When you think of fashion, spirituality might not be the first thing that pops into your mind. But for Icelandic fashion designer Boas Kristjanson, it's an important part of his work.
“Discarding the need for spirituality is a dangerous proposition,” the rising star of the misty wilderness argues.
Iceland itself isn't particularly famous for its spirituality either, for that matter. The Nordic nations are famous for their secularity, and while Iceland has deep-rooted roots in Norse mythology and centuries of Christianity, young people are increasingly turning their backs on religion.
But Boas, the son of a pastor, has always been surrounded by spirituality - and he considers it vital for not only his own life and work, but for society as a whole.
“It's important to be part of your history,” he says. “By disregarding spirituality, you are drawing a line in the sand between yourself and a lot of the culture that is a part of your history.”
“I incorporate spirituality in my work all the time – working different themes, textures and visuals in clothing. I try to keep spirituality very close to the design process, and I will continue to do so.”
Boas' collection, Karbon, manifests his spiritual roots in an intrepid manner. Each garment echoes intricate questions of our existence and raison d'être – all the while remaining silent – using only clothing to tell his melded story of spirituality and rural Icelandic heritage.
It was this perception of clothing as a form of expression – no, a language in its own right – that sparked Boas' interest in fashion and design.
“People are very conscious about the way they appear and dress, even in Iceland where we haven't been very influenced by fashion. It's a form of expression, and that's what interested me,” he says.
Boas was working in a clothing shop in Reykjavik where the owner of the shop was doing some freelance design work. Boas observed and was intrigued.
“I actually kind of stumbled into the fashion industry,” he explains.
“I walked in and looked around at the inspirational material, the drawings, and I immediately thought to myself that it was something I would enjoy doing, and could do well.”
Boas spent a year studying at the fashion department of the Academy of Arts in Reykjavik before moving to Antwerp to study further. He then went to Paris, where he started displaying his collections in showrooms, thinking he should be closer to the heart of the fashion world.
But something was missing.
“Even in school, I felt very strongly that there was something special about being from Iceland,” he recalls. “Other people were always looking for some kind of external influence, but for me it was always about exploring things from my past or my upbringing.”
These feelings drew him back to Iceland, where he founded his company in 2008. At first he thought it would just be a phase, and that he would “get over” the Icelandic connection.
It didn't happen.
“The things that my country represents, these themes and connections always come up in my work,” he says. “I couldn't escape it. I couldn't go reinvent myself as something else. And I've stuck with it.”
Having spent several years in the Icelandic countryside, Boas wanted to explore this aspect of his upbringing, and let it influence his work.
“The music, the isolation, the cold, and the harsh conditions…Iceland inspires me,” he says.
Lately Boas has been trying to make Iceland a literal part of his designs, using the few materials naturally available on the island.
“There's a lot of wool in Iceland, for example,” he says. “There are lots of marine leathers and different types of fish used for leather, and I'm trying to find new ways of using that.”
But it's not all for show, even with quirky materials like that. Like the Icelanders themselves, Boas' designs are practical. “I want to be able to run and jump in the clothes, shielded from the elements – whether it is extremely cold, wet or warm.”
As such, Boas' designs are a breath of fresh air to the Nordic Fashion industry – as crisp and clean as the Atlantic breeze that whips the Icelandic coast – earthy and sharp, all the while embracing the very essence of individuality, durability and raw beauty that Iceland represents.
While some Nordic countries already have a strong fashion industry and identity, the same cannot be said for Iceland.
“Sweden and Denmark in particular have had a very strong sense of design, and really banked on that to create very strong identities and design industries for themselves,” he says.
“We haven't had the big labels – we haven't been able to walk into a store and buy Dior in Reykjavik or anything from the high fashion world. There's not a market for it.”
Something Boas believes Iceland does share with the other countries in the Nordic region, however, is a shared set of values.
“We are very conscious of the environment, gender equality and gay rights etc. And those are Nordic values.”
These values have had a great impact on his designs – particularly with regards to the environment and sustainability.
“The new generation of designers, companies and consumers will be a lot more conscious of the environment, so I am definitely going to continue to move in that direction,” he explains.
“We have renewable energy, and renewable design should be in focus. Living in Iceland, we have the unique possibility to become a completely sustainable society, if we really want to.”
This article was produced by The Local and sponsored by the Nordic Council of Ministers.
Photos: Boas Kristjanson