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Steinunn Fashion Exhibition
Part of "Iceland Cometh - Icelandic Design Collective"
Meatpacking District Design Week
May 18-20, 2007

Written by Julia Sirmons
Photographed by Amy Davidson and Mary Ellen Mark

(Opposite Photo Credit:
Mary Ellen Mark)


Sometimes ignorance truly can be bliss.

(Check out My Wardrobe)

When I strolled into an exhibition dubbed “Iceland Cometh - Icelandic Design Collective,” I expected lots of inoffensively funky light wood furniture – like Ikea, only Björk-ier.

Photo Credit Amy Davidson

The reality could not have been more surprising, or more breathtaking.

When New York Cool photographer Amy Davidson and I walked up the stairs of Eve Studio (410 W. 14th St.) and entered the exposition space, I had to suppress an urge to channel Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face; silently willing myself not to yell, “Take the picture! Take the picture!”


Photo Credit Amy Davidson Photo Credit Amy Davidson

Standing in front of me – arresting in spite of their lack of discriminating features – were an array of mannequins dressed in a collection of stunning, fascinating clothes, infused with timeless glamour and elegance, but at the same time startlingly, refreshingly and beautifully unique.

At first glance, the collection – almost all black, excepting arresting splashes of cream and deep blue – called to mind the restrained yet luxurious glamour of the glory days of haute couture. Stunning capes embellished with extravagant floral details evoked the voluminous works of Balenciaga. Exquisitely fitted suit jackets and coats hinted at the pristine lines of Dior’s New Look. Jackets of nubby quilted materials and ephemeral little black dresses with gorgeous intricate detailing were reminiscent of the Chanel aesthetic.

Photo Credit Amy Davidson

But this was no mere derivative mimicry. Individuality and creativity, like God, are found in the details. And the details of these pieces showed a very unique point of view, whimsical and elegant, served on the rocks with a large splash of Nordic cool. In the materials and the stunning, careful workmanship, there was evidence of Scandinavian influence. A traditional fitted trench coat was made out of a mohair-esque material; its edges were left rough and untreated, delightfully mussed-up with texture. A fitted jacket was paired with a fabulously fluffy and voluminous shaggy fur skirt.

Photographed by Amy Davidson

And then there were the hats. Again there was the suggestion of classic French style –they were reminiscent of the Givenchy pillboxes Hepburn sported in Charade and the Saint Laurent turbans and fur hats that graced the heads of Capucine and Claudia Cardinale in the original Pink Panther. But again, there was something different here. The stiff severity of the folded triangular pieces, the height, the bands running under the chin, all suggested a military influence. These clothes, in spite of their clean elegance, were not for any fragile little ingénue. They were for a Nordic warrior queen, strong and confident. One could see Marlene Dietrich, playing Catherine the Great, wearing clothes like these as, astride her horse, she led the cheering Russian army up the steps of the royal palace at the end of The Scarlet Empress. The clothes were beautiful and feminine, yes, but they weren’t for sissies.

Deep in this reverie, trying to scribble every detail into my tiny notebook while Amy just as fervently attempted to shoot the garments from every possible angle, someone approached us and politely asked, “Would you like to meet the designer?”

Amy and I looked at each other for a second. What could we say but, “Of course.”

The designer, it turned out, was the fresh-faced, demure woman standing in the center of the room, dressed simply yet chicly in jeans and a black shirt, engaged in quiet, animated conversation with a friend. Her name, we were told, was Steinunn.

Politely ending the conversation, she approached us, thanked us for coming, then looked at us expectantly, inquisitively, her bright blue eyes shining.

It took a moment before I could sputter out, “Tell me about the clothes.”

We then had the pleasure of Steinunn walking us through her collection, explaining how her aesthetic philosophy manifested itself in the thoughtful details of the garments.

Unsurprisingly, texture was a recurring theme. “I cannot leave a fabric alone,” she said, pointing out all the tiny details she adds to every piece. Indicating a dark blue satiny dress and accompanying cape embellished with origami-like edging, she expressed her love for constructing garments out of panels and finding simple patterns to repeat throughout a garment or even an entire collection.

She also shed light on the Scandinavian feel of the collection, citing her homeland as a major influence on her designs. The squarish adornments on the black and cream capes were inspired by a traditional Icelandic book knot pattern from the 1800s. The dark blue color used in the collection evoked the hue of a lava stone found only in Iceland. A gorgeous ruffle at the back of an immaculately tailored black jacket was inspired by the Icelandic costume, as were the incredible hats.

Describing this traditional costume, Steinunn grew a little wistful. “I wish you I could show you some pictures,” she said. “I wish.”

I wished, too. There was a passion and clarity of vision in Steinunn’s clothes that, like all great fashion, inspires flights of fancy, and feelings of fantasy and romance. I felt myself growing wistful as well.

For Steinunn, the path to fashion success was somewhat of backward narrative; a story that proves you can go home again, with wonderful results. Saying that she’d been in the industry “so long,” Steinunn briefly outlined the trajectory of her career. After years of working for Calvin Klein and Gucci in New York and a stint with La Perla, she decided to go back home. A big gamble it would seem, since there was, as she explained, “no high fashion in Iceland.”

But the bet paid off. This isolation from the fashion industry proved to be incredibly artistically liberating for Steinunn, since it left her “alone with…[her] own thoughts.” Rediscovering her country’s culture and tradition of craftsmanship reaffirmed her own aesthetic, her commitment to hand work and detail, and her aversion to a slavish devotion to trends. “Clothes should be timeless,” she said. Looking around at the collection, it was a statement that was difficult to argue with.

Steinunn already has operations at home in Reykjavik, as well as in London. She described this exposition as her first major showing in New York.

When asked if she’d like to open up shop in New York one day, those blue eyes lit up with delight. It would be a dream, she said, to have a presence in what she called “my favorite city in the world.” Hopefully, both for Steinunn and for Gotham’s fashion lovers, that dream will come true very soon.

For more information on Steinunn, visit

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