Shy by nature but not shy by design, here’s something you might not know about the Finns: their renowned design heritage is in sync with that of Asia. Even though, geographically speaking, the two locations are not all that close together.
SSSU Presentation (photo by Guillaume Roujas)
“Curiously, it’s true,” ponders Tuomas Merikoski, the creative director behind one of the country’s best-known and most successful exports, Aalto International. Back in Helsinki to show a capsule collection as part of the city’s emerging fashion week – at the centre of which is the justifiably hyped Aalto University graduate show. “I think it’s connected to our culture, the relationship between culture and community, a sense of respect – for nature and education. So, I guess in some weird way that has created similar aesthetics,” he muses.
Fun-filled fact aside, it’s that Finnish aesthetic that’s moving into the spotlight right now as Helsinki seeks to further put its stamp on the fashion map.
“There are a lot of up-and-coming designers and it’s growing all the time; it feels like there’s some sort of boundary being pushed away,” pinpoints Aalto student Antti Peltoniemi. “There are so many great people but somehow it hasn’t quite reached the highest point yet. Maybe it’s that the fashion business isn’t so present here in Finland.”
It might not entirely be there yet, but it’s coming. Tuomas Laitinen, the man behind the marvels of Aalto University, is surely seeing to that. “He wants us to work in the field first and know what we’re getting into,” continues Peltoniemi, who has interned at Craig Green in London.
“It sort of started as a mistake as when I returned from Paris and I started teaching, I saw the kids using all these horrible fabrics, the sort you find in fabric stores, disgusting! And we have all of these facilities and they weren’t really being used for fashion,” recalls Laitinen, who had previously run his own brand. “I was like ‘Bloody hell, if you can’t buy something cool or don’t have the money, just make it’.”
It was this kind of cut-to-the-chase approach that has seen the university rise up the fashion school ranks – listed as third and fifth for its BA and MA courses on industry publication Business of Fashion. And it’s also been churning out a recent crop of Hyeres Fashion Festival winners – because Laitinen pushes the students to enter competitions and get themselves out there as part of the international scene.
“We don’t have the same network here as students in Paris and it’s a bit underdeveloped,” explains fashion designer Laura Juslin and architect Lilli Maunula, the duo behind Juslin Maunula, Aalto grads showing as part of the Pre Helsinki platform. Ed’s note: Pre Helsinki and New Helsinki started as the former - following 2012 being the international design year in Helsinki - and as the needs of designers, from emerging to established changed, they became separate platforms, but all working to the same goal and showing as part of a dedicated week of fashion.
“Obviously we need to stay on top of what’s going on, but we’re still on the periphery but maybe when it comes to the design, because we’re such a remote country and we just keep our heads down, it works,” says Maunula. Because Finland, with its light-til-late climate has plenty of inspiration to offer.
“I really like those taboos and contrasts, and those crazy places we have,” says Merikoski. “It’s good to be isolated: if you can have it too easily, you become a passive spectator and to be someone great and do something new, you can’t be passive. You have to recreate it yourself and create it in the means you have: the means are never limits.” Wise words indeed. And why a new generation of talent is redefining what “Finnish fashion” means and looks like.
“I think they have their own way of thinking, their own world where they live and it’s not so much related to those frameworks,” says Noora Niinikoski, former head designer at Marimekko and now of design at fellow Finland heritage brand Nanso. Because the country by its nature is a country of design – though its interiors and furniture that are more commonly its calling card. No longer.
Graduate Collection by Maria Korkeila (photo by Guillaume Roujas)
Among its new names to note are Julia Mannisto, Juslin Maunula, Terhi Polkki and SSSU by Sasu Kauppi, who formerly worked with Kanye West in LA on his Yeezy brand. These names are currently peppering the schedule. Right behind them are 28 students whose collections took a turn down the catwalk for the Aalto University show. Laitinen had said it had been hard to pick from the 43 collections, and from those 28 it proved suitably hard to whittle that down to just a handful of standout names, a vivid and eclectic and very well executed range of collections to see. Among our favourites was Ida-Sofia Tuomisto, Lucille Pialot and Linda Kokkonen. And next year, there will be more to come – this week offashion anchored by the graduate show and consequently a once yearly platform as opposed to the two we’re so used to seeing traditionally from other fashion capitals.
“A couple of years ago, it used to be about them setting up their little brands and staying here, but luckily that’s not the case anymore and most of them go to Paris or New York or London. I think in five or six years, those who are senior designers in Paris now, they’ll be back,” predicts Laitinen. And that’s when the seeds that have been sown now will seriously start to flourish.