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Known as the land of fire and ice, Iceland is a potent source of inspiration for writers, photographers, filmmakers and fashion designers. And we’re not just talking about the outerwear variety. Levi’s Global Design Directors Nick Rendic and Nicolle Arbour turned to the rough, wind-whipped landscape of Iceland as their muse to create their AW17 collection for the brand’s Made & Crafted line.
In the depths of winter with only four hours of sunlight a day, the pair embarked on a wild, self-directed road trip around the country, exploring rugged coastlines, waterfalls and geysers, meeting a few Icelandic ponies along the way. The line has clearly taken cues from everything ranging from the warm reds of volcanic rock to lichen-covered cliffs and Viking flower embroidery, with shearling linings and cosy cashmere to take you through chillier days. We joined the design duo in Iceland to ask them all about elevating the classic denim line that has been a mainstay in our wardrobes for decades.
Could you tell us a bit about the Made & Crafted line in general?
Nicolle: We like to speak about Made & Crafted as the premium modern expression of Levi’s. We take what everybody knows and loves about the Levi’s brand and celebrate it in an updated way with a heightened level of craftsmanship.
What made you choose Iceland as a source of inspiration for AW17, especially as it contrasts so heavily with the SS17 collection inspired by Levi’s classic laid-back, sunny California vibes?
Nicolle: We were initially really excited by the idea of Hygge. We love the idea of closeness and of coming together, especially when it’s so cold outside, and how clothing is such an integral part of that. We decided that Iceland was the most extreme place to experience that. We came in January and it was pitch-black all the time, it was snowing, it was sleeting sideways. This influenced not only the visual side of the line but also helped us take Levi’s denim and make it cosy and little more luxurious, like the mountain coat and the shearling trucker.
Nick: The thing that’s nice about Hygge is that it does relate back to our brand, which is very democratic and casual. Our brand is all about connectivity and bringing people together. That’s why it was a nice, symbiotic relationship.
What are your favourite spots in Iceland (activities, food, bars, shopping)?
Nicolle: It’s probably so cliché and obvious but the Blue Lagoon is insane! I’m a huge spa and wellness lover, so I love that that’s a part of life here and that it’s attached to the land. My favourite restaurant is Kol. We went last time and we had the best time from the cocktails to the food… the environment was the Hygge vibe to us.
Nick: The geyser is really awe-inspiring, it makes you feel tiny. The first time we were standing there Nicolle jumped and was like, “Waaa!” It was way more energetic and lively than you would expect. And we also went to this waterfall, Gullfoss. It’s enormous and it really is one of those things that makes you put your life into perspective a little bit. It’s also so untouched. In the US or in Europe, you go to these places and there are massive barricades and you kind of know where you can go and can’t go, whereas here, you think, “Hmm, there’s just a little string, can I go over there? Is that ok?”
What are your craziest stories from the last time you were in Iceland?
Nicolle: We would just find random paths to drive down and we ended up at this one place on the coastline. We found this old shipwreck, it was stunning. It was this rusty, giant ship on the land that had clearly washed up ashore. We didn’t know where we were going and we didn’t have a tour guide, so we were just going off of the beaten path the entire time.
Nick: Sometimes we wouldn’t pass any cars all day, you know, no one’s around. And we’d drive down these little side paths in the snow and suddenly think, “Wait, what if we get stuck?”
Nicolle: I also felt so prepared when we got to the airport and I thought, “Let’s do this.” The taxi was just across the street, so we walk out and a storm just comes out of nowhere. There was this giant gust of wind and it started pouring rain sideways. It was the funniest thing because Nick just ran and hid behind the van. The wind was so strong it started pushing my suitcase across with me. Our two drivers had to come and catch me – it was so humbling.
Nick: The driver and I get to the car and we’re like, “Where’d Nicolle go?” Another one was when we went and saw the horses at the stable. We kept seeing these horses out in the fields and it’s freezing outside. And we’re just thinking, “How are they alive, what are they doing? We’ve got to go and see these guys.” So we pull in, and the stable is just wide open, the horses are hanging around, and nobody came out and said anything to us.
How has this collection’s connection to the outdoors shaped your approach to design? Did you work with any technical materials while creating it?
Nicolle: We’ve both done thermore padded liner jackets, so that definitely does have modern technological functions, it’s lightweight, it’s packable, but it’s extremely warm. But this collection was a really fun way to look at using natural shearling, or the most beautiful Italian wool, sherpa, to make things warm. So just looking at it from a functional perspective, not necessarily through technology, through natural yarns and natural cashmere sweaters. Ways that feel a little bit luxurious but also really casual.
Nick: We’ve also used wool-infused denims to add natural performance. Just because something is performance doesn’t mean that it has to be synthetic. And we’re finding out as we do research for the collections, lots of times, the universe already kind of gave you a lot of what you need. You know, wool is antimicrobial, water-repellant and completely natural. And the shearling is the same thing, like, that is one of the warmest things you can possibly put next to your body.
Nicolle: For all of our skinnies in the women’s collection, we use this beautiful Kaihara Japanese denim that they’ve really developed over the past few years. It’s incredible how quickly they’ve figured out how to make high-stretch, comfortable fabric that recovers that looks like a vintage Levi’s jean. So there’s that kind of technology that is woven into the line as well.
What’s your favourite piece from the new collection?
Nick: They’re all like my babies. I think I’d probably have to say our tack jean is my favourite. It’s such a great-fitting pair of jeans. And if I had to pick a second one it would have to be our cotton cashmere T-shirts – I never want to take them off, they’re so good.
Nicolle: I love the women’s trucker. What we’ve done with the fit of that one just makes me happy. And the level of detail is not too feminine, but it feels like there’s a little bit of femininity in there. And then for bottoms, I really love our barrel trouser. It’s something that we started last year, taking a giant 501 and shaping it and this time adding a little pleat. It’s really flattering on and I think it’s just a really fun take on a vintage jean.
What’s in your SUITCASE for a trip to Iceland?
Nick: That’s funny. I pack in a very funny way, so whatever bag I have, I just fill it up. For Iceland, of course, you need to have good footwear, so I have two pairs of boots. You always have to have warm layers, so there’s tons of layers; I have my liner, I also always have the trucker jacket, always have to have beanies, always have my cotton cashmere T-shirts which are the base layer. That’s kind of it.
Nicolle: Oh man, I overpack. I try so hard, you would think with travelling so frequently I’d be better at it. I have my favourite easy boots, my Converse high-tops, my trucker, my liner. I mean, for this trip, I packed this collection. It was the best opportunity to get to try it out. So I wore pieces from this collection every day!
The line is available for purchase from mid-July 2017.
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