“I’d like a cortado, please.”
That’s a good start. Eygló Margrét Lárusdóttir, the woman behind the eponymous fashion label EYGLO, certainly knows her coffee, and I appreciate that.
With long legs clad in a simple semi-camouflage Vivienne Westwood jumpsuit and a fresh, makeup-free face, Eygló takes a seat right in front of a window with the elegance of a swan, while I clumsily climb an impossibly high chair right next to her. She rarely looks at me, but she’s always present, often pausing before she speaks as if she were choosing her words carefully before letting them tumble out and fill the space between us. Much to my amusement, however, I soon find out that she’s not one to mince words.
A colourful upheaval
“I can’t wait until this normcore vibe is over,” she sighs, resting her head on the palm of her hand. “I hate it, I seriously hate it.” Not that I needed that clarification: a single look at her designs and one is immediately transported to a realm of vivid colours and complicated textures. In a country that has turned fashion into an extension of its rigid winters, her collections are pure revolution. Bid farewell to boring blacks and anonymous mossy shades; welcome bright orange and acid green. That’s not to say that she has discarded neutrals altogether—but when they do pop up, they’re balanced out by funky prints and patterns of her own design.
Her last collection, a testament to her love for experimentation, juxtaposes soft cuts with far-out patterns ranging from guns and daggers to Keith Haring-inspired chalk outlines of a dead body. Her pièce de résistance, a lime green suede jacket made of vegan leather flown in from Japan, bears the beaming face of Jessica Fletcher meticulously laser-cut right into the fabric.
“I got better feedback for [the collection] Murder She Wrote than I had dared but a few women were also very insulted by it. I think it’s hilarious,” Eygló laughs. “They think it’s very rude-looking to carry weapons on a piece of clothing, but you see it on TV so why not on a piece of garment?”
As she speaks, she laughs often, and with gusto, at almost everything. She’s not PC, but neither is she puerile. “One woman even asked, what kind of message does a mum send to her child while wearing this?” she says, rolling her eyes. “I said:’Oh I don’t know, the message that the child should behave?’” I almost choke on my cappuccino.
Although Eygló is driven by a passion for experimentation, it’s precisely in her unfiltered humour that you’ll find the key to her success. As she speaks, it’s clear that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. “It’s just clothes—it’s supposed to be fun,” she declares, explaining that she never had the intent to start a dialogue about weapons. “It’s just something that is. It exists in the world, I didn’t make it up, and I’m not even saying I’m pro or against it. I was just inspired by the TV series! I don’t think I would ever go very political when it comes to clothes.”
Interestingly enough, Icelanders turned out to be much more sensitive to the patterns than she had expected. Instead, a lime-green party dress embellished with a Colt .45 on the torso and cartoonish gunfire on the arms has quickly become a favourite amongst American tourists. The truth is, Eygló doesn’t hold herself back, nor does she shy away from controversy. With her unapologetic attitude and the gaiety of a newcomer, she isn’t just part of the landscape of Icelandic fashion—she sets the tone for it.
Into the Vortex
After graduating in 2005 from the Iceland Academy of the Arts, Eygló didn’t even consider applying for a job: instead, when she realised the market couldn’t offer her what she was looking for, she began making clothes for herself.
It was her short internship at Bernhard Willhelm (who designed Björk’s clothes for her 2007 world tour) that truly made an impact on her designs, as well as the three months spent in LA working for Jeremy Scott. While it is hard to pinpoint her style, the real constant in her collections is her willingness to reinvent herself by playing with ideas, colours, patterns and textiles. As soon as she finds something new, she dives deep into the vortex, analysing every option, exploring every possibility until she’s turned her object of observation inside-out like a sock. Then, she’s ready to let go.
“I always need to renew myself completely, otherwise I just get bored of it,” she enthuses. “I’ve been doing a lot of prints because it’s so easy to produce and then you can have your own fabric in that sense, but now I’m getting a little bit tired of that and I want more texture. And knitwear as well.”
No more normcore
Eygló’s mind never stops working. Like many of her contemporaries, she finds the global fashion industry to be devoid of anything interesting, but this feeling has very little to do with her love of Pop Art and a lot to do with the industry’s propensity to look back at itself instead of moving forward.
It’s apt that we meet right during Couture Week. Besides Valentino, where Pierpaolo Piccioli managed to stay elegantly afloat amidst the choppy waves of the market by introducing resort pieces into his collection, the other maisons merely inspired a yawn. Everybody is attempting to reinvent the wheel; what the industry desperately needs, however, is to break that wheel into a million pieces and start anew.
“I saw Chanel and it was horrible,” Eygló agrees. “Everybody is in a crisis because of normcore. Dead fucking boring. But who can really do that beside Demna Gvasalia and Balenciaga? They’ve already jumped on that train and conquered it and you can’t exactly copy that, it’s a narrow look to work with. But what’s going to happen afterwards?” Albeit not as ubiquitous here as it is abroad, the normcore vibe has quickly permeated Icelandic wardrobes by seeping through the back door, leveraging the trend for minimal hip-hop sportswear. Put together Adidas sweatpants, any plain crop top and a baseball cap and you’ve got the 101 uniform. But when you have to buy all these things to feel cool or relevant, is that really you?
“I don’t think you’re really expressing yourself when you’re buying that kind of stuff, when you’re just buying the label—like these DHL t-shirts,” Eygló suggests, exasperated. “I saw a guy in a Vetements jacket and I felt sorry for that person. They’re laughing at your ass, seriously. You buy a DHL t-shirt for $500 but you just look like an un-independent loser if you’re being fooled into buying this stuff.”
Tales of Nazis and a steampunk revolution
Considering she possesses the hyped curiosity of a child, the respect Eygló has for the quirky whims of Bernhard Willhelm or the creativity of Christopher Kane doesn’t take me by surprise. In particular, their penchant for experimentation when it comes to textiles often inspires her to push her own boundaries and play around with technology. No stone is left unturned.
Lately, for instance, she’s been mesmerized by the Icelandic band Hatari, which defines itself as a multimedia project whose props include steampunk looks that veer towards a fascist aesthetic. “I have been to some of their concerts and I was absolutely blown away by their vibe and their looks,” Eygló says dreamily. “It’s amazing because it is so far from being cool at this moment but they took that vibe and did something weird with it. And I’m not a steampunk type, it’s nothing to do with that. They just took something so out of fashion and made it cool—I loved it!”
Unequivocally, there is a little bit of Miuccia Prada in her—a feeling she unknowingly confirms when she reveals some of the details of her new venture with Icelandic artist Egill Sæbjörnsson. Not only does she tackle the idea of ugliness in her new collection, but she also challenges her own knowledge of raw materials. Eygló has never worked with porcelain before; yet, she’ll be using it for the gold-plated claw jewellery she has been designing and creating.
“It’s still wearable stuff,” she assures me with a joyous chuckle. “It’s amazing when you get a lot of ideas but I actually enjoy making a lot of patterns and shaping the clothes. I enjoy the whole process. Sometimes you get tired of making things so you have to learn to give yourself a break and just not think about this at all.”
Her relaxed attitude takes me aback. It seems to me that she has not exactly chosen the most stress-free path for herself, considering how much pressure the global markets has been exerting on designers since the advent of social media. Not only is it hard to create something new when you’re designing at least four collections a year, but it’s also incredibly difficult to balance out the creative side of the industry with the financial aspects of it.
More and more, young designers are forced to be business savvy as well as inventive, and if managing one’s own label can almost be perceived as liberating to an untrained eye, the influence of investors and clients often takes a toll on the mind and the body. We’ve seen it before: even Alexander McQueen had difficulties reconciling his own creative ethos with the demands of the public. Or take the genius of J. W. Anderson: how long can he keep up with the pressure coming from Spanish brand Loewe as well as from his own label, which demands around-the-clock collections for womenswear and menswear?
Luckily, Eygló explains, such pressure doesn’t exist in Iceland, and the reason for it is mainly cultural. In a country where time seems to follow its own clock, life is lived at a slower pace and with a slightly more carefree attitude—or, as she calls it, a lack of discipline. It’s not a coincidence that Icelanders’ favourite phrase, often whipped out to reassure people everything is going to be fine, is “þetta reddast.” Things will work out. “Of course it’s going to be fine but at what point is it not going to be fine?” she asks. “Where is the limit?”
Life under pressure
Nevertheless, Eygló doesn’t seem to have any problem when it comes to discipline. In fact, she seems to find happiness in her work most of all, so much so that being on a break for six weeks has been stressful, to say the least. Not keen on either too much or too little pressure, Eygló gives herself deadlines to work with and a lot of discipline when it comes to designing and manufacturing, even more so because she has to manage the business on her own. She demands independence in her creative endeavours. She seems protective of her own label as well as proud of it, and the slightest interference seems to be either rejected or ignored.
No investors have ever been involved with her label, nor will they ever be “unless they back off and leave me the money,” she says, with a hearty laugh. “I don’t like people snooping around my stuff. I’m very private and I’ve always wanted to be alone. I think it fucks me up if I have to please somebody else, mentally. I would freeze.”
Expanding abroad, then, is almost out of the question. Although she has showcased a collection at the Venice Biennale, where she chose artists to wear her designs instead of typical models, she likes the current vibe in Reykjavík—relaxed but not over the top. “It’s very important that I stop if I’m not enjoying it anymore,” she says, candidly. “I used to do two collections a year but then I didn’t feel like I wanted to push myself too much so I just made one. But then at the same time if I slow down too much I get depressed. I go on a holiday for a few days and I find it stressful as hell!”
She pokes fun at herself and her own contradictions. “It’s in my character, I always need to refresh every six months, and start completely over. It even says so in my star sign book,” she adds, and as she looks at me with a mischievous smirk we simultaneously burst out laughing.
A tough industry
It certainly helps that the Icelandic fashion industry seems to be quite close-knit. It’s ironic that in the meantime the global industry is being taken by storm by the news of Lucinda Chambers’s dismissal as long-time fashion director of British Vogue. Even more shocking were the details she gave in an interview with journal Vestoj, detailing the wrongdoings and backstabbing that’s typical of the industry that has fed her for years, as well as its frequent compromises in the name of its ever-ravenous audience.
If I were hoping to find as much drama here as there is abroad, I’d be sorely disappointed, and Eygló laughs at the implication. “It’s too small here to be bitchy about stuff! If you’re bitchy in Iceland then you’re just out. There’s only one bridge to burn here,” she says, matter-of-factly. “I remember one person that totally fucked up in that sense and nobody likes this person anymore. What’s the joy in that? It’s not New York, it’s tiny Reykjavík. It’s a joke!”
But it’s clear that the sunny disposition Eygló talks of isn’t about being nice for the sake of not being ousted. Having fun is crucial to her, and being nice to people as well as being surrounded by individuals who are supportive naturally makes for a great work environment.
“Bernhard Willhelm and Jeremy Scott were people I looked up to in a sense because they were nice, and making fun stuff,” she explains sincerely. “I could never work for a bitchy company, over my dead body! What’s the fun in that? Be nice to people.” To give me an example, she explains how Icelandic designers tend to work together when it comes to sharing information about different stages of production, although this helpful community didn’t exist ten years ago. Now, however, “if somebody has found something interesting they usually share it with others unless it’s something really specific.”
The beginning of a great adventure
It’s not a coincidence that the adventure she embarked on years ago with fellow fashion designers Milla Snorrason, Sif Baldursdóttir from Kyrja and Helga Lilja Magnúsdóttir from Helicopter has turned into more than a business.
KIOSK was born with the intent of becoming a co-op of sorts, a boutique where designers would collectively round up their clothes and work behind the till once a week, taking the profits for themselves and personally interacting with customers. In this sense, she is her own competition.
Considering that this supportive community did not exist ten years ago, KIOSK is not only revolutionising the way we consume fashion, but it’s also transforming the way we experience the business. “It’s quite a unique shop,” Eygló affirms. “I would like to see that in other cities. I would say thanks to KIOSK that I’m still doing what I do. It would have been much more difficult without that.” Yet, despite her modesty, I have a feeling that for Eygló this is only the beginning.