Nordic fashion with a reference to the past

Tuesday, 25 October 2011 12:11



This year, the Nordic Fashion Biennale was held for the first time in the U.S. All the Nordic countries were represented. It turned out that Nordic fashion is both artistic and has a clear reference to its cultural heritage. We had a talk with the project manager for the biennale, Ilmur Dögg Gisladóttir.

Text: Annika Hagstrøm, Photo: Áslaug Íris Katrín Friðjónsdóttir, NFB

The bienniale took place at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle from September 30 to November 13. It consisted of a symposium and the exhibition, "Looking Back to Find our Future".

In 2009, the biennale was established and held for the first time at the Nordic House in Iceland.

- We wanted to create a new platform for West-Nordic fashion designers to promote their creations. We decided to focus on sustainability and cultural heritage, the background to the designers, were they come from which is the point of their inspiration, says Ilmur Dögg Gisladóttir, project manager for the Biennale.

After the first biennale, the organizers decided that the next time, it should not be in Iceland or in any other Nordic country. This is crucial, Ilmur says, because it can be difficult to focus on what is Nordic, when one is in the North.

- The voice of the Nordic countries is so much louder when it is in a different context than its own.

The conference, which was held in conjunction with the opening of the exhibition, consisted of presentations by and about designers, sustainability and investors. It was international, and several representatives came from the American art and fashion community. Gisladóttir underlines the importance of this combination.

- It gave the Nordic designers an opportunity to meet important people and establish contacts for future projects and business deals.

The exhibition "Looking Back to Find our Future" was the highlight of the biennale and was curated by Hrafnhildur Arnardottir. She selected designers based on her own aesthetic sense after several travels to the Nordic countries.

- The curator of this event selected designers who were very artistic. The Nordic design is playful. Nordic designers use their cultural heritage in different ways. This can be seen in the craft and the connection with material forms. It is as if they reflect the nature around them, says Ilmur.

Arnadottir chose, in cooperation with the Nordic Heritage Museum, to show fashion in a different way than the traditional viewing form.

- This is like an art exhibition, we look at fashion as a sculpture, we have no runways, no showrooms, this is not a business event, it is an art event.

This choice had a major impact on the exhibition. Ilmur Dögg Gisladóttir explains that since fashion is often associated with business, it is often displayed in stores or on catwalks, with a thick layer of glamor. Moreover, the main focus is often on sale. By showing it as an art exhibition they removed this aspect and presented it as art.

- Fashion designers can be very artistic. We wanted to take fashion out of its usual context and give the designers an opportunity to express themselves individually and as artistic designers.

Furthermore, Ilmur points out that what binds many of the Nordic fashion designers together, is that they are in a grey area between fashion and art. They illustrate, create installations, sculptures, performances, video and music as well, forming a unified artistic expression.

- It is really amazing to see how talented they are.

The new creations were mixed together with the current exhibition in the museum. This meant that the audience saw the connection between the cultural heritage of the designers and their new works. It is precisely this that the exhibition's title reflects.

- You are looking at this old exhibition, you are looking at the past, but you are also finding the future, with the modern garments in between.

The reference to the past is strong. Gisladóttir points out that every designer who participated, was influenced and inspired by his or hers heritage and resources. Especially this is seen in the material and the technique. Wool is one of the greatest material resources, especially in Iceland and the Faroe Islands and knitting is a known technique.

- Why try to be like everyone else? Why not celebrate your background and cultural heritage, which is what makes you special in the international fashion arena. Everybody has silk, everybody has the same materials that are used in factories. Cultural heritage can be your resource, your methods and inspiration, says Ilmur.

The Nordic Fashion Biennale received support from the culture and art programme under the module production-based activities.

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