To riches in rags : a fairy-tale from Iceland

The Independent, 19 août 1993

RIGHT NOW fashion is about making sense of mismatches that a few years ago would have looked daft. As old rules of uptight, gilded dressing break down, the combinations that are replacing them take a little getting used to.

Antidotes to past glamour start to look right. Instead of the neat suit, there’s an evening gown and a fluffy jumper for day ; a sweater that has been accidentally shrunk becomes desirable ; hiking boots and flip-flops replace more familiar summer footwear. Meanwhile, charity shops, jumble sales and ethnic shops - which had hitherto been considered the preserve of hippies - have become central to the fashion map. Fashion is now eclectic. And, by the old standards that are being shaken up not just in fashion but in music, so, too, is Bjork.

Iceland’s hippest ever export, Bjork is a diminutive singer who is utterly original. Latterly a member of the Icelandic indie band the Sugarcubes, Bjork (she’s given up using her surname, Gudmundsdottir) looks set to become the next Sade, the next k d lang, the next rich female recording artiste. Her phenomenally successful first album, Debut, is likely to be playing in the background just about everywhere you go this autumn.

Of course, Iceland has never been exactly central to the fashion scene. Yet, almost in spite of herself, Bjork is becoming as much a fashion icon as the elegant smooth operator Sade was when she appeared in the mid-Eighties. But elegance is no longer hip. Instead a rag-bag of pulled-together pieces, old and new or new-but-old- looking, is fashionable.

Bjork’s style - every item looks as though it has been boiled in the bag - reflects the current taste for shrunken sweaters, felted jumpers and oven-ready wools. Except that Bjork has had more practice perfecting this tricky combination of odd-ball elements. In Iceland, summer knits and hiking boots made practical sense long before they were a fashion hit.

It is 8am and Bjork is in a photographer’s studio. That wise-child face (which belongs to a 28-year-old with a seven-year-old of her own) doesn’t wear much make-up, and we don’t provide a hairdresser. Bjork gathers tufts of her hair into little pony-tails, jabs them in place with hair pins, and then, when a few feisty strands refuse to lie flat, asks ’Have you any grrrease ?’ in a voice in which Sean Connery meets Ingrid Bergman. No one has. ’So I’ll use that cream cheese from brrreakfast.’ And she does.

As she wriggles into a tiny matted sweater, found in Oxfam, she is thrilled to discover it cost only pounds 2.99. Although Bjork will support the rock monsters U2 at Wembley on Saturday, she embodies the same individualism in music that this cast-off sweater embodies in fashion. At all levels, there is an increasing taste for one-off clothes.

Next, Bjork is thrilled to learn that the vivid felted blanket skirt wrapped around her middle is by a fledgeling designer just out of college called Rachel Bracken. She is also delighted by the fluffy, tufty, mohair sweater by another newcomer, Toby Russell, especially as its short sleeves are sheared off to reveal her runic tattoo.

But her impish face looks crestfallen when she finds out that the horse-blanket dress in which she looks fit to enter a primary-school sack race is not from Help the Aged but designed by the radical Comme des Garcons. In tune with current indie taste, she is off designers, even the most experimental ones. ’I used to buy Martin Margiela (fashion’s other great radical) when it was cheap. But the prices are ridiculous now,’ she growls. ’It’s not that I can’t pay. I won’t pay.’

My, how fashion shoots with pop stars have changed. In the old days of high-voltage glamour, celebrities turned up late and hated all the clothes, even though there were hundreds of variations, which minions had been up since dawn ironing, for them to choose from. Bjork, however, only refuses to wear a couple of sweaters with ethnic patterns. ’You see,’ she drawls, ’I was brrrought up on a commune, where everyone lived in purrrple rooms, and wore ponchoes and sweaters like these.’

As in the old days of rock star shoots, we put the singer’s own album on. In the way-distant past, that was when you got great pictures, as the celeb went into rock-mode. Today, Bjork’s ice-capped voice is singing along to herself as, utterly absorbed, she pulls and pulls at the loose thread of a deliberately unfinished garment. So here we are, rock ’n’ roll meets fashion mid-Nineties style - no one has to do the ironing, all the clothes fit in one hold-all and the only casualty is an unravelled sweater.

par Marion Hume & Susan Irvine publié dans The Independent