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Icelandic Fashion

posted by LIM College

Eve Proper
Assistant Professor, Management

I had the opportunity to spend a month this summer in Iceland. It’s a beautiful, rugged country with good tourism infrastructure. You may know it as the location where Game of Thrones is filmed, or as host to several music festivals, but you probably don’t think of it as a fashion capital. While there is a small high-end fashion scene in Iceland, including the annual Reykjavik Fashion Festival in March, its strongest offerings are in the outdoor apparel market.

Iceland’s most famous fashion export is its lopapeysa sweaters. While they are considered traditional, their design is actually less than a hundred years old. These chunky sweaters are knit (preferably hand-knit) from the wool of Icelandic sheep and feature patterned rings around their yokes. Most are made in natural colors such as tans, greys, and greens. Machine-knit lopapeysur are also available through companies such as Icewear and Álafoss. If you want folks back home to know you visited Iceland, a lopapeysa is the best apparel to signal with.

However, it’s in modern outdoor apparel that Icelandic companies really shine - which makes sense for a country with cold winters, cool summers, and a history of fishing and farming. A handful of companies are translating this outdoor work experience into stylish clothes for outdoor recreation.

The best-known company (and my favorite) is 66°North. Their origins lie in professional-grade marine wear, which they still make. I had the opportunity to try it out while doing outdoor volunteer work, and it is sturdy and very waterproof - and bright: it only comes in neon orange or green. These items aren’t available from the company directly, but through retailers that sell marine apparel for professionals.

Today 66°North is best known for its high-quality outdoor recreation apparel at a price point similar to Patagonia. Unlike their professional gear, their recreational apparel is fashion-forward. The company uses both new lightweight, non-itchy wool knits and modern miracle fibers. I wore a pair of their wool base layer pants more days than not while in Iceland’s Skaftafell National Park, and picked up a shirt on my way home. While 66°North is Iceland’s best-known brand, you still may not have heard of it; the company only began retailing outside of Iceland in 2004.

Cintamani and Zo-on are younger companies with similar product lines, although Zo-on favors a more preppy aesthetic; it even has a line of golf apparel. Cintamani’s style is more similar to 66°North’s, and which you prefer is mainly a function of individual fit.

You don’t have to travel to Iceland to try these brands out; all are available online. You can buy hand-knit lopapeysur through Etsy, or you can even knit your own; Álafoss sells patterns and yarn. But since Iceland is only a five-hour flight away, and available as a stopover for no extra cost to other European destinations, it’s worth visiting and buying local.