Fashion Garments By Hand

Words by Veronica Mike Solheim

Fashion designer Anita Hirlekar got chosen as Ones To Watch emerging designer already after showing her very first collection, AW14. After that, she has received several awards and nominations for her unique designs and fabrics. Anita thinks her Icelandic roots—and the fact that craft is a huge part of the country’s history—has affected her approach to handcraft, and it’s something she wants to preserve and continue. Fashion, however, wasn’t a thing in Iceland when she grew up. Fortunately, Anita grew up with a stylish grandmother, always talking about Dior or Burberry coats. Years later Anita found herself working for Bvlgari in Italy, and now she run her very own luxury brand, named after the designer herself.

How would you describe the Icelandic fashion scene?
Iceland has got a big DIY-culture and are quite resourceful. You learn from a really young age how to knit, crochet, felt, woodwork, ceramics, so these craft skills are among everyone. I was always making things when I was younger, but there wasn’t a big fashion scene, and there wasn’t a big access to fashion magazines. If people wanted to look different, they would make their own clothes or re-work what they got. My grandmother was a true lady and really stylish and, luckily for me, she was always talking about Dior, Louis Vuitton and Burberry coats. I was charmed by this fashion fantasy world, and how clothes can make you feel. However, I never followed fashion, but was very interested in how a person can have their own style. Fashion to me is a form of expression, and I am curious about people’s lives and styles, and how they choose to express themselves. 

ANITA HIRLEKAR is a luxury womenswear label based in Reykjavík. Please tell me about this brand of yours—how did it come about?
I launched my label in 2014, with a focus on innovative fabrications combined with unique handcraft, after presenting my AW14 (MA collection) at the London Fashion Week. I got chosen as Ones To Watch emerging designer, and my debut collection SS16 was shown at the London Fashion Week the following season. I also received the Fashion Special Prize for my AW14 at the International Talent Support competition in Italy, which was a great honour. Taking an artistic approach to fashion, ANITA HIRLEKAR has an unconstrained use of colour and texture. 

I am now based in Reykjavík where my work is stocked at concept store A.M. concept space—an interdisciplinary exhibition space in 101 Reykjavík. It offers a unique experience through a thoughtful approach, applied to the collection of contemporary fashion and art. The concept space is run by me and Magnea Einarsdóttir, also a Central Saint Martins’ fashion design graduate

A rotation of emerging artists and designers join us every other month, curating the space to their imagination, ensuring the space remains fresh and inspiring.

It says online that you make your garments by hand. That must be very time consuming and challenging. Why is this important to you? 
I love to raise the question of how the textile work is created, I think once people start asking how you did it, I feel like the mission is accomplished. I guess by making it all by hand, it becomes more personal and is quite emotional. I love to embrace the imperfections of making things by hand. 

Handcraft—and the fact that it is visible and very present in your designs—seems to me to be an important part of your design. Please tell me about this. 
I think growing up in Iceland, a land with a rich history of craft, has influenced me a lot. I feel I was kinda born into it. There are so many techniques that were developed by older generations and some you can’t find anywhere in books, you just have to see it yourself among these women. I feel we need to maintain these traditions so they won’t get lost by just modernising them and making them look fresh and new. 

I was also working for Bvlgari in Italy, a luxury brand, and had a great opportunity to be in Florence and work directly with craftsmen working in leather goods, which has been passed down from generation to generation. I had researched the way they crafted the pieces, but it was nothing like seeing it yourself.

Today there is a lot more interest in fashion and design. We’ve got this festival in Reykjavík in March every year, called Design March, where a lot of designers from different fields come together and celebrate design, and there are loads of really interesting products there.

Your garments pay strong attention to colour and textures, and look like nothing we’ve seen before. Do you work on intuition, or where do your visual ideas come from?
I guess you could say there is a visual rhythm to my work. Researching is a very important step in my design process. I do think a lot about having a good balance of colour, texture and shape, it can be quite a challenge. And it may look quite randomly put together but I spend a lot of time reworking it and working with the trial and error process. I usually don’t sketch, but instead work with my fabric samples and patchwork them to get interesting colours and textures together.

My eyes are drawn to colour and texture, so I don’t just look at art, but photography and film as well, because I think it gives me another angle on my direction, something quite unexpected.

I think artists that have a witty approach in shape and colour are inspiring. But also, it’s the artist’s way of working that I find the most interesting, especially from a textile point of view. For example, for my AW14 collection, we made the skirts and tops first and then I worked on top of it like a canvas, embroidering and decorating creatively as opposed to making the textile first and then cutting and sowing.

To you—what is good fashion all about? 
The women should always wear the dress not the other way around. ANITA HIRLEKAR aims to embrace individuality by creating elegant and distinctive looks for women.

Read this story as well as the rest of our deep dive into Icelandic creativity in the upcoming Volume Twelve