Rakel is yet again one of the creative minds whose development I've been following for a while now. What is it with people coming from Iceland? It seems like they all have been sprinkled with fairy-dust, and Rakel is no exception. She's a wonderful combination of timid and radiant which transfers into her subtle and yet eye-catching design. This interview is a bit different compared with the previous ones in that I had the pleasure of interviewing her in person.
Core77: Tell us a bit about your background
Rakel Solvadottir: I grew up in Akureyri, a town in the north of Iceland. When I finished gymnasium [secondary school], I moved to Denmark to study fashion and textiles, but after the crisis hit Iceland, I moved back home and started my BA study at the fashion department at the Iceland Art Academy
You left Denmark as to study at Iceland Art Academy, how do you feel about your time there?
It's such a young school in comparison to many other design and art schools in Europe, so of course there are some things that could be improved, but it is constantly evolving. You also have to be aware that you can't learn everything in just three years of studies, and it's up to you to take advantage of this time you have and get as much out of it as you can. I'm very satisfied with my time there. The fashion department has been growing rapidly for the last years and you see more and more graduates making a successful carrier within the field.
You can say that you bachelor project was a success, seeing as one of your pieces was worn by no other then the wonderful artist and fashionista Lady Gaga. Has that influenced your life as a designer in any way?
Of course it has. It was a big deal, a great honor and a wonderful exposure for me as a new young designer. But to be honest, I wasn't prepared for it: The dress was not in production and I didn't have a website, so it was hard to truly use this opportunity to the fullest. But all in all, I'm happy that she liked the dress, that she chose to wear it, and that others got to see my work.
Looking at the pieces from your master project, they are very architectural. What made you go in this direction?
I wanted to depict the female form not as curvy and soft, but in a more angular and graphical way. I wanted to show a woman that was strong and edgy....
After you finished your bachelor, you moved back to Denmark—how come?
I believe there are many possibilities in Iceland for being as small as it is, but I felt like I wanted to move back to Copenhagen and create my own thing over here. I miss the nature, and that people have a tendency to not only accept but celebrate others' individuality and quirkiness.
What do you mean by that?
Since we don't have a lot of the bigger brands, such as H&M, people in Iceland are not as mainstream as many of the people you see here in Copenhagen. We have to figure out our own style and not just go into one store that dictates "This is what you are supposed to wear, this is the trend we have decided on focusing on right now!"
How do you feel about the big brands and the influence they have on your field?
I'm having a lot of problems with it. It scares me is that the fashion industry is creating so much waste. It seems like there has been a constant SALE going on ever since I got here. First you have the regular SALES, then you have MIDTERM SALES and then the regular SALES again. It's almost like a product ends up on the SALES rack in the blink of an eye. I don't see how this can continue.
What would be the alternative?
By focusing on more sustainable solutions. Now when I'm a not a student anymore, reality strikes and makes it harder to stay true to yourself and stick to your own beliefs. I love fashion, I love design, but the designers and consumers have to gain more awareness off the harm that this industry is causing. I care about quality both when it comes to materials and design, rather than quantity. When working on pieces that are to be produced I want to create modern classics. Pieces that are up to date at the same time as they are timeless, and can therefor be a part of one's wardrobe for long period of time. Hopefully I can make that work...
Your interest in fashion and form, where does derive from? Was there anyone who inspired you?
Well, I guess I've always had an interest in clothing and this way of expressing yourself through what you wear. I come from a family of flea market maniacs, which gave me the privilege of playing with clothes and the fantasy world around them as a kid. Old clothes, weird clothes, colorful clothes, hats, bags, shoes and bling! When I was a teenager, my stepmother opened an antique and secondhand boutique, where I first became fully aware of my interest in fashion. I worked in her boutique through my highschool (gymnasium) years where I learned alot about clothing and fashion, studying fashion eras and so on. I also became aware of how clothes can be used as a form of expression and that awoke an interest within me.
It was then that I first realized it was more than a hobby and something I wanted to pursue. I moved to Denmark to study fashion and I haven't looked back since. One thing that surprised me in a positive way (and continues to inspire me) is that, of all the people I see and meet here in Denmark, the ones I find to be the most interesting one in terms of fashion are the older generations. I encounter old ladies who look amazing each time I leave my apartment.
Why do you believe that this is the case?
Maybe they are to old to give a damn about what others think about them. Maybe they have been able to nurture their individuality for such a long amount of time that their style has gone from being inspired by temporary trends to just keeping their personal favorites from each era. Every time i see them, I just want to take out my camera and take a picture of them, but for now I just settle on telling them that I like their style.
When working with designing pieces now, where do you find your inspiration?
At times i look back on my heritage, other times I find the concept in an idea, a person, an era, or in one of the other design fields such as architecture. In the process of designing and seeking inspiration, I find it important to let loose and go back to the childhood state of freedom and playfulness. To allow yourself to make mistakes, to make something ugly, until you hit the right thing in a way. It can be hard to let go of these barriers you get when you become an adult.
When working on a project, what is most important to you?
I think the most important thing to me is to stay open-minded through the whole process. To always stay open to new ideas and not make any final decisions until I absolutely need to. To reach this level of flow in your mind where you form a bond with your work. The research process is very important and I spend a lot of time on that. Then you get to this point where all you can think of is your work.
You might be discussing the weather with your sister but in your mind you're thinking, 'Hmmm could I use piping for those trousers... would it work to do an opening in the back...' You become obsessed with our work—it's all you think about at all times! I think that's when the good things happen, which is what I love about designing or creative work for that matter.
When you are in 'flow' mode, how do you stay there?, and if something/someone stops it, how do you get back to it?
To stay in that mode is all about enjoying the process, letting it lead the way. It's always interesting to look at one's process from starting point to end result. It might be a long and crooked road but it's extremely important to take that road. The process is the key to a satisfying end result. Of course it's also important not to get lost in the process. You can continue developing your ideas endlessly, and especially when you're not working on a deadline, it can be hard to make decisions and move on. I'm a bit of a daydreamer myself so setting up my own deadlines helps me stay focused.
When it comes to the greater perspective, what is your vision for yourself and for your work?
Creative freedom is important to me. I want to enjoy my work so I can keep growing, both as a designer and as a person. My goal has never been to become a big famous designer showing at the big catwalks. I want to be able to live doing what I love, create things that I believe in and be true to myself both as a designer and as a human being.
Have you ever thought about working with any other field of design?
Absolutely! I've been doing a few installation pieces, and I'm going to continue doing that. I've also designed the catwalk for another fashion designer during Iceland's fashion week a few years ago, which was very interesting, and seeing that i have been studying different time periods in fashion, I would also like to do clothes for movies.