«When we made a dress for Björk»

 Federico Protto is a fashion designer and artist traveling and working in Europe, among others, Budapest and Vienna. In 2016 he was working in Iceland for Hildur Yeoman when the opportunity to do a fashion collaboration with Björk came across. Federico met Björk in person and worked with her. In this article we are reporting what he recalls for us:

«From Mid-June until Mid-September 2016 I was working as a studio-assistance for the Icelandic fashion designer Hildur Yeoman in Reykjavik. It was a wonderful summer in Iceland. Back then it was my third time spending in Iceland, first I went on holiday in 2013 and in 2015 I lived half a year there doing a study exchange at the Academy of the Arts, Iceland. That is also when I – by coincidence – met Hildur for the first time: I accompanied a fellow student and friend of mine who was then helping out preparing Hildur’s show to Hildur's studio and I happened to exactly know how to solve a pattern problem they were facing almost the moment I entered the studio. Hildur was happy and the dress turned out nice.

After one year I went to intern in London, I worked for Marques’Almeida until June 2016. Before ending my period there, I had an internship interview at Vivienne Westwood. But that day I was really moody, the night before I had an argument with my London Lover so I felt more like ‘fuck the world’. After the interview, I was convinced it was a flop so before I got a reply, I thought ‘Well, what’s next?’ and suddenly Hildur crossed my mind, also I really wanted to return to Iceland to my friends and nature. Luck was on my side because Hildur actually needed support and offered me a studio assisting paid part-time job. Which was amazing after being broke-ass and ‘cosmopolitanly’ exhausted from London!
A few days after I made a deal with Hildur I got – to my surprise tbh - positive reply from Westwood but for me, it was clear that in my current financial situation Iceland was definitely priority. I refused kindly (and hope that someday I could still work with Westwood - she’s my fashion hero!)

Time-lapse. Work for Hildur was fun and in my last week I had several days off and a friend from Germany visiting. We went on a Westfjords hitchhike trip, beginning of September. The Westfjords of Iceland are an absolutely mind-blowing place, so much untouched nature, and we were really lucky with our pick-ups. It is very far from Reykjavik and depending on where exactly you are the connection can be super distorted. One day I receive a call from an excited Hildur and all I could hear was “COME –krkrkrkkrkr-- DRESS --krkrkrkkr-- CONCERT –krkrkkr-- LONDON –krkrkkrkrk-- B J Ö R K –krkrkrkrk-- NEED YOU!” haha! My friend told me I was so pale and nervous, imagine!
Björk had seen a dance piece where Hildur had designed the costume for and she really liked that dress and so requested Hildur to make a small range of dress-options for her London Royal Albert Hall concert. The Light-Dress made the final stage then.

Hildur knew that back then I was such a huge fan of Björk’s work. Since I discovered Medúlla as a teenager in the suburban German public library I had been fascinated with Iceland a lot. I believed that if a place as wonderful and naturally spirited as Iceland could inspire and influence a human begin to do that kind of art as Björk did, it was my mission to go there and be able to ‘breath that inspiration’. During my first study year at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna under the professorship of Bernhard Willhelm (he did the Volta album artwork sculpture and also the Volta Tour costumes, which I loved a lot so going to study at his was an organic consequence to me – funnily enough, my second professor at that University with whom I graduated was British-Cypriot fashion designer Hussein Chalayan, who did the clothes as seen on the Post album cover of Björk) I met an Icelandic exchange Student, my good friend Björg, and her best friend Helga. They came to a New Year’s Party I was throwing and I remember my first impression of Icelandic people was that they have always a lot of clothes layers (which back then was really true) and also that they are really good drinkers & party people! Haha, from their layers more and more bottles of Icelandic liquor like OPAL would pop out and I was very star-eyed. Naturally, they became some of my best friends and I visit them in Iceland every second year!

Hildur knew my admiration for Björk’s work but also that I followed and kind of ‘studied’ Björk’s style over the years, so she thought of me as a good helper in this commissioned work. I was really shooketh. When you live in Reykjavik it is not very uncommon to meet well-known artists and musicians on the streets or in bars, or even at your home’s BBQ party.
So, bumping into Björk, for example, had happened already twice to me, just randomly on the streets of 101 downtown, it is, after all, a small, cozy city. But knowing to be directly involved professionally with your teenage idol was on a totally another level.

My first fashion hyper-reality Björk moment was when we got some of her dresses into the studio to take measurements, I particularly remember the neon-yellow (or lime green how some fans like to call it lol) Stonemilker dress and I was holding it so carefully thinking to myself ‘Holy Shit!’. What I forgot to mention is that for this particular work I had decided to stay longer than planned in Reykjavik so I had to cancel flights, get a last-minute flat, it was quite a hassle, but it was totally worth the experience.

On one day Hildur came in excited and she was all like ‘We gotta go to a fitting any moment now!’. In my mind, I was like ‘and the beautifullest fireworks are burning in the sky just for yooouuuhuuu!’ but I am a professional so I was (trying to) keeping calm. Since my friend and long-time collaborator Anna-Sofie Lugmeier, who was also in Iceland then, took a cute image of me that day, I remember very well what I was wearing (a black cotton Chinese working shirt, with a green shiny badge I made myself, dark blue wide-cut corduroy pants and my classic insta pump furies). Fashion is to me similar to what electronic tools are to Björk when she says in the South Bank Show from 1997 ‘People pointing their fingers at machines and saying there’s no soul there!’ is because the people don’t put soul into the machine and that's not the tools fault. Fashion works similarly to me, if you understand accept and appreciate every particular object’s magic you will find the soul and precious ritualistic virtue of dress and fashion.

fitting with Björk was in my professional chronology so far one of the nicest experiences ever. When you are about to meet someone who’s work is so relevant on a universal but also personal level to yourself (as a teenager I would go work at Lush cosmetics to get enough coin to collect B’s official CD’s from ebay and discogs, etc) I think it’s only natural to be nervous. I had a sudden scare that she might be a bitchy celeb, you know, like totally living it up. I think that in particular crossed my mind because I originally come from a lower financial class migrant family and sometimes, I feel very distant from people who might have enjoyed a wealthier upbringing. I wondered if she would be the person one imagines from the music, the art, the interviews, message, and visuals, I always imagined her a pleasant, genuine and kind person. And she was.

The atmosphere was so polite, welcoming, professional and creative. We spent 2 hours all together doing the fitting, having lunch and cake with gooseberries from Björk’s garden.  I was – to be frank – very silent, but that is also one of my professional traits, I was the designer's assistant so I wasn’t to be fooling around much. I was feeling stiff like statue anyways, haha.

James would bring some of Björk’s garments along and there was really great stuff, I especially remember a soft leather suit in a pale rose color and a white feather top by threeASFOUR. It was wonderful, we were styling some of Hildur’s pieces with some of Björk’s private clothes, we would chat about this and that, among other things RuPaul's Drag Race.

Björk was super polite, kind and gentle, she was also shy and, it was the time while she was working on Utopia. I remember she said something about that she knew already about the next album’s color concept, and while she was saying that she had such sparks in her eyes, it was wonderful! I honestly am super grateful to Hildur and Björk and the whole team
around her for letting me be part of this experience.

You know how the story goes on, Björk gave her breathtaking first string only Vulnicura Show in the Royal Albert Hall, I was there in the crowd and when I’ve seen her coming onstage in the glow-in-the-dark dress I almost fainted, haha ♥️! I went with my close friend, the London-based artist Dan Gombos and we were both fanboying so badly, haha. You maybe know those crazy videos of the audience going absolutely rampage after she leaves the stage after performing an absolutely shocking string arrangement of Pluto for the first time ever. When I watch videos of that gig on YouTube I get goosebumps all over! And knowing that I was part of the process for this means so much to me.

After a few years and processing that experience I can conclude that I learned some important lessons. It made me feel more connected to a greater ‘humanity’: I understood first-handed that famous artists are humans as well and we are all the same, no matter what. It helped me in a way to stop idolizing things and people and look at the world and its inhabitants on a much more horizontal level and thus be more fearless, especially of taking chances in life and stepping out.

Also, this experience showed me the value of ‘Now’, to realize the world around me more sensitively, what does it need, what are the possibilities? It made clear to me also that it is vitally important to look out for collaborations with artists who are maybe not world-famous yet, let’s say the ‘Next Gen’ and not be stuck into romantic ideas and giants of the past, just like how Björk, for example, works with relatively young fashion designers and artists.

As Björk Fans we all know that all is full of love. Maybe not from the directions you are staring at, but trust your head around, it’s all around you!

April 15, 2020