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Catching Up With Nikita’s Runar Ómarsson On The Reykjavik Fashion Festival

Just over eleven years ago, Runar Ómarsson, Heida Birgisdottir, and Valdi Hannesson launched the now iconic snowboard and fashion brand Nikita from their native Iceland. Over the past decade, Nikita has become one of the few international brands to make it big in the U.S. action sports market due to its progressive styling, marketing, and focus on women riders. Last year, Ómarsson and a group of Icelandic musicians and designers began a new project, the Reykjavik Fashion Festival (RFF), to showcase the creativity and design ethic flourishing on the island.

According to the RFF’s site,  ‘United by a common passion for Iceland and it’s unique take on fashion, design and music, Iceland’s foremost creative business leaders seek to champion the talent that makes the country so unique. Reykjavik Fashion Festival will see an exciting mixture of fashion, design and music at venues around the city. The second annual Reykjavik Fashion Festival will take place on the 31st March – 3rd April 2011.”

We had a chance to catch up with Ómarsson during his busy preparation for the event to learn more about the show and the Icelandic action sports world.

Check out images from Nikita’s line and last year’s show here:

VIEW: THUMBS ENLARGE
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How did the idea for this fashion show come about? Give us a little history on the main players and the goals.

runar omarsson

Runar Ómarsson

The Icelandic design community is small, so us at Nikita know a lot of the people in the fashion “industry” here. Many of them are friends or friends of friends. We weren’t too happy with an event that had been going on here for a few years, under the name “Iceland Fashion Week”, and thought that it didn’t do Icelandic fashion and clothing design any justice. After hearing several Icelandic designers talk about how something should be done some day, a couple of us decided to stop talking about it, and rather do something about it. So we created Reykjavik Fashion Festival, a venue to showcase the best of Icelandic clothing design in one place/time.

Have the goals changed at all since last year’s show?
No, the idea is still to create a mutual venue for the best Icelandic designers to show their design to buyers, media and fashion lovers. Also to learn from each other, share knowledge and help this industry mature and improve as a whole.

The biggest things that the world has heard out of Iceland in the recent past have been a colossal economic crash and a massive spewing of ash that shut down much of the world. How have these events and the collapse of the Icelandic banking sector affected the artistic and apparel sector there?
The economic crash really underlines that it is much better to sell actual product than a lot of hype about possible future earnings on shares in companies that have never created anything from scratch with a certain purpose in mind.
The volcano proves that a small thing from a tiny country in the middle of the ocean can turn the whole world upside down if it is energetic and original.

It sounds like these events had the exact opposite of the expected depression and instead ignited a creative and youth-inspired cultural movement?
The strange mixture of short, bright summers and long, dark winters seems to bring out a lot of creativity. There is a band in every other garage. In the other ones there is a small design company or sometimes a nerd herd like ccpgames.com. In the hundreds of years, all the pessimists died in Iceland. Only the optimistic people would survive a long dark winter like that. Maybe we’re all a bit crazy…

What’s your role with the RFF?
I started it, with my then friend but now girlfriend Asta. My role is to create something, bringing people to one table and have them share different courses. Put puzzles together. Find mutual benefits between people and parties, and have people party together, mutually.

From a fashion perspective, Nikita has definitely made the biggest mark of any brand from your country in the action sports world. Are there other emerging snow, skate, or streetwear brands that you see breaking out?
Not snow or skate, but hopefully some streetwear brands breaking out soon. That’s why we created Reykjavik Fashion Festival.
If they don’t break out, its not because they don’t have creative energy, but because of the smallness of their home-market, where it’s hard to grow into an operation that can then explore possibilities of international presence, lack of investors, or one of the other 1000 reasons why most clothing companies don’t succeed.

How has Nikita been successful in bridging the gap to the U.S. market? Is your involvement in the fashion show part of an effort to help share what’s going on in your country with the rest of the world?
Nikita has been selling its clothing line in the US since 2001, so at least we have some knowledge about the U.S. of A as a market, the threats, opportunities, hindrances, etc. Experience is a valuable asset, if used right. And yes, one of the main reasons why I wanted to start Reykjavik Fashion Festival was in order to share our knowledge with other design companies in Iceland, I’d like to see as many of them succeed as possible. Or more.

Do you think it will be harder for Icelandic brands to expand internationally with the problems of your local banking sector?
No. It will be hard for them because of many reasons, and only one of them is the local banking sector. There are so many obstacles anyways, financing is just one of them.

As a buyer, why should I look at attending the show, or at any rate care about it?
Because as a buyer, you know that everyone is going to London, Paris, Milan, New York fashion week, buying and selling the same stuff. But if you go to Iceland, you might just find a nice little fun fashion festival that geographically and design-wise is smack in the middle of the U.S. and Europe. Some buyers like that.

What sets Icelandic fashion and streetwear apart from say American or European looks and designs?
It is generally a bit functional, because of “weather issues,” and then it is neither American nor European, but a hybrid.

What are the top five trends you’re seeing there in streetwear?
Unisex-y, value for money, functional, heritage, [and] independence.

Where would you say local designers get most of their inspiration?
I have yet to meet a designer who can put a finger on where their inspiration comes from. That’s usually made up stuff by marketing people, like you and/me, who are pushed to explain a certain design in order to a group of people to understand it. However, most of the designers I know are constantly inspired by everything around them. The people they meet, young and old, movies they see, old and new, the weather, good or bad, and then their own point of view, upbringing, character or personal style, is the key ingredient.

From your travels, what city in the U.S. reminds you the most of Reykjavik? Why?
San Francisco, because of all the hills, the breeze from the ocean and the earthquakes. SFO also has a higher percentage of steeze people because of the higher percentage of gay people from all over the world.

What were the biggest lessons you learned from putting on last year’s show?
That working hard is great, as long as you are having a lot of fun as well.

How have you built on those lessons to make this year’s show different and blow minds?
By starting earlier this year, getting more people involved, selling my part in the thing and focusing on my own brand, Nikita Clothing.