Fashion and design
Just as the islands have always been an isolated fishing and farming community in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, so has Faroese design always been based upon the functional, practical everyday.
Wool has been the main material, taken from over 75.000 sheep that freely graze on the mountains. Its insulating and water-repellent characteristics have been vital qualities in the clothes worn by these outdoor working and seafaring people.
There were various different techniques used in the spinning, weaving and knitting processes, depending on the type of garment being made. Wool taken from the belly of sheep that had been grazing high up on the mountains was hand spun and made into underwear that would keep the Faroese men warm whilst fishing in the icy weather of Iceland and east Greenland. Woollen socks containing lanolin kept the shepherds warm and dry on long rainy days in the mountains and the prickly wool from the backs of the sheep would gently massage frozen limbs, stimulating the circulation after long days at sea in rowing boats.
The ‘King’s farms’ with large numbers of sheep, exported many of the beautifully patterned Faroese sweaters to Denmark. Transportation was via ‘The Icelandic Company’, which has misleadingly given the sweaters the name ‘Icelandic’. The pretty patterns, with names such as Wave, Seven star and Sheep path, were not only for decoration but actually made the sweaters more durable and better able to insulate. They were so popular, that an agreement was made in the 1900’s that all soldiers in the Danish army should have a Faroese sweater as part of their uniform.
Inspiration for the traditional Faroese designs has always come from daily life and the magnificent Faroese nature and this is still the case today. Even though the Faroe Islands, like most other modern societies, has been influenced by the opportunities of globalisation, the competent and internationally successful Faroese designers are very conscious of their roots. They travel to Denmark, England, Italy and Japan for educational purposes and inspiration. They experiment with traditional patterns and materials whilst developing a style not always immediately associated with the place they come from.
However, if you look closely, you can see the dark winter nights, the dizzy hike along a mountain path, the tiny arctic flower and the curiosity about what hides over the next stonewall. All this and more, interpreted into a wonderfully useful garment to take with you and enjoy, just as they do in the fashionable high-street shops of New York, Paris and Tokyo. Places where people have also discovered the unique Faroese style and where they tell each other stories about the tiny country in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where famous designers make genuine hand-knitted sweaters, avant-garde dresses and colourful jumpers, all with a little flavour of the Faroes.