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Bjork cornucopia show balmain haute couture

In Björk’s vision of utopia, we’ll all be dressed in Balmain couture

Stylist Edda Gudmundsdottir on the amorphous, biologically-informed aesthetic of Cornucopia, and why Olivier Rousteing was the right designer to bring it to life through fashion

If you’ve ever witnessed Björk perform live, you’ll know that watching her on stage is something akin to a spiritual experience. From the moment she sets foot on the stage to the point at which she takes her final bow, the Icelandic visionary draws the crowd, hushed into reverence, into the fantastical world she has created for herself, taking them on a journey through the depths of her endlessly swirling imagination. 

Her latest show, Cornucopia, is, unsurprisingly, no exception. Kicking off in New York earlier this year, this week, Björk landed in London with her visceral depiction of what utopia might look like. Taking over the O2 Arena, home of countless homogenised high street chain bars and very little in the way of atmosphere, the stage was transformed into a lush landscape dripping with glittering LED vines and pulsating with digitally rendered flora and fauna which exploded into life behind her (all before Greta Thunberg appeared to deliver an impassioned plea for the future of our planet). 

With a long history of joining forces with diverse creatives from all four corners of the globe – from Timbaland, Haxan Cloak, and Arca when it comes to music, to the likes of Alexander McQueen, Iris Van Herpen, and Micol Ragni on her wildly conceptual clothing – Cornucopia sees the musician work closely with longtime friend and collaborator, stylist Edda Gudmundsdottir, on the avant-garde looks she wears throughout, this time created by Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing and James Merry

Taken from the first-ever Balmain couture collection, which made its debut in January, the costumes amorphous shapes and shimmering, flesh-like folds serve to further enhance Björk’s unique vision of utopia, allowing her to both blend into its biological landscape, and stand apart from it, singled out and spotlit, as she leads the audience deeper into it. 

With each look meticulously planned and custom made in the storied Maison’s Parisian atelier, various parts of the body are enhanced and exaggerated, as if its wearers – which, in this instance, include Björk and the extensive orchestra and choir which accompanies her on stage – have evolved and adapted to their new environment. “Each piece was so interesting to make, but my favourites are the round, sculptural, pearl-like ones,” explains Rousteing the day before the show takes place. “Creating these looks was a huge challenge for us given their architecture and proportion, and of course, we needed to make sure she could move freely. But it’s Björk – I’ve loved her since I was a teenager, we were always going to work it out.” 

Here, Gudmundsdottir discusses bringing Cornucopia to life, her creative process, and why Olivier Rousteing was the designer she entrusted with dressing Björk for her most boundary-pushing show ever. 

How did you first get into fashion, and when did you become aware of the power clothing holds? 

Edda Gudmundsdottir: I was born and raised in Reykjavik, Iceland, and danced ballet from a very young age. Eventually, I moved abroad to study and worked as a dancer, but simultaneously I was very interested in fashion. I ended up moving to New York where I met a now-ex-boyfriend who was a fashion designer, and little by little I started to get more involved in his company, until I found myself working on collections and shows with him, and later styling shoots for magazines. Somehow, it enticed me away from dancing, but in the last few years I feel like I’ve come full circle, by designing clothes for dance companies and shows like Cornucopia, which is of course very physical. One thing that has seen me through my entire life is my love of telling stories through clothes.  

How did you first come to work with Björk? 

Edda Gudmundsdottir: Actually, we grew up together in Iceland – we went to the same school and had a lot of mutual friends while growing up. At that time there wasn’t much for teenagers growing up in Reykjavik to do, so on weekends we would go downtown and just walk round in circles while drinking homemade alcohol mixtures with fruits that had been marinated in it for days. We’d spend hours hanging out with friends and partying, and talking about punk music and clothes.  

“Björk and I grew up together in Reykjavik and had a lot of mutual friends. There wasn’t much for teenagers to do there, so we’d spend hours hanging out with friends and partying, and talking about punk music and clothes” – Edda Gudmundsdottir

What was it about Olivier Rousteing’s Balmain collection that made you realise it was perfect for Cornucopia?  

Edda Gudmundsdottir: When I saw Olivier’s Haute Couture show I thought the shapes and colours would be a great match for Cornucopia. Then, later on, I found out he’d actually invited Björk to the show and that parts of it were actually inspired by her – it’s funny how the universe sometimes creates these little vignettes, and in fact there is this word in Icelandic, Alaeta, which I’m not sure has an English translation. Basically, it means that you eat everything, and I feel like that about fashion. I look everywhere. Björk has been a huge figure in opening my eyes to looking at up and coming designers way before that was popular to do, and we both love mixing the unexpected into the picture. Balmain and Björk is one such unexpected collaboration but it works perfectly. Keeping your eyes and mind open is key for me.

How did it feel to see Björk finally bring the costumes to life on stage?  

Edda Gudmundsdottir: Seeing her and the band performing on stage in the costumes still brings happy tears to my eyes. I am by nature incredibly competitive and something of a perfectionist, and most of the time I’ll find something that I think could have been better. Cornucopia, however, gives me satisfaction. Don't get me wrong: it’s still a work in progress and will keep on evolving, but I am proud of where it is right now. 

What’s the best thing about working with Björk?

Edda Gudmundsdottir: Her passion, work ethic, and humanity. She keeps pushing me and opening my eyes to new ideas and allowing us all to play with her.  

What’s next for you and the evolution of the show?  

Edda Gudmundsdottir: Cornucopia is just beginning, we have at least another year to go. It’s an ongoing conversation which will keep on evolving for some time.