THE SWEATER SET
HUSBAND-AND-WIFE TEAM ANDY FITTS AND GERDUR KRISTJANSDOTTIR BRING ICELANDIC DESIGNS, THEIR WARM AND WOOLLY LINE, TO AMERICASMART.
Byline: Kelly Buttrick
Icelandic Design, once a tiny purveyor of handknitted sweaters that sold in living rooms and craft shows, has blossomed into a multifaceted knitwear and accessories line.
The Longmont, Colo.-based Icelandic’s most recent coup: being the featured designer at the January AmericasMart runway show.
“Sales were incredible. Every order we got was at least doubled from previously,” said Guy Bailey, who represents Icelandic in his 12th-floor showroom, Those Guys, at AmericasMart. “We opened 30 to 40 new accounts, and our existing Icelandic clients promoted the line to those who have never carried it.” He feels the line has benefited from the overall trend toward casualization.
Doc Porter, Icelandic Design’s vice president of sales/marketing, said the company will launch its first spring line this March at the AmericasMart show.
Co-owners and spouses Andy Fitts and Gerdur Kristjansdottir started the company 19 years ago, selling sweaters hand-knit by Kristjansdottir’s mother and family and friends back in Iceland. Now, knitting operations are in Asia, with distribution to nearly 1,200 U.S. small specialty stores, Nordstrom and national catalogs.
Kristjansdottir, who continues to find inspiration in her Icelandic heritage and values, serves as the creative head of the company, while Fitts, an ex-New Yorker, handles the business side.
Hoping to follow in the footsteps of Missoni, a trendsetter in artisan knits, Fitts wants to evolve Icelandic Design to appeal to a broader range of consumers.
“Our sweaters make a very strong statement about the integrity and individuality of the women who wear them, and that is very appealing to today’s executive women,” said Fitts.
Icelandic comprises 12 different lines including three new spring collections, “Linen Cotton and “Ramie Cotton,” fine-gauge cotton sweaters with floral embroidery for year-round wear. They come in black, moss green and tomato red. Another, “Chenille,” comprises pullovers and cardigans with floral motifs, sport ribbed cotton chenille collars and sleeves.
The company will soon offer a men’s sweater line, as well as a special holiday catalog featuring coordinated children’s sweaters and accessories from the Nepalese-made Newari knitwear line.
Bright colors and traditional designs predominate in Icelandic’s fall-winter collections. Hot pink, turquoise and purple add a retro feeling and a younger look. The tapestry collection draws inspiration from Asia, featuring red, pink and purple additions to its paisley and floral patterns. Aran cable knits and wool Angora sweaters come in softer brights like celadon, periwinkle and coral. A chunky ramie cotton group of Aran cable knits also come in chocolate and tomato. A grouping made from boiled wool group added colorways of sky blue, powder turquoise, spicy tomato red and fuchsia. For the popular landscape collection, the western-themed scenes — think mountain ranges and galloping horses — are simpler and airier.
“Consumers are looking for a more lively spirit in these sweaters instead of an overall picture story,” said Kristjansdottir. “This is where we’ve made our biggest changes for next season. We’ve added more western motifs as our sweaters gain popularity in western-wear stores.”
The Whimsy collection highlights spirited designs and colors in hemp, mercerized cotton and linen cotton. The hemp sweaters have raised stitches and patterns in solid colors like khaki, denim blue and tomato red.
Coordinating pieces in complementary colors supplement all of Icelandic’s collections. Four silk cashmere styles come in 11 colors, and ribbed-cotton turtlenecks are available in 10 colors with two new styles. Sleeveless and long-sleeved silk spandex coordinates come in eight jewel tones.
“The cashmere/silk blends in mock turtlenecks, turtlenecks and other layering pieces will do well because they [both] complement sweaters and can stand alone, ” Those Guys’ Bailey said.
The Newari collection will add throw pillows, more hats, gauntlet gloves, Christmas stockings, purses and ornaments to its usual assortment of sweaters and accessories. Non-wool offerings are grouped into one unit.
Most of Icelandic’s wool sweaters retail from $175 to $210. The Newari collection sells in the $145 to $155 range. Non-wool sweaters retail in the $60-$70 range, with coordinates retailing from $17.50 to $40.
At first, Bailey hesitated to represent the line in a warm-weather territory.
“When I first got the line, in fall 1999, I thought I’d made a big mistake. Customers told me they couldn’t sell wool sweaters,” said Bailey. “I called some accounts, who said many of the sweaters were lined, making them outerwear. Immediately, that was a selling point.” (Traditionally, in the Southeast, lined sweaters are considered to be popular forms of outerwear.)
In the first year, Those Guys led the company in opening new accounts for a line they almost gave up on, and doubled the average order.
“There’s something about an Icelandic sweater,” said Bailey. “You can spot it even if you’ve never seen the style before — there’s just something completely unique about it.”