With their organic line of hand-knitted wool jumpers, knitwear, designers Gudrun & Gudrun are currently writing a modern Faroese folk tale for an ever-growing flock of fashion followers. And from their home in the windswept Faroe Islands, the duo embrace the call of the wild – on horseback across the green moorlands.
Photography JETTE JØRS Text SUSANNE MADSEN / The Horse Rider’s Journal No.6
It’s difficult not to fall in thrall to the wild and enchanting beauty of the Faroe Islands. With their sweeping views of glittering fjords and dramatic cliffs that drop vertically into the gusty North Atlantic Ocean, the islands offer up nature in its most powerful and undiluted form , not to mention a horse-lover’s paradise of wide open moorlands. And for Faroese knitwear designers Gudrun Ludvig and Gudrun Rógvadóttir, the stark and spectacular landscapes aren’t just an intrinsic part of island life or an invitation to endless canters, but a continuous source of inspiration. Since launching their eponymous label Gudrun & Gudrun in 2007, the duo has been fuelled by the beauty of their home country, devoting their time to the craftsmanship of artful hand knitting with fuzzy and cool pieces. “Hand-knitting is the antidote to machine-produced clothing, where all five thousand pieces come out looking exactly the same,” the designers begin. “Hand-knits are organic. They have their own life. As a designer, you can begin a knitwear piece with an idea, but the material will often surprise and seduce you, and you’ll end up with something quite different than what you first imagined.”
Made with organic yarn spun off the backs of the windswept Faroese sheep that inhabit the emerald pastures, Gudrun & Gudrun’s chunky wool jumpers fuse nostalgic and traditional Faroese patterns with a contemporary and pared down edge. To fans of the Danish hit TV show The Killing, Ludvig and Rógvadóttir’s knitting talents hardly need any introduction: For three seasons running, the main character Sarah Lund has been inseparable from her equally illustrious co-star, a Gudrun & Gudrun snowflake jumper – white in the first season, red in the next, and blue in the current third season. This year, the bestselling jumper has had some competition from Gudrun & Gudrun’s autumn/winter 2012 Landscapes sweater, which currently has a sizeable waiting list. Knitted in contrasting yarns and textures, it juxtaposes delicate pastels with gloomy greys and dramatic browns as an abstract portrait of the Faroe winter skies and scenery – a gorgeous reminder of the often harsh but beautiful island climate. But cold and blustery days are nothing to the Faroese people – Ludvig and Rógvadóttir included. When the designers aren’t knitting, they’re usually outdoors, with the wind blowing through their blonde heads of hair.
“I love to walk across the hills with my father. He knows all the stories from the mountainsides close to his home village, and he guides me along the steep mountain paths,” explains Gudrun Ludvig. Although Ludvig prefers to explore the islands on foot, she has recently been introduced to the world of horses by Gudrun Rógvadóttir – a keen rider who inherited her passion for riding from her mother, who grew up on a Faroese farm in an isolated valley without a connecting road. This meant that all journeys to the nearest town of Tórshavn would either be five hours on foot or two hours in the saddle. As a result, the entire family has turned into a clan of horse-mad people. “Horses symbolise unity, tranquillity and a healthy life, and beyond all, they symbolise freedom,” says Rógvadóttir, adding: “We’ve always had horses in my family. And luckily, I’ve managed to pass on my love of horses to my daughter. We go riding together all the time. A long ride at a brisk trot across the Faroese mountainsides is the ultimate tonic for the restless soul that lives inside me. Preferably, we’ll hack all day, bringing saddle bags filled with Faroese food, which we’ll eat lying in the grass while the horses are grazing,” she muses.
Icelandic horses – a popular breed with Faroese riders – are the Rógvadóttir family horse of choice, but the Faroe Islands are also home to another unique steed: the Faroese horse. Measuring between 114 and 124 cm and technically a pony, the hardy breed has been on the islands for hundreds of years, but their popularity as pit ponies for the English mining industry meant that their numbers had dwindled drastically by the 1960s. “We now have a couple of enthusiasts who are working hard to promote the Faroese breed and getting the population numbers back up. The Faroese horse is smaller than the Icelandic horse and even more resilient and strong I’ve heard – people compare it to the Mongolian horse,” explains Rógvadóttir. Just like the unhurried nature of Gudrun & Gudrun’s ‘slow fashion’ hand knitting, equestrian life on the Faroe Islands revolves around taking it easy. “The Faroese horse culture isn’t very sophisticated, and polite manners or having the right gear aren’t paramount. Rather, the approach is much more cowboy-like. It’s all about experiencing nature, laughing with one another and sharing stories. It’s about celebrating life,” comments Rógvadóttir.
Over the recent years, Gudrun & Gudrun have been a driving force in fashion’s knitwear renaissance, which has elevated the humble and cosy jumper to a runway statement piece, aptly nicknamed the ‘trophy jumper’ code for the ultimate piece of knitwear. The designers have also launched a project that employs women from Jordan and Peru to work their knitting needle skills. So what has brought on this knitwear mania? Aside from the current longing for all things authentic and handmade, the designers point to the character and timeless charm of a knitted jumper. “A jumper is very visible. It has personality. Hand knits are intelligent pieces of clothing and only get more gorgeous with age as they change character, evolve and grow old with their owner,” the designers comment. Sometimes, the duo’s penchant for slow fashion far removed from the maddening crowd of Paris and Milan puts them at odds with the rest of the fashion industry. “Every time we attend a fashion trade show, we go through the same rollercoaster ride of feeling like we’re from a different planet. Arriving in the real fashion world, we always get a slightly wobbly feeling of being different,” Ludvig explains.
“There’s always a short moment of panic – is everyone else’s way of doing things right, and is our way wrong? Ours is certainly different. But once the collection is hanging on the rails, we’re no longer unsure. What we’re doing is the right thing – it’s us and it works,” Rógvadóttir notes. Just don’t ask them which jumper is their favourite: “It can change from one hour to the next!” Gudrun Ludvig says. Currently, she’s pledging her alliance to the yellow bird jumper. “It’s very Nordic – not too girly, not too ladylike, and suitable boyish.” As for Guðrun Rógvadóttir, she’s dreaming of owning the Landscapes jumper. “But the waiting list is long,” she says, adding with a smile: “And I suspect I keep getting bumped to the back of the queue.” •