Designer Lilja Viggosdòttir from Nordik. Image supplied.
It’s impossible not to be inspired by local designer and luxury brand founder Lilja Viggosdòttir. At just 25 years of age, the half-Kiwi, half-Icelandic designer has shaken up both the local and international accessory and leathergoods scene with her new label, Nordik — a range of luxury leather bags and accessories made of Icelandic salmon leather.
After over 18 months of preparation, Nordik was launched in August with a debut collection titled Einstök, meaning ‘unique’ in Icelandic. True to its name, the coveted Einstök collection and the Nordik brand as a whole is an exquisite breath of fresh air for style-savvy and sustainability-focused fashionistas. Designed right here in NZ and made in Italy with Icelandic salmon leather, Nordik’s coveted range is ground-breaking and unparalleled in every aspect.
We caught up with Lilja to uncover her inspirations behind launching her unique label and to talk about working with salmon leather, challenges faced along the way, trends in sustainable fashion, as well as what lies next in store for Nordik.
What began your interest and career in fashion? Had you always aspired to work in the fashion Industry?
I first got into fashion when I began making my own clothes at age sixteen when my mother taught me how to sew. I never really thought of it as a career opportunity until I left high school and moved up to Auckland. I was struggling to find something to pull my focus and I didn’t really have something that I felt really set on career-wise. It wasn’t until two years down the line when I spent one summer sewing dresses and I thought, ‘I wonder if I can study this?’. I looked it up, came across Whitecliffe, had a look around the campus and was really inspired by the environment there. From there, they taught us everything you need to know in terms of drawing inspiration from all kinds of different things and to then merge it into fashion design.
When did you first come across salmon leather and when did you begin to work with it?
I went to Iceland to visit family in 2014 and I found salmon leather in a store there for the first time and I loved it — I loved the texture and its uniqueness. While I was there I also did a trip around Italy and saw the Italian leather markets in Florence, which changed my whole direction. I later researched salmon leather a lot and discovered it was sustainable and ethical and then learnt how to sew it and manipulate it. My graduate collection at Whitecliffe was about incorporating my Icelandic heritage into designs and using the leather —my favourite pieces were the salmon leather items.
What are some of the properties and stand out features of salmon leather?
It’s really incredible how durable it is. A lot of people think of what’s on their dinner plate and the skin that’s thin and breaks apart. Salmon leather is made with a cross-fibre structure so it’s a lot stronger than what you’d think and is very durable. In terms of using it for handbags, it’s the same strength as if you’d buy a cowhide bag. It’ll last forever, it’s an investment piece.
The place where I get my leather from is also really innovative — they’re coming up with washable salmon leather, which is very user friendly if you want to put it with garments! They can do any colour too — I sent over swatches of leather for this collection and they matched it perfectly, it’s really awesome.
Bag from the Einstök collection by Nordik.
How do people usually react when they first hear about salmon leather?
A lot of people are quite confused. People have a lot of questions, especially about the durability. I guess they want to know if it’s going to wear well because with a handbag it gets worn everyday and they also want to know how to best take care of it — which is really everything you’d think about when buying a bag.
What were your inspirations when it came to designing Nordik’s first collection?
The collection follows on from my graduate collection where I focused on minimalism, Scandinavian design and really just effortless style. A lot of the inspiration came from Iceland and its landscape and heritage — I find it to be a really incredible and inspiring country.
How long did the whole designing, planning and production process take before launching your debut collection?
It took me about 18 months from start to finish. I initially started with a clothing line and I found that I got pulled towards the salmon leather and wanted to create something that made it stand out. It soon became all about the leather, so I thought I thought I could do bags. Once I started designing the bags they become more exciting and more of a priority so I thought I’d just focus on that. It happened really naturally and I’m glad it happened that way. It was essentially about bringing something new to the table that people might not have necessarily heard of.
It took me the better part of a year to find the designs as I went through a lot of changes. I tried to make it that the bags were really user friendly and that they could work with each other, like have the small bags clip into the large bags. I also wore the prototypes a lot to see how they could be improved and what was needed to do so.
What were some of the biggest challenges that you faced along the way?
A big hurdle was when I was trying to get my bags made here in New Zealand, as I thought it would make the process a lot easier. It took about eight months but then that idea didn’t work out. There are a lot of things I could’ve done that would have sped up the process, but you don’t realise that until afterwards. It’s a good challenge, though, because I enjoy it and I’m really passionate about it.
Bags from the Einstök collection by Nordik.
Who are some of your favourite designers and inspirations?
I love Calvin Klein and Dior if we’re talking big fashion houses. It’s funny, my focus has switched to accessories now and I look more at other people’s handbags and things like that. I do try really hard not to actually look at designers when designing my own collection, as I found you can get really influenced by other’s styles. I try not to look at trends and just stick to my own vision, what I envision for my customer and minimalism — as it’s all about making the leather the focal point.
What do you anticipate are the next movements that are going to happen around sustainable and ethical fashion?
I think in terms of leather, it’s really becoming about how people feel when they purchase products. People want to feel that they’re buying something that makes them feel really good and if they’re not sure where that product comes from, it taints the experience a little bit. That’s what I really like about my collection, it’s been made by an awesome family team in Italy who have good wage and I’m not trying to cut corners or hide where it’s made and the materials that are used are ethical, sustainable and not damaging to the environment.
What can we expect next from Nordik?
Different versions of the bags in the collection at the moment. I’m tweaking some design features and offering a little bit more choice and diversity as well as working on next collection – which is still under wraps!
What’s the big, long-term dream for Nordik as a brand?
I definitely want to bring out a clothing line, I think it would definitely tie everything in together really well. Again, I would be bringing in the minimalist style that I’m personally into, because I still struggle to find clothing that I would like to buy and I’d like to contribute to that solution.