced in smaller quantities is, in a way, a much more sustainable way of producing clothing.”
With a little help from her friends
Hildur is first and foremost a fashion designer, but she is also known for her visionary use of photography and illustrations, and her flamboyant fashion shows. She has worked closely with photographer Saga Sig in creating photo series like ‘Garden Of Enhancement’ and ‘Metamorphosis’, for which the two artists combined forces to produce otherworldly pictures straddling the line between fashion and art photography. “My favourite thing about being a fashion designer is getting to know interesting people, and collaborating with them,” Hildur says.
Projects evolve and thrive, Hildur continues, when different visions are mixed together with her own, making collaboration a creative process in itself. “If I weren’t a fashion designer, I’d still be doing something creative. Not making music though. I have no music skills whatsoever,” she laughs.
Even Hildur’s approach to commerce is collaborative. Her designs can be found at Kiosk, a small boutique on Laugavegur. The store is run by local designers, who’ve joined forces to sell their clothes and accessories. The designers themselves work at the store, which creates a homey atmosphere. “We’re a group of young designers running a store together, which is something we wouldn’t be able to do on our own,” she says. “We support each other and work closely with one another. We are stronger as a whole.”
As part of the Reykjavík Arts Festival, Hildur exhibited her designs in a collaborative fashion show featuring dancers, musicians, photographers and visual artists. “Transcendence” was inspired by the state of mind between sleep and wakefulness, dreams and hallucinations. The idea came to Hildur while she was creating the world around “Flóra,” but she wanted to dig deeper into the world of dreams. She was fascinated by the dream world spell, an herbal sedative said to increase dreaming.
“Transcendence is my favourite project so far,” Hildur says. “The project’s atmosphere was so great, and I had more time to work on it than I usually do with these kinds of projects.” She went to Paris to research the fabric used for the “Transcendence” clothing line, she elaborates: “I thought a lot more about fabrics in this line, rather than patterns.”
Hildur also had a strong mental image when she started working on the exhibition, and chose collaborators she thought would help realise the idea. The results were magical: the ambitious, collaborative “Trancendence,” staged in an abandoned medical museum, was a lauded creative achievement.
Hildur refers to herself as a fashion designer, but she uses her illustration skills and other art forms in her creative process. She utilises drawings and sometimes photographs in her prints, and plays around with them when tailoring. Her designs are unique, and the patterns have developed a character that’s uniquely hers. The overall aesthetic of her practise screams Yeoman.
Hildur’s most recent collection, “Euphoria,” came to life when she started planning her wedding. “The collection is like a love letter,” she says. “I have been with my husband for ten years now and they have been filled with joy and brightness.” Hildur got married in a magical ceremony in the countryside surrounded by her friends and family.
The new collection is filled with love and happiness. Hildur and her husband’s favourite flowers can be seen in the prints, as well as little lovebirds. “There was so much happiness put into the design of this collection that I’m quite sure it might rub onto those who wear it,” she proclaims.
Having come this far, Hildur shows no signs of slowing down. Her designs have been requested abroad for various photo shoots, more and more overseas clients have been purchasing her designs online. Asked if she plans on moving abroad, Hildur says she’s not ready to leave Iceland just yet—but has learned never to say never. She is currently enjoying her life in Iceland as a mother and newlywed, with her “Transcendence” clothing line coming up this fall. And if her busy career, interesting projects and magical clothing lines so far are anything to go by, we can expect even greater things in the future.