This interview is part of DREAMERS, a collaborative project with MCQ that couples aspiring artists to their heroes for a one-on-one advice session. The conversations are recorded, redacted, and can be read in their entirety on my.mcq.com.
Thursday 10 June 2021, 17:00 London-time
Cameron Rogers: Arnar, as you are based in Reykjavik and Luke in London, how do you work together?
Arnar Mār Jōnsson: A lot of Zoom calls! It’s been quite difficult because I haven’t been able to travel at all because of COVID. A lot of the physical work is happening in London, and it’s where we have our archive and everything we use, because that’s where we started.
Cameron: What does a day in your life look like?
Arnar: I just had a baby, so my day-to-day revolves around that quite a lot. I think my life at the moment is very ‘normal’: I wake up with a child, go to work until six and try to do as much as possible, then go home for the baby to sleep. The first year, everything just revolved around family life, but because our brand is also still new, we have quite a lot of different responsibilities. I’d say that there’s now more things we have to think about and do within the brand compared to a year ago.
Luke Stevens: Last year it was a lot about us making the clothes ourselves, and whilst we still do a lot physically – like pattern cutting and developing samples – we do a bit less of that and more of other things related to growing the brand.
Arnar: We’ve tried to take it a bit as it comes. We’ve not really had a lot of future plans in terms of ‘the brand.’ It’s always been more about a product or about design. We have to take it as a concept and deal with it and figure it out. Everything just happened organically and one thing led to another and here we are, five seasons in!
“We didn’t really look at starting the brand as finding a gap in the market, but it was more that there were certain things missing in our wardrobe and we were trying to put that out. ” – Arnar Mār Jōnsson
Cameron: Did you feel from the beginning that it was all very purpose-driven?
Arnar: During our two years at the Royal College of Art doing our Masters, we had so much time to think and discuss things. There was a lot of research done during that period, and when we started the brand, we didn’t put that into practice right away. We did feel that we were missing a certain product as we didn’t really connect with many things on the market. We, and all our friends, were kind of only buying vintage and archival things or were really intimate with just a few brands. Like you would only buy a jacket from a particular brand because it’d be really good. We didn’t really look at starting the brand as finding a gap in the market, but it was more that there were certain things missing in our wardrobe and we were trying to put that out. We thought that there must be more guys like us. In the beginning, people didn’t really know where to place us though, because it was technical garments but also fashion and not completely functional.
“We do miss a slower pace. In fashion, we’re expected to do fifteen new prototypes every six months whereas a good outerwear company might spend two years working on a jacket. So how can the product be as good as the outerwear brand?” – Arnar Mār Jōnsson
Cameron: That’s great. Especially as a young artist myself, I feel like people tend to put out what they want to see in the world. I think for some people that can get really overwhelming, but it seemed you had a great incubation period during your studies. For myself and a lot of friends, I think it’s quite hard to get out of that incubation mode – was there something specific that spurred it for you?
Arnar: We both had been working in the industry before we did the MA, so we were both used to having a big workload and a fast pace of work. The MA is intense too, you’re kind of expected to work 12-hour days. So once you’ve graduated, you’re kind of bubbling with ideas and want to get things out there. Luke graduated a year before me and showed his final collection during London Fashion Week. I also sold my work to a few shops when I graduated, and then it was fashion week a month later or something. We spontaneously decided to do a collection… It was me working in my living room and Luke in his living room, and we’d meet for fittings every now and then. It was way too intense a month. We looked like crap afterwards and said that we’d never work this hard again. During the master’s you spend a year making one collection, and we then just decided to do a collection in one month, with no money. We stitched every sample, did all the patterns, we didn’t even know where to order fabric that we could get again. I think now, it’s a lot about experience and putting things into practice, and that’s how you learn how to judge stuff. We’ve always talked about having five garment types and although each season looks like a different collection, we’re actually just improving the garments and trying new materials. We do miss a slower pace. In fashion, we’re expected to do fifteen new prototypes every six months whereas a good outerwear company might spend two years working on a jacket. So how can the product be as good as the outerwear brand? We have to just try and do it through the seasons, it’s just part of the process.
Cameron: Are there any passion projects between you that you would put out regardless of whether people respond well to it or not?
Arnar: I’d say half and half. We always kind of know what’s going to work commercially before the collection, and that’s normally not the things that we spend the most time on, to be honest. We’re just kind of nerdy about a lot of things, and that’s what keeps us excited. A couple of times, we put something out there that we did spend a lot of time on, and there was just no response. Then the second time, there’s a little bit more interest, and the third time it’s our main thing. It just took time for people to understand it and see it, and maybe for us to refine it a bit more. It’s a healthier way of working as well, knowing that you can work on things more in future collections rather than in a tight timeframe.
Cameron: Yeah, I feel like you’re otherwise constantly putting out fires.
Arnar: For sure, and it just takes so long to refine one garment! You know, especially like a jacket. We like to create philosophies that we design through all the time, and it’s also got to do with sustainability. For us, it doesn’t matter if the colour, the trims, or the lining is all the same. It’s kind of an old-school military way of designing where they used to just have 3000 metres of blue lining fabric, and that’s all they had. There were more important threats to focus on. Thinking about a logical philosophy and how we use that in terms of a timeframe really helps us to narrow things down.
“There’s an expectation that suddenly everything will click into place and you know what you’re doing, but the world doesn’t really operate like that.” – Luke Stevens
Cameron: There’s a lot of discussion about timeframes here and really honing down to perfect something. What piece of advice would you give to a recent graduate who’s overwhelmed about all the different directions they could go into? I feel like there’s a lot of pressure around this and I wonder if you both felt that and how you overcame it?
Luke: As a graduate, you have built up so much momentum and then you’re kind of thrown out into the world. There’s an expectation that suddenly everything will click into place and you know what you’re doing, but the world doesn’t really operate like that. I think the more time you spend out of that, then the more comfortable you become with just understanding that things take time and that things can kind of change direction. When I graduated from the RCA, I spent a year not making clothes, and then all of a sudden, there were a lot of conversations about doing something new. You just have to be open to things changing and understanding that things don’t happen overnight.
Arnar: We’ve gone through many different paths and I feel like only now we’re maybe doing what we thought we’d be doing the year after we graduated from our BA. That’s the kind of expectation that you have when you go into uni. But it’s good that things can take time, and every experience will help you out. I can’t imagine myself trying to take all this stuff on at the age of 23. I would have just freaked out. But the whole thing about being overwhelmed, I think we still deal with that every day. We’re still freaking out! I think that’s part of being creative: you’re always having too many feelings, taking things too personally, or overthinking everything.
Cameron: What would you tell yourself 10 years ago, like when you first started designing?
Arnar: Don’t be so serious and don’t overwork yourself. But I wouldn’t want to change my last 10 years at all!
Interested in learning more? You can find all the interviews from the DREAMER series here.