All products are designed in some way and some of those designed products were presumably designed in Iceland. However, the oft-brandished term “Icelandic design” does not tend to refer to new types of fish gutting machines or tractors – however genius those designs might be.
“Icelandic design” (and the word “design” generally when used in an ‘arty-farty’, highbrow context) generally means clothes, it means furniture; it means lampshades, ornaments, jewelry and coffee cups.
The two words “Icelandic design” return nearly 3.4 million Google results (other search engines are available…apparently) and there is strong competition at the top of the list. It’s more like you’d imagine the results for “French fashion” than for “Icelandic design”. But reputation spreads fast and Iceland is very much under the long-coveted “Scandinavian design” and “Nordic design” umbrellas.
Indeed, the opportunities to spend a lot on beautiful designer goods are particularly numerous in Reykjavík. The main shopping streets in the city center probably contain more local designer shops than any other type. Maybe even more of them than there are bars, restaurants, and cafés. And what’s more, they sell plenty despite their numbers and non-bargain basement price tags. Why? Because if you want something unique and beautiful then you’re guaranteed to find it.
Skólavörðustígur, the street leading straight down the hill from the Hallgrímskirkja cathedral, is the city’s design retail heart and the majority of its shops are stocked with pictures, ornaments, shoes, knickknacks, jewelry and much more than you’ll find nowhere else in the world.
What is Icelandic design like, you ask. Well, it’s very creative and strongly influenced by the country around it. The landscape provides inspiration and the land and sea provide raw materials; whether wool, fish leather, stones, herbs, or even crystals.
As with most areas of the artistic and creative scene, Iceland’s design history is very short, with the word for design, ‘hönnun’ only coming about in the 1950s. The country’s design promotion center claims that this is a huge advantage for the sector which is developing from scratch and is not limited by its history or conventions. Whether this is strictly true or not doesn’t change the fact that Icelandic designers are prodigious and didn’t let something as trivial as the 2008 economic meltdown get in their way. In fact, the sudden influx of cheap downtown shop units for rent and the influx of bargain hunting tourists really helped them.
A few names you’re going to want to bear in mind are Epal, a design store which carries a lot of brands, not only Icelandic; Stella Design, for fun small household accessories and crockery; Aurum for jewellery; Nikita for skate/streetwear; The Hand-Knitting Association for lopapeysur; and Kron by KronKron for shoes. Remember though, that this is by no means a best-of list; just some good examples.
So. Wallets at the ready? Let’s go shopping! And don’t forget you can get a tax refund voucher for all purchases over 4,000 ISK meaning you get some of your hard earned cash back again!