Spiraling obsessions, an interview with Icelandic designer Sólveig Hansdóttir

vor 2 years

“Why the unknown is so scary? I was trying to understand that question through my collection and came to a conclusion, which isn’t maybe a definitive answer, maybe more of a suggestion

Sólveig Hansdóttir is part of those character whom I strongly am attracted to. After discovering her work last during the Central Saint Martins MA graduation digital showcase, I immediately grew an interrest toward her creations. Seeing her name, more recently, as part of the digital London fashion week program, Dicovery Lab brought her art back into the center of my attention. She kindly accepted to have a discussion with me about her singular design process and her newest collection “Urgent experiments on reality!”

Meeting Sól confirmed the image of her I had in mind. A unique and breathtakingly creative person. Visually, she screams “I’m an artist” and talked me through her work in the most captivating way. Speaking with her hands, jumping from one topic to another, guiding me through her thoughts, projecting her creativity everywhere.

If Hansdóttir‘s collection concepts are very thoughtful and deep, she makes them approachable to each and everyone. Far from having an elitist vision of the art world – or the fashion industry- she questions existence and gives us her answers under the shape of spiraling garments crafted with utmost simplicity in her Icelandic family farm. She reuses, recycles, re-employs every materials or techniques that she can find in her surrounding and give it back to us, amazingly condensed. 

Fräulein: How did you first find out that fashion design would be your vocation?
Sólveig Hansdóttir: I think I always wanted to do design. I didn’t knew I could do fashion design back then because it’s not really a thing in Iceland. It took me a while to realize I could actually make design with garments if that makes sense. I come from a very working-class family, so I wasn’t exposed to a lot of art but I was in touch with many different craft techniques that comes from problem-solving and creating stuff that we need. It’s being surrounded by carpenters and people like that that drawn me toward design and later fashion design. I also always liked to have complete control over my appearance since forever, my mom stopped controlling what I wore from an early age because I was very specific in the way I want to appear. I felt it was kind of a power. These two things put together brought me to realize I can actually study and evolve around that later.

Fräulein: Can you explain your spiral tailoring technique and how it became a strong part of your design identity?
SH: I always approached collection in the way that I like researching something and understanding things that I don’t understand. I would get interested in a topic and develop something similar to a thesis around it. My collections are always based on a question, for my MA graduation collection called “Three theories of evil” I reflected on the fear of not knowing, “Why the unknown is so scary? I was trying to understand that through the collection and came to a conclusion, which isn’t maybe a definitive answer but more of a suggestion. That’s how that kind of thought process took me to have a different approach to design and not to think in a way in which, things needs to look pretty. The spiral tailoring, for me, represented the unknown because it is such an irrational form. It just came through my research, as this question was obsessively stuck in my mind, like a spiral that keeps on spiraling and spiraling. It doesn’t make much sense but at the end it clicked, sort of… This technique was developed from an almost academic research.

Fräulein: That’s something very interesting, for each of your collection you apply this particular approach and write a manifesto. Do you maybe feel more comfortable with expressing yourself on paper?
SH: I think my mind is just very chaotic, so just by putting things on words it stops being unclear in my mind and becomes something in reality; just by writing it down it becomes more of “this is what I want to do” and it stops me from going somewhere else. For me, its important that I build this framework and I think that’s also how I developed my spiral technique in a way. This manifesto is my framework and allows me to limit myself. For my debut collection the manifesto is entitled “Urgent experiments on reality!”

Fräulein: I grew up on a farm too. I find so interesting the way you reemploy material you have, and that you find around you to build your collection. Can you tell me more about it?
SH: I have access to all those materials that wouldn’t been develop further normally. In Iceland we love our mittens, our wool jumpers and our hats, they function, they are great and beautiful but it’s fun to develop them toward more of a fashion item kind of way and try to find new techniques as well as re-exploring old ideas. For example, I did with my vests an old technique, it’s called Röggvafelldur, and its a weaving method using raw locks of wool into the wowed material which creates a fur-like fabric. It’s a very very old technique in Iceland, but it hasn’t been used in fashion garment before, I tried to re-invent that into an actual tailored piece of garment. For my first solo collection, I also used horsehair from my dad’s farm. That’s the type of resources that he usually will just throw away when the horses’ hair is getting too long. It always nice to try to use the products which are usually considered as waste. It’s just heritage as well. That’s my family’s farm so it is just a very natural thing to use material coming from there.
All the crafts and techniques I develloped are also coming from my grandmother or my grandfather, who use to make stuff in the farm, it connects back to that. The farm is a source of creativity and product for me in a very beautiful and naïve way. Without trying to create something that sell, they were just creating because they needed something. It was always something beautiful like a pillowcase that they would embroider because they needed it. It was beautiful craft but not in a capitalist way.

Fräulein: Your collection is almost ethnographic in the way you treated fashion design through such a personal approach in terms of your techniques or material employed. Meaningful without trying too hard. Does the color pallet you use of mean something to you?
SH: I usually like to have very colorful collections. I don’t normally use a lot of grey or black or those kind of colors. I quite like to use colors which I connect to, and I name them with something that make sense to the kind of question that I have and research around. I don’t usually have image references for colors or color research, they come more instinctively regarding the theme that I’m working with or my manifesto. Sometimes its just a color that speaks to me, it doesn’t have to be strategic. I do work very intuitively in general.

Fräulein: Your newest collection was your first solo collection, how do you feel about it?
SH: I think it was a bit scary but then also empowering. I feel like it’s continuing and it’s not over yet. I want to keep working on it and upgrade it and it’s quite nice to have that possibility. I’ve been showcasing only digitally, which I really like because a catwalk is not really a modern thing, I quite like the idea a digital presentation, it is also more democratic. I enjoy the fact that I can go back into it, and I can edit it, that’s a feeling that I have now, I want to add to it. But yeah, it felt empowering, it’s continuous and something I will build up on.

Fräulein: What’s the future like for you? Are you already planning a next collection?
SH: Actually, I’ve never done a Spring/Summer collection, only winter, maybe because I’m just more familiar with the cold. So, I’m a bit scared to do something summery but I think that’s quite good that I’m uncomfortable with it. I’m quite excited about the idea, and that might be the next step but before I’m still stuck on the current one and wanting to add a bit to it. I haven’t concluded it completely I feel, so I want to add on my digital collection and edit it. But Spring/Summer will be challenging, which I’m looking forward to, especially because my main material is usually wool, so I’ll have to explore something else than the heavy fabrics I normally work with.

I would say that for Sól, the creative process find a place as important into her art as the final fashion product resulting from it. She agreed on sharing with us some multimedia materials exploring her thought process when designing. Part of her work will be presented during Iceland’s biggest design festival: Design March. Opening on 4th of March in Ásmundarsalur, an art musuem in central Reykjavík. The exhibition showcases selected pieces from her collection as well as some videowork.

Words by Marien Brandon

Images courtesy of Sól Hansdóttir by Anna Maggý

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