Gudrun Rógvadóttir: ‘We’re Nordic, and that’s a huge advantage’

Ever heard of Faroese wool? Gudrun Rógvadóttir tells The Local about life on the Faroe Islands, tradition, and how a unique jumper epitomizes the Nordic-but-not nature of this isolated society.

Gudrun Rógvadóttir: 'We're Nordic, and that's a huge advantage'
Photo: Gudrun and Gudrun

There’s not a whole lot from the Faroe Islands – a exotic array of 18 islands adrift in the vast sea separating Norway from Iceland – that has achieved international fame.

But if anything has, it’s a certain wool sweater.

“It was really all just luck. We had no idea that it would get so much attention,” says unlikely Faroese fashion-phenom Gudrun Rógvadóttir of the sweater in question. You know, the one worn by character Sarah Lund on the hit TV show The Killing.

“The styling scout found us at a fair in Denmark, but we forgot all about it afterwards. And suddenly the next summer we were basically tour guides, meeting with The Guardian, The Independent, Times magazine, and more.”

Rógvadóttir and her friend Gudrun Ludvig were at the fair to promote their new company Gudrun and Gudrun, focused on creating fashion from natural Faroese products. But the little sweater that could was just an accident: their work actually began with lamb skins.

“I found it a pity that our natural materials, lamb skins and wools, weren’t valued anymore,” she recalls. “So I called up Gudrun, who’s a designer, and we started sending the lamb skins to tanneries to see if we could really make something out of it.”

But at the duo’s very first fashion fair in 2002, it wasn’t the smooth double-sided lamb skins that garnered attention. It was the jumpers.

“Japanese buyers in particular found our knits very interesting. They’re experts in handicraft so we were proud to grab their eye. So we took that information and ran with it.”

Click here to discover more Nordic stories

But what is it really that’s so special about Gudrun and Gudrun’s Faroese jumpers?

“The whole reason we started our company was to use these natural materials,” Rógvadóttir explains. “Faroese wool is very special, and we have strong traditions of knitting. The Faroe Islands traditions are the very DNA of our company. Without it, there would be no Gudrun and Gudrun.”

Both women hail from the islands, though they have spent years living in Denmark. But while the Faroe Islands are an autonomous part of the Scandinavian country, Rógvadóttir says they have a culture and identity that’s all their own.

“A lot of people in Denmark think it’s basically the same here. But it’s so, so, so different,” Rógvadóttir emphasizes.

Living in such an isolated place – just 49,000 people call the rocky islands home – makes you “a bit different”, she adds. And one place the differences manifest themselves is in Faroese wardrobes, and indeed, the collections at Gudrun and Gudrun.

“We’re not that minimalistic or ‘Nordic’ in that way,” she laughs. “We love colour. Sometimes we think it’d be way easier if we made everything in black, sure. But that’s not us.”

Luckily, designer Gudrun Ludvig is good at balancing the rich colours, patterns, and textures.

“It can be hard to make a vibrant red patterned sweater that’s not chaotic, but we manage. Some might see our deigns as artistic, even naïve. We’re playful.”

But while Faroese jumpers may ooze naiveté, the people themselves, Rógvadóttir says, certainly do not.

“I don’t find people from the Faroe Islands to be closed off or ignorant at all,” she muses.

“It’s quite the opposite. When you come from such a small place you need to know even more about the surrounding world.  We have no illusions of grandeur. We know we have to reach out and learn about the world.”

And reach out they do. Since business expanded thanks to Sarah Lund’s sweater featured so heavily on British TV, Gudrun and Gudrun have had to ratchet up production to keep up with demand. They employ their friends, sisters, and mothers – but also women in Jordan and Peru. And even there, Rógvadóttir prides herself on knowing every single one of them.

“It was a natural next step for us. The style and tradition of knitting in Jordan and Peru is very similar, and we can work on the same principals there, empowering women while taking care of natural resources. It’s what we’ve always wanted.”

It’s one of the benefits of being part of the Nordics – no matter how different the Faroe Islands are.

“We are on the outskirts, and we see people from Stockholm and Copenhagen as being part of something much bigger,” Rógvadóttir confesses. “But of course we do share aspects of a culture. We’re the same type of people.”

The Nordic nations have a reputation for cleanliness, equality, and sustainability.

“Trust is a key word people associate with the Nordics,” she says. “When we tell people our jumpers are ethically produced, they don’t doubt it. We’re Nordic. And that’s a huge advantage.”

Read more Tales from the Top of the World

This article was produced by The Local Client Studio and sponsored by the Nordic Council of Ministers.

Photos: Gudrun & Gudrun




Danish designer joins Paris fashion elite a year after getting the sack

It was the fairytale ending to a fortnight of Paris fashion shows. A year ago Danish designer Christine Hyun Mi Nielsen was fired from her high-pressure job as the director of the studio of one of the world's top brands.

Danish designer joins Paris fashion elite a year after getting the sack
South-Korean-born Danish fashion designer Christine Hyun Mi Nielsen poses after her 2017 spring/summer Haute Couture collection on Thursday in Paris. Photo: ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/SCANPIX
Fourteen months on she has her own label — Hyun Mi Nielsen — with a show on the haute couture catwalk Thursday, the very pinnacle of the fashion tree.
The creator, who was born in Korea and adopted by a Danish couple, said her first solo Paris collection wasn't just about climbing the career ladder, it was also deeply “personal”.
“It was a way to find myself after I was dismissed from my job,” she told AFP. “For someone like me who puts so much effort into my work which I love so much, it was so painful.”
“This is about finding my own voice to get over the grief,” said the 40-year-old, who had led the Givenchy studio and Alexander McQueen womenswear before being sacked from Balenciaga last October after the arrival of Vetements wunderkind Demna Gvasalia.
Punk princesses
All her models wore army-surplus boots — punk princesses off to a ball — with the collection kicked off by a spectacular figure-hugging white dress with intricate frills of organza on tulle.
She also put a ruff of starched frills on an eye-catching three-piece leather biker outfit — and cut a long back leather dress as if it had been frilly tulle.
The contrasts of hard and soft, darkness and light, frivolous and serious clearly a metaphor of what Nielsen has been through. One model even had a thunderously blacked-up face.
Nielsen was helped to set up on her own in Paris by a “subtle and sophisticated” female investor, she said, but did not name her.
Haute couture is a purely Parisian institution limited to 15 labels, and the designer said she was thrilled to have been invited as a guest member into its elite ranks.
All clothes have to be made to measure by hand, meaning couture can usually only be afforded by the richest women.
“My love of fashion is not just the (visual) image but also the technique and the craft,” Nielsen said.
“So it's especially exciting for me to start my own company in France — this is the home of (fashion) savoir faire (know-how).”
The Dane began her rise at Max Mara in Italy before returning to London, where she studied at the Royal College of Art, to join Burberry before she moved on to McQueen, whose edgy poetry she has clearly inherited.
The Dutch-Vietnamese designer Xuan-Thu Nguyen also made her Paris couture debut Thursday as nearly two weeks of menswear and couture shows drew to a close.
Her Xuan label, which she founded 12 years ago, is best known for its “surprise and fragility” and her spring summer collection had avalanches of frills on otherwise plain and pure pale pastel mousseline and tulle outfits.
By AFP's Anna Pelegri and Fiachra Gibbons