Cult Shop: the scents of Sigur Rós
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Walk down Fischersund, an alleyway in Reykjavik’s old town, and you’ll come across a small black corrugated iron building with an inconspicuous antique key symbol hanging above the door. Formerly the recording studio of Icelandic musician and Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi Birgisson, the place has lately been transformed by him and his three younger sisters, Inga, Lilja and Rosa, into a sensorial perfume shop and exhibition space. The family-run boutique is named Fischersund after its location.
“We have really similar aesthetics and are drawn to the same things,” says Lilja, an artist and photographer who is also the company’s creative ambassador. Inga handles art direction, and Rosa (for whom Jónsi’s band was named) is the resident artisan and production manager. “We dreamt of doing something together and fell in love with our brother’s first perfume.”
After 10 years of studying the world of essential oils and aroma molecules, Jónsi is the brand’s self-taught nose. His experimental approach to scent composition is comparable to his avant-garde musical process, both resulting in peculiar notes and enveloping overtures. His first and bestselling fragrance, No 23, references smoke in the air, tarred telephone poles, mowed grass, a beached whale and tobacco leaves with notes of black pepper and Icelandic Sitka spruce (£126). No 8 riffs on “brand new sneakers, mouth[s] full of lemon candy and fingers sticky with motor oil and stolen rhubarb from a neighbour’s garden, peeled, slathered in honey and chewed on”. “He can create symphonies with scents,” says Lilja.
“I’m still learning new things every day,” says Jónsi. “You’ll make hundreds of bad blends until you are barely happy with something. I call it the bottomless pit of disappointments. But with each new blend you will learn something and slowly become obsessed with this endeavour.” And how do you translate Iceland’s essence in a bottle? “Wind smacking your face. All the oxygen,” he says. “I guess it’s just the brutal outdoors.”
The siblings see the shop less as a retail environment and more as a place in which to pause and take respite. They enlisted interior designer Eleni Podara to conjure a theatrical moss-strewn space inspired by old Icelandic haunted houses. Guests follow a lit pathway past a “perfume organ” (Jónsi’s blending table, built out of the remnants of an old organ) to a room stocked with Fischersund’s scents. The range, which is handmade in Iceland, offers candles, incense sticks and four fragrances including Utilykt, a collaboration with the Icelandic clothing brand 66°North that has notes of freshly cut grass and sea air (£126).
Fischersund also provides skincare formulated by herbalist Polly Ambermoon, combining wild Arctic and traditional Chinese herbs with organic botanical oils. Plastic packaging is verboten, with products encased in black glass bottles, hand-burnished tin and recycled paper. The soundtrack, Sounds of Fischersund, also by Jónsi, is available to buy too. “Both scents and sounds are abstractions. They go straight to the heart,” says Lilja.
The basement level of the building is home to a small museum whose current exhibition reimagines works by Icelandic authors such as Andri Snær Magnason and Jónas Hallgrímsson in scent, using Arctic thyme, seaweed and moss. The store also hosts regular art shows and events.
Fischersund ships globally and is now available at London’s Pantechnicon, but the immersive experience of visiting the shop has turned it into a point of pilgrimage for locals and visitors alike. “I love that this is a family business,” says Jónsi. “Everyone is involved at some point. My father makes incense, my sister makes candles, me perfuming, my mother embroidering the cushions – photographing and designing everything ourselves.”