In January 1995, an avalanche hit the small town of Súðavík in the Westfjords. The town was decimated, and out of the 227 inhabitants, 14 people died. Some were rescued, including a teenage boy who spent 23 hours buried under the snow.
In October that same year, another avalanche hit Flateyri, a town of 350 people about a half an hour’s drive away. This time, 20 people were lost. The two avalanches were not only a blow to those affected, but to the nation as a whole. In the decades since, energy and funds have been spent building up anti-avalanche earthworks to prevent such disasters from happening again.
Steps above the crowded Laugavegur street, the workshop of Kormákur and Skjöldur Men’s Boutique provides a cushy haven: hefty rolls of fabric rise in piles, and fine suit jackets in various stages of completion line the walls. Sounds are dampened, but there’s plenty to see – and touch. In the middle of the room, tailors Birna Sigurjónsdóttir and Rakel Ýr Leifsdóttir share a high table. They’re making a bespoke suit for artist Ragnar Kjartansson.
Herrafataverzlun Kormáks og Skjaldar, as it is known in Icelandic, has only been dressing men in Iceland since 1996, but their timeless selection of menswear suggests a much longer tradition. Pick up any one item – a wool suit, a Barbour jacket, or a plaid accessory (there is no shortage of plaid on offer) – and the first adjective that comes to mind is “classic.” Yet the suit lying on the table in this workshop is the first fruit of a remarkably innovative project – a quest to make high-quality tweed out of Icelandic wool.
I’d wager you’ll sit down at a toilet today. Who knows what you’re doing in there, but if you’re in Reykjavík – you’ll flush the remains. But have you ever wondered what happens after the flush? Where all of it goes? The short answer: out to sea. For the longest time, that was the long answer, as well, as sewage went untreated into the ocean.
Iceland’s rich creative culture demonstrates that no place is too small or remote to start up a business, manage a company, or to make a difference from. But given the country’s high wages, production, and shipping costs, outsourcing abroad is frequently the only way to ensure a company’s profitable growth.
In March 2019, Guðrún Ýr Eyfjörð Jóhannesdóttir, better known as GDRN, was called up to the stage at the Icelandic Music Awards.
Then she was called up again.
Then a third time.
Then a fourth.
In a single night, less than a year after releasing her debut album Hvað ef (What If), the 22-year-old musician had snagged four awards: Best Female Singer, Best Pop Album, Best Pop Song, and Music Video of the Year. In her acceptance speech, she encouraged upcoming artists: “Let yourself dream. Dream really big.” But dreaming alone is not what put those awards in Guðrún’s hands: it was also hard work, a go-getter attitude, a commitment to honesty, and a bit of luck.
It may be not seem so remarkable for a single artist to be awarded four times in one ceremony in a country of 350,000. But this is Iceland: what the music scene lacks in size, it makes up for in might. Its ranks are filled with international legends and local ones (interestingly, with very little overlap); self-taught rockers and highly-trained virtuosos; veterans who have been taking to the country’s largest stages for decades and teenagers releasing their first singles, freshly produced in their bedrooms. Perhaps the most exciting among all of these groups are the rising stars: those artists, like GDRN, whose first ventures into the spotlight – though confident, and capable – make you excited for what is yet to come.
When we arrive on the third floor, the press conference has already started. My shoes make horrible squeaking noises on the parquet and people turn around to look at me. I lean against the nearest wall as if it were an old friend, assuming an attitude that is at once outwardly cool and inwardly neurotic.
In front of me, seated at the table – along with his coach, a fellow teammate, and a representative of the Icelandic Handball Association, I’m guessing – is my subject. He is staring down at the table and fidgeting incessantly with his pen. Remaining silent for almost the entirety of the news conference, he interjects only once, when head coach Guðmundur Guðmundsson fields a question about the team’s video analysis of opponents.
“We watch more than enough videos,” my subject says, grinning. “There’s nothing that we … that we don’t get to see,” he concludes, in a statement that seems almost lecherous – accidentally full of sexual innuendo.
Hilmar Snorrason doesn’t care what you think.
Last December, he attended a Christmas buffet with his family, and as the dinner was set relatively close to home, he suggested they walk. Adorning himself in his most elegant suit, thrusting his toes into his polished dress shoes, Hilmar stepped into the foyer, where, in the eyes of his family, he proceeded to ruin an otherwise fashionable ensemble – with the addition of a bright-yellow safety vest.
“Fashion, to us Icelanders,” Hilmar muses, from inside his office on the ship Sæbjörg on the Reykjavík harbour, “is often synonymous with the colour black, but I’m not going to walk in the dark wearing dark clothes.”
It’s not an unreasonable statement to make – in a country where December affords four hours of daylight – especially not if one is the headmaster of the Maritime Safety and Survival Training Centre.
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