You’re more likely to spot the 2D version of 29-year old Emil Guðmundsson in Reykjavík than the man himself. The co-owner of Kría Cycles and reluctant model spends most of his free time mapping new bike trails in the Icelandic countryside, even in the winter.
“I don’t see myself as a model,” he says, “I see myself as a cyclist and bike shop owner.”
Two years ago, Iceland’s iconic outdoors brand 66˚ North asked Emil to model in some of their ads, which can be seen in various sizes on walls and bus stops all over 101 Reykjavík in addition to the Keflavík International Airport and in print, too. The images in the ads indulge every stereotype of the archetypical Icelandic man, haltingly so. In them, Emil is being pelted with water, pummelled by snowfall and is even posing with dead fish. He also has an incredibly Icelandic beard and mane. When asked why 66˚ North wanted him to model for them, he looks off inquisitively while his hands magnetically drift to his beard. “I suppose I had long hair and a thick beard,” he says. “But you could find this beard in many places.”
As the primary face of 66˚ North’s menswear, Emil has come to be analogous with the male side of the brand itself. This brand isn’t only about selling fleece and Gore-Tex, but about selling an image of Iceland at American stores like Urban Outfitters and sport stores in Northern and Western Europe.
I’ve seen tourists copping photos of the ads on Laugavegur, seen those photos crop up on Instagram, had foreign friends comment on the Icelandic-ness of them and, in a recent interview for the Icelandic Comedy Festival, had a UK-based comedian tell me the ads starring Emil were the most Icelandic thing he’d seen in Iceland.
In person, modelling fits on Emil’s slim frame like an oversized jacket. He’s pretty sure he doesn’t actually own any gear from 66˚ North, he mostly wears brands he imports for his own bike shop. He’s soft spoken, totally unconcerned with the superficial and prefers to fly under the radar.
“I think I see my face more often in those ads around town than I do in a mirror,” he says.
He doesn’t feel he’s pandering to a stereotype in the ads, so much as representing a lifestyle he’s had for a long time, minus the posing with dead fish.
“I don’t usually wear fish around my neck, the fish just happened to be there and it was an idea,” he says.
But on the whole, he spends a lot of time outdoors and he lives a very active lifestyle that puts him against the elements. And that beard? He’s had it since he was 17-years old.
“It just keeps my face warm. I’ve never had to buy a facemask,” he explains. He’s had people approach him with “you look familiar…” to which, he’ll answer with a wry, “I don’t know from where.”
Of the archetypical Icelandic man, Emil says it’s hard to pin down. In order to fit this stereotype of the Brennivín-drinking, fish-slinging, mountain-climbing, rugged man, “like 80% of Icelandic men are not tough enough,” Emil says.
He has no great ambition to inspire Icelanders to live day-to-day the lifestyle expounded in the 66˚ North ads, though he hopes to get as many on bicycles as possible. He rides to work in all seasons, goes for training rides after work and runs a website, icelandtrails.com for other cycling, outdoor enthusiasts.
Still, he’s reluctant to self-identify as an archetypical Icelandic man. “I don’t have an Icelandic horse,” he says. “Maybe the modern, ‘archetypical Icelandic man’ just rides a bike.”