Arnar Már Jónsson and Luke Stevens: Getting better every day
When Icelandic designer Arnar Már Jónsson presented his MA collection at the RCA in 2017, he told 1 Granary that his clothes were inspired by his friends from home: “I know what they wear and this is the easiest way for me to see what I need to do when I make the clothes.” Three years down the line, this approach has evolved into something even more personal. After releasing a collection, Jónsson and his design partner Luke Stevens adopt it as their own wardrobe, putting their designs to the test in everyday life. In the months that follow, they get a feel for how the garments sit and fit. Are they as functional as possible? Do the jacket pockets sit in the right place for cold hands to nestle inside? Will the windbreaker keep them warm by the coast? Every day, they notice new things about their designs, wracking up little lists of improvements to incorporate into the next collection. The process of designing a new collection every few months ceases to be about newness and becomes one of refinement instead.
Each season builds on the same core offering: two types of trousers, track tops, shirts, vests, outerwear jackets and a smarter jacket. New ideas are only added to the mix if they’ll stay for multiple seasons. Novelty has no hold over their design process, but performance does. “We’re working with high-tech fabrics in an artisanal way, adding a human touch to performance-based clothing,” explains Arnar.
Now based in London, the designers have incorporated elements of their new friends’ wardrobes into the brand’s vernacular. Equally inspired by sportswear and nature, the clothes work just as well on the streets of London as they do in Iceland’s sub-optimal landscapes. Their new collection hit the 24/7 showroom in Paris this week, so we sat down with Arnar and Luke to talk seasonality, sustainable fabrics, and being swallowed up by admin.
How does your working relationship shape the way you design?
We don’t have the luxury of defining roles that much as we are constantly working on deadlines, but we pretty much split everything equally. In terms of design, we might split techniques between us, especially if something needs a fresh pair of eyes. Then one of us can clear his head and only think about that for a bit. We wish we could do more of that.
You’re working with The Sustainable Angle on this collection, to include over 80% sustainable fabrics. How did you connect with The Sustainable Angle and how have they helped you develop a more sustainable way of designing?
We connected with The Sustainable Angle through a mutual friend. They were excellent in advising us on the natural performative properties of many of the materials they work with. For example, the organic cotton used within the outerwear pieces this season is naturally waterproof due to the density of the weave, reducing the need for waterproof finishings. Other fabrics are woven to include a ‘mechanical stretch’ – a structure which increased the natural stretch of the fabric, removing the need for elastine. We combined these materials with newer technologies, such as the ultra lightweight recycled polyester laminate, to add greater windproof and waterproof properties to some of our existing recycled fabrics, enhancing their performance without affecting their handle. We’re hoping to work with The Sustainable Angle again to develop a holistic sustainable strategy covering design, supply chain, manufacturing, distribution and sales/growth strategies. We want to establish innovative models and methods of working which go beyond the sourcing of more ethical or sustainable fabrics, as these are just the first steps.
“Running your own brand is very different, because a huge amount of time is swallowed up by admin. This seems obvious, but we didn’t realise how much time we actually had to spend in front of the computer.”
Your work doesn’t just tackle the climate crisis by incorporating sustainable fabrics, it is also designed to endure the harsher weather conditions the climate crisis will inevitably increase. How have you adapted your designs for this function?
Designing to endure the effects of climate change isn’t necessarily something we’ve taken into consideration directly, but all the designs explore aspects of functionality. In some cases, this is to do with traditional ideas of function (protection from varying weather conditions or adaptability and transformability), but we’ve also begun exploring ideas of functionality within a psychological or emotional framework. We’re thinking about how specific design choices can evoke a certain response from the wearer. For example, the use of colour, tactility and textures to impact mood or designing for a specific activity (i.e spending more time outdoors in order to reduce stress and anxiety).
You completed your MA in 2017 – how has your view of the industry changed since graduating? What lessons have you learnt since leaving education?
Our view of the industry hasn’t changed a whole lot. We both worked in the industry before doing our MA and continued to work on industry projects and consultancy during our time studying. Running your own brand is very different, because a huge amount of time is swallowed up by admin. This seems obvious, but we didn’t realise how much time we actually had to spend in front of the computer. We have learned a million lessons from the last year, which could only be learned through experience. We refer to the experience as ‘brand school’ – it’s a good way of comforting ourselves when things don’t go to plan.
“We have learned a million lessons from the last year, which could only be learned through experience. We refer to the experience as ‘brand school’ – it’s a good way of comforting ourselves when things don’t go to plan.”
What do you consider the most challenging parts of running your own brand and why?
Budget. To be completely honest the hardest part of starting a brand is being able to realise your ideas for what you want to design. Finding the right factories and suppliers can cost a lot of money. We had to take it very slowly to be able to do what we want and we are still not there yet.
Has the need to attract buyers influenced the way you design?
I don’t think it has any influence on what we design. What we try to explore is the idea of a future product within menswear. So our products are simple in their nature, as we’re focused on what men will actually wear. We’re just trying to better the garments that are already out there. We are designing the clothes to be worn, pushing familiar men’s garments into new, performance-oriented directions that reflect the needs of our lives today and our projections of the future.
“It makes no sense for us to have guys walking down a runway to show our clothes; we want to show the environment and scenarios that the garments are designed for.”
Your new collection just launched in a showroom in Paris and you are avoiding presentations and shows on schedule – what motivated this decision? How did the experience differ from what you imagined? What do you wish you knew beforehand?
We didn’t want to rush into a presentation until we felt the need to. For now, we feel that the best way to show our vision is through imagery and videos. We have a great collective working with us now and making our imagery better and better. In general, it makes no sense for us to have guys walking down a runway to show our clothes; we want to show the environment and scenarios that the garments are designed for. This format gives the images a sense of longevity and a life beyond the season.
It is a lot harder than we thought to avoid presentations and still generate a good following. Fashion week is definitely relevant in that sense, because we get to meet everyone and sell our collection. We would love more time to develop ideas but, because we’re never introducing a completely new concept, the calendar creates a natural process of refinement and reflection. The deadlines also help us stay on track with new collections and production.
What advice would you give a designer considering starting their own brand?
Don’t just follow the paths that others have taken. Do your own thing and you’ll know if it’s getting the right response. We don’t really need more clothes, so it’s important that you justify what you’re doing beyond just producing more garments.