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Tuesday , December 14, 2010
nogoodforme in the City, Special Edition: A Highly Scattershot Guide to Reykjavik, Iceland!
No, this is not going to be the ultimate end-all, be-all shopping-and-everything-else-funsville guide to the capital city of Iceland. Although it would not be hard to write, I suppose: Reykjavik is not a large city by any account. You could walk from one end to the other in about an hour or so, or perhaps a bit longer if you were to mosey your way in and out of the plentiful cafes and bars as you went along. But Reykjavik makes up for its geographical smallness by cramming as much coolness and cosmopolitan energy into each square kilometer as possible. As a city, it has the charm of a harbor town in terms of its physical look and location, but culturally it has a finger on the pulse of edgy European culture. The best of Icelandic style I saw reinterpreted avant-garde European design with a humble coziness and comfort that seems to be quite Icelandic in nature.
Reykjavik is a genuinely awesome place and it's way easy to arrange a long weekend on the way to Europe to explore. You can read more about the history and geographical particulars of Reykjavik elsewhere, but here are a few more of my random observations before I delve into the recommendations:
1. Icelandic people are incredibly beautiful. It's seriously unreal!
2. It's worth taking a trip outside of the city, just to see the incredible natural landscape of the country: waterfalls, glaciers, volcanoes. Haters will be all "Don't go on the Golden Circle tour," but unless you've got a lot of people to split the cost of renting a car to drive around, do it! How often are you in Iceland, anyway, DUH?
3. The light is truly incredible, really clear and beautiful and soft. You'll never look as good in photographs as you will in Iceland.
4. We saw Bjork at the closing night party of the Reykjavik International Film Festival! She's short! Yay for famous short people!
5. I wondered about Icelandic cuisine, but they do some pretty mean soup and bread. Cozy, warm, hearty food! Actually, most dairy- and meat-based foods are incredibly good, mostly due to the purity of the ingredients - there seems to be a strong consciousness about hormone-free and generally icky-chemical-free food.
6. I loved how you would see a snow-covered mountain in the distance everywhere you went.
7. The country is on the pricey side, but hey, the Icelandic economy collapsed as well. (I think the Russians own them now or something? Crazy...) Prices won't be a shock to a native New Yorker, Londoner or San Francisco, but it might strike the fear in the heart of other area inhabitants. Anyway, be sure to save up your sheckels.
8. If you end up getting the traditional Icelandic sweater (which you just might, 'cause it be COLD in the fall), then wait till the weekend and go to the flea market in the city. There's a stall run by two elderly ladies who will give you the best prices ever, and they are pretty much the sweetest people on earth.
There are a lot of interesting, cool shops in Reykjavik, most of which are concentrated on and off of Laugavegur street, a long strip which functions as the main shopping area in the city. You could easily spend a long afternoon wandering up and down. Besides the traditional Icelandic wool sweater (believe the hype: the wool is seriously warm), the other unique thing to peruse is Icelandic jewelry. Iceland is rich in minerals, and a lot of the jewelry design highlights the primal, raw yet beautiful quality of the materials. There is also a lot of jewelry made of the lava that you see in lots of places in the landscape. Some of it is polished into beads, but I prefers the more rough-hewn pieces, which are set off nicely in rings and earrings.
There's also a lot of really awesome young design as well, which cater to a variety of aesthetics. Icelandic designers have a knack of taking an existing design vocabulary and spinning it in a particular way to make it unpretentious, fun and humble. I loved a lot of the cocoon-y silhouettes I saw on the streets, the combination of knits with super-edgy boots and the quirky accessories.
Anyway, these were my favorite shops:
Naked Ape (Bankastraeti 14) - Walking in this shop is like walking into a happy burst of a very hip candy store - the colors are so bright, happy and fun. They specialize in kind of skate-influenced streetwear at Naked Ape, and the graphics are particularly energetic and creative. (You could totally see M.I.A. hanging out here.) Sara is the main designer, and she gets loads of graphic designers and artists to do prints for her line. It's all very youthful and relaxed; it doesn't take itself too seriously, but looks crazy-good and joyous all the same. The store itself is so much fun to be in, and they have lots of concerts and parties as an artspace as well. You can not only get clothes, but books, comics, CDs and other fun things, and the people are very friendly - totally good spirits. Stop in, you'll love it!
Cific Boutique (Bankastraeti 11) - For the girl who likes to mix and match in her wardrobe! If we had to do an Imaginary Shopping Spree video, I'd definitely nominate this place. No one aesthetic dominates at this boutique (which carries mostly native Icelandic designers): there's vintage-influenced dresses and jackets, pretty preppy accessories of all sorts, colorful bohemian tops and bijouterie, and many other things, all of which are infinitely covetable and youthful. It's all very well-done and the people who work here are so friendly and helpful.
ELM Design (Laugavegur 1) - ELM is a native Icelandic label and has a sort of purity of design and concept that would fit right in Soho in NYC. It's extremely well-cut, of super-high quality in fabric and tailoring and has a sober, even lofty quality in the clean lines and streamlined shapes. This is where you'd go to really invest in a beautiful jacket, many of which seemed to be modeled after classical equestrian designs - naturally, I was in total love. I wanted nearly everything I touched in here, and I'm actually kicking myself a bit because it was quite reasonable for high-end design. What I loved is how the clothes worked on a variety of women, which doesn't surprise, once you read up a bit on the pro-woman slant of the company itself. Very awesome.
Kisan (Laugavegur 7) - This is very much like a shop that you'd stumble into in the West Village - it has that haute bohemian feel to it. If you lived in Reykjavik, this is where you'd go to get your fix of Isabel Marant, Dirk Bikkemberg, Jamin Puech and more. Also, you could kit out the most stylish toddler on earth here - it has an extensive collection of super-fancy clothes for the kiddies, not to mention a very stylish book collection (the Sophie Calle catalog!) I admit it, I coveted SO MUCH when I walked in, mostly because it's all incredibly curated and well-chosen.
Trilogia (Laugavegur 7) - Truthfully I could only peek inside Trilogia - they hadn't opened when I tried to stop in. Lots of Icelandic fashionistas totally big-upped this shop, and it supposedly carries some of the most cutting-edge Euro and American designers like Preen, Rogan, La Petite Salope and Eritokritos. I'll have to take their word for it, though, since they were late in opening. But this bag that you see on the window? On many a fancy lady's arm. I totally fell in love with it.
Rokk Og Rosir (Laugavegur 28) - This is where to go to pick up vintage in Reykjavik. It's awesome - everything is so well-chosen.
I'm not even going to get into a foodie guide to Reykjavik. My general observations were that soups were really great - I didn't have one mediocre soup dish at all in Iceland. Dining can be super-pricey, which is why I stuck mostly to café noshing - it's pretty reasonable at that level.
Cafe Babalu (Skolavordustigur 22a) - This café is super, super, super-cute and cozy, the kind where you want to cuddle up in a corner and read those Icelandic sagas everyone always talks about. It's partly run by a former New Yorker, and they had the BEST cream of broccoli soup I've ever had in my life - really rich and garlicky.
Prikid (Bankastraeti 12) - Supposedly the first coffeehouse in Reykjavik, very traditional in that sense. Had the best hot chocolate I ever had here. I recommend it just for that!
Kaffitar (Bankastraeti 8) - This is a warm, more modern bustling type of coffee shop; it has a "hub" feeling. Great people-watching. Get a seat in the window and you can spend hours staring out and watching the world go by, like I did.
Icelandic people are generally reserved, no-bullshit, sober, straightforward sorts- till the weekend, when they all go out in Reykjavik and get shit-faced like you wouldn't believe. Then they're all, "Come to my aunt's house! She'll make you a great lamb stew! You are my friend!" Downtown Reykjavik really comes alive at night; just watch out for the packs of teenage boys getting all up in one another's faces. (I saw a few bloody noses.) One thing to know: getting a taxi late at night is not easy. Suck it up and wait in the taxi stand line.
Kaffibarinn (Bergstadastraeti 1) - Kaffibarinn is like this nice little café during the day, but at night it turns into Williamsburg. Seriously, all of hipster Reykjavik crams itself into here on the weekend nights - it's like asymmetrical haircut heaven. That may either repulse or entice you, but no matter how you look at it, if you're looking for the place to see and be seen, this is it. Supposedly Damon Albarn of Blur is a co-owner or something, which explains a lot. It's fun, the music is danceable, the people are super-cute and friendly. What more could you ask for in a drunken night of fun?
B5 (Bankastraeti 5) - There's a huge horse lamp in the window. You can't miss it because of that. It's more placid than Kaffibarinn and a bit more "grown-up," kind of like a fancy Scandinavian lounge.
YOU WANT MORE?
Goodness, I haven't even gotten to all the art galleries, museums, record shops and jewelry places. Whatever, man, I have to go do some real work -- if anyone wants to pay the nogoodforme crew to travel the world and hunt out the coolest places around, well, be our guest! Suffice it to say, nogoodforme type of people aren't satisfied just to read about cool things, but go/do/see them as well. So, yeah, go to Reykjavik. You'll have a great time. Just find me an Icelandic dude to marry, okay? Takk fyri...
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