Icelandic designer Rebekka Jónsdóttir founded her label Rey in 2009. At this point, she is one of the anchors of the annual Reykjavik Fashion Festival. Last Saturday, set to remixes of ’90s R&B favorites from Destiny’s Child and TLC, Jónsdóttir presented her newest collection at RFF for the fourth consecutive year—quite a feat considering the Festival itself is only five years old.
Now 35, the Reykjavik native designs for herself and her friends. “I have this stupid rule where I can buy shoes and I can buy jeans,” she explains as she shows us around her design studio, “but for everything else, I either have to wear my own stuff or my friends’.” Jónsdóttir’s clothes are simple, but chic and confident in their identity; you will not find any overwhelming prints or unnecessary embellishments distracting from a Rey collection. On her mood board are pictures of Katharine Hepburn on a skateboard, a sultry Lauren Bacall, and the Sydney Opera House. On the runway, the Rey models sported soft Veronica Lake waves, delicate leather gloves, and the occasional beret. Saturday’s standout pieces included a long-sleeved white column dress, a belted LBD with 1940s-style strong shoulders, and a pair of silver trousers worn with a wool and polyester coat that Jónsdóttir describes as both “Marianne Faithfull, rock-‘n’-roll” and “Mongolian lamb gone space.”
HOMETOWN: Reykjavik, Iceland
FIRST DESIGNER PURCHASE: I was 15 or 16 and I bought a black jean skirt from Moschino.
ALMA MATER: I went to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in L.A. I had already done one degree, so I was a bit older than most, and I didn’t want to do that artistic approach to fashion. I’m not disregarding it; I just don’t think it’s the right thing for me. I love it, but I don’t have the drama in me. I picked America because there you learn about concepts and groups and manufacturing and how to make, not how to dream them up. I thought I had my aesthetic pretty nailed down.
ENTRY INTO THE FASHION WORLD: I graduated in 2008, so I’ve been involved in the fashion industry since then. This is my fourth year showing at the Reykjavik Fashion Festival. I decided I wanted to be a designer pretty late on. My original degree was in a totally different field—economics—but I’ve always been a sketcher, a doodler, and a fashion reader. I just didn’t think I had what it takes. I’m still figuring that out.
POUR MYSELF A CUP OF AMBITION: My parents were pretty supportive of the 180 that I did, but obviously there were worried about me because fashion is such an insane business. Everything is so fleeting—one day you have five stores, then three of them go out of business. It’s as far from having a nine-to-five job as I can probably imagine, and I’ve had a nine-to-five job; I worked as an economic analyst for a bank for a while. It was… not a dream job.
THE COST OF PASSION: I know it’s not just design jobs, but when you’re designing, it can really take over your life because you’re always thinking that if you don’t focus, your greatest idea will just pass you buy. Sometimes you annoy yourself because you’re always looking at the world with [design] glasses on: Is this something I could use?
THE BEST ADVICE I’VE EVER GOTTEN: I’m always convinced that everyone’s going to hate everything. A really good friend of mine gave me a piece of advice the first time I showed. I was terrified that day. I was in this showroom downtown—it was part of Design March. People are looking at your stuff saying, “I could do this,” or “What’s this?” And you hear all the comments. I don’t have a tough shell, so I found it really horrible, and my friend said, “Rebekka, it’s better that they have an opinion. You can’t please everybody and isn’t it better to do something that some people find truly amazing and other people hate than something that nobody hates, but nobody loves either?” I think of that whenever anyone says that something I do is “weird” or “I wouldn’t wear that.” I remind myself that this, maybe, is not my customer. She has a total right to her opinion, and I shouldn’t get offended, because there might be someone out there who will love that piece. That makes me more secure to take the bad, because if you’re going to believe every good word that’s written about you, you have to believe all the bad shit too.
STARTING A COLLECTION: I start by thinking about themes. A lot of my clothes are designed around the fabrics, so I research fabrics. Because of the isolation in Iceland, I try to go abroad specifically to look at fabrics, or whenever I am abroad, I try to have a look here or there. Then you have to think about how you can make interesting textures yourself. For this collection I was fortunate, because I found some fabrics that I was really, really happy with and then I sketched from that. Most of them are from Paris.
DESIGN BLOCK: With this job, when you’re dreaming up the collection, you can’t just wake up at 7:30, brush your teeth, and go to work, because sometimes nothing happens and you just sit there. I’d like to say I go for a walk [every time that happens], but sometimes I just moan on Facebook to my friends. That’s why, for the past few weeks, I took the computer out of my studio.
THE FALL/WINTER 2014 COLLECTION: I was thinking about asymmetry, mirrors, and reflection. Then I was thinking a lot about strong shoulders and big trousers—these old pictures of Katharine Hepburn and Joan Collins in their private lives. My color scheme is sort of Snow White—it’s red, black, and white. It’s all over the place in my head, and then you start sketching. Even if something inspired you to start, sometimes you end up in another place, but you’re still inspired by that first thing. It evolves. Do I work on the collection right until the end? This time, but not normally. I sometimes change my mind; I feel like I’m really sick of something so I throw it out, which is not always a good thing.
FAVORITE FALL/WINTER 2014 LOOK: I liked the jumpsuit when I designed it, but the model really makes it work so well—it was one of my favorite looks last night, which came as a surprise to me. But I have to say that Shaggy the dog—the coat—is probably my favorite. It’s wool and polyester.
FINDING THE BEAT: I wanted my show this year to have sort of a party feel, sot I got girl-band songs from my youth, but remixes. You will hear very familiar songs in a new package. Also for the models, for them to be secure and happy, you need a good beat for them to walk to. I have a song from my best friend’s band as well, because I always use some of her music.
THE REY GIRL: Is a professional woman that is working in some sort of creative field. But I like bankers too!
CONSISTENCY IS UNDERRATED: A review I got last year was, “REY DOES NOT SURPRISE.” The critic meant it as a negative, but I kind of liked it. Of course you have to have some new stuff, but if you have found in yourself a line to follow, I think that’s a good thing for a business or a brand. It would be too difficult for a customer to comprehend if you’re polka dots and sunshine one year and then slice my wrists the next.
THE FUTURE: I have such a specific plan; it’s really embarrassing. I think I should just keep it to myself. But yes, I definitely have a five-year plan involving Rey and expanding internationally. It’s lovely to work in Iceland, because it’s nice to be around your family and your friends, and you are creative if you’re comfortable—if you’re super lonely in a big city, you’re not productive even if you are closer to a lot of things that would help you. My favorite city for fabrics is Paris, but my favorite city for fashion, which is probably the best market for me, is New York. I’m way too dark for L.A.; it was a constant theme in everything that I did when I was doing my degree: “But Rebekka, that’s too European!” “Well, I am from Europe…”