Review: A focus on fashion from Finland … the next big thing?

I suspect that few fashion people have ever considered Finland as a source of more than nice interior decor prints from Marimekko. Perhaps a few people interested in architecture and industrial design may have heard of Alvar Aalto. Finland, despite it being home to some of the founding designers of what’s now described as ‘Scandi’ style – white, minimalism, blonde wood, hand-crafted ceramics, pops of primary colours – is generally lost in the recitation of other Scandinavian countries when it comes to descriptions of style and design capitals of the world.

helsinki now finland fashion runway show singapore MENSWEAR DETAILS
Detail of the embroidery by Sini-Pilvi Kiilunen. Image: Niki Bruce, #shotoniphonex

This lack of awareness is rather unfortunate. Helsinki, the capital of Finland, is home to a number of excellent designers from fabric and fashion to interiors and architecture. It is also home to a rather good design school based at Aalto University, the country’s premier education institution.

In November 2017, at an elegantly intimate event in the new Andaz Hotel, a select group of Singapore’s fashion literati were finally introduced to some of the talent that’s currently coming out of the land of forests and lakes.

Finland’s Fashion Frontier was the first time Finnish designers were showcased in Singapore. Organised by Helsinki New (a really innovative company that promotes Finnish design and fashion), Helsinki Marketing (owned by the Finnish government) and in collaboration with Aalto University, five young designers’ capsule collections were shown on a runway.

All in all it was an interesting snapshot of a country’s design aesthetic, and quite an eye-opener for many a jaded fashionista’s palate.

Full disclosure … I have to explain that I once spent an enormously fun, cold, fascinating year in a small town in Finland – with lots of trips to Helsinki, of course. A town that was described by visiting Finnish makeup artist Miika Kemppainen as ‘hard core’. So I have a bit of a soft spot for the land of forests and lakes. 🙂


helsinki now finland fashion runway show singapore BACKSTAGE
Backstage at Finland’s Fashion Frontier show. Image: Franz Navarrete

Overall, I have to say that I was mostly impressed by the quality, and design sensibility of the five young Finnish designers – Rolf Ekroth, Anna Isoniemi, Sini-Pilvi Kiilunen, Janette Friis and Ida-Sofia Tuomisto. The menswear from Rolf Ekroth and Sini-Pilvi Kiilunen was particularly strong, and the disco-ball party outfits from Anna Isoniemi stood out as being very on-trend.

ROLF EKROTH, menswear

Rolf Ekroth creates the Finnish version of oversized on-trend streetwear. He will be one of eight invited Finnish designers at Pitti Uomo in January, and has already collaborated with Paris’ Galeries Lafayette on a Spring Summer 2017 capsule collection. His grasp of the current trend of ‘futuristic sportswear’ is obviously the reason behind his rise to popularity, since it’s so ‘hot right now’.

helsinki now finland fashion runway show singapore MENSWEAR GOLD
A look from Rolf Ekroth backstage. Image: Franz Navarrete

What makes Ekroth stand out from the general pack doing similar things is his use of materials. This is, in fact, the true strength of these young Finnish designers. Ekroth uses a material similar to foil warming blankets to create voluminous garments that are as light as air, but totally insulating (rather hot in Singapore according to the model); he also used a quilted waxed paper-like fabric, again lightweight but super insulated.

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Up-and-coming Singapore model Gabe Yap wearing a look from Rolf Ekroth. Image: Franz Navarrete

His colour choices and layering of prints is also solid and interesting; a jacquard camo print particularly stood out.

helsinki now finland fashion runway show singapore MENSWEAR BACK JACKET
A look from Rolf Ekroth. Image: Franz Navarrete

However, some of the pieces were just a touch too close to what’s happening in Seoul and around the world; the ‘coat as backpack’ and the connected jackets and coats zipped into each other, are reminiscent of Yohji Yamamoto’s latest collection and of course, Rei Kawakubo’s designs for Comme des Garçons. ‘Homage’ as they say is not entirely a bad thing, but with more exposure and growth the influences will become less obvious. Rolf Ekroth has a strong future; one to watch.

ANNA ISONIEMI, womenswear

If you believe you can never have too many sequins, Anna Isoniemi is the designer for you. The collection on the runway was inspired by racing cars and 1960s futurism – the second influence was clearly obvious in the graphic checked pants and polo-neck top, the linear stripes and the use of primary colours. The racing car influences were more hidden as textiles that imitated brand names and the simplistic use of numbers.

helsinki now finland fashion runway show singapore SEQUINS
Looks from Anna Isoniemi. Image: Franz Navarrete

The stubborn choice to use sequins en masse was a fortuitous decision; the ‘shine’ became a texture, adding a robotic fluidity to garments that really were very basic in cut and concept. Without the sequins, the collection would have been quite humdrum, with no quirks of cut or silhouette to make the clothes any more than current high-street items of pleated skirts, polos, wide-legged pants and oversized boxy jackets.

Anna Isoniemi is also a textile designer, which is why the colour choices were well thought through, but unfortunately we didn’t get to see her best work in this area, the sunset ombre sequin patterns that are also in her collection are lovely. It would be interesting to know what her clothes would sell for; too expensive and price herself out of the market for shiny party clothes.

SINI-PILVI KIILUNEN, menswear (or womenswear)

The feminisation of menswear is also a current fashion trend – JW Anderson, Blindness – and was covered by the work of Sini-Pilvi Kiilunen at the Finland’s Fashion Frontier show. His sumptuous velvets and indulgent embellishments of floral embroideries and ruffles layered over boxy military style coats could easily be worn by men or women. The fact that the fabrics and embroideries were also recycled added to the very ‘now’ feel of Kiilunen’s collection.

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Detail look at piece from Sini-Pilvi Kiilunen. Image: Franz Navarrete

While the concept could have become overwhelmingly sweet, the addition of fabric worked with hundreds of metal rings on pants and jackets, kept the sugar way with a dash of punk. Rich deep colours of vermillion, navy and aqua also helped add a more masculine aspect. Again, it was the use of colour and texture that made this collection less ordinary; the cuts of pants, shirts, jackets and coats were more classic than fashion-forward, though the proportions were interesting.

helsinki now finland fashion runway show singapore DETAIL SHOT SINI-PILAVI
Detail look at metal ring fabrications from Sini-Pilvi Kiilunen. Image: Niki Bruce, #shotoniphonex

Kiilunen was inspired by 19th century oil portraits of young boys, a fitting reflection on the current pop culture movement towards less gender definition in the world of fashion. Depending on how expensive these piece would be, the designer is sure to find a following. Very K-Pop; you could easily see a boy group music video coming down the runway.

JANETTE FRIIS, womenswear

Unfortunately I couldn’t really remember Janette Friis’ work until I got to the knitwear. Which, not surprisingly, is apparently her specialty. The languid, chiffon pieces in her collection were not particularly strong, too reminiscent of other designers and too obviously taken from her 1930s and 1940s inspiration. They all looked like boudoir pieces from old movies.

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Dress by Janette Friis. Image: Franz Navarrete

The knitwear, on the other hand, stood out. The cozy, slightly oversized iterations of pussy-bow blouses and pencil skirts looked fresher. Although to make the concept stronger, Friis would have done well to exaggerate the proportions even more than she did.

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Singapore supermodel Jean wearing Janette Friis. Image: Franz Navarrete

At this stage her work still seems to lack a strong point of difference, the more interesting items are a bit too ‘fashion’ for easy retail, and not quite ‘fashion’ enough for the high-end style market. There’s lots of potential here but it needs refining.


Ida-Sofia Tuomisto’s collection is apparently focused on the materials, the ‘breaking down and reconstructing [of] garments to create a final result that is both new and fresh’. Unfortunately the finished result did not seem all that new or refreshing. The mix of hard and soft textures is not new, the painting of fabrics is not new, the cuts were entirely too reminiscent of recent collections from Loewe and even Dior.

helsinki now finland fashion runway show singapore WOMENSWEAR RED
Singapore model Jean wearing a look from Ida-Sofia Tuomisto. Image: Franz Navarrete

Overall, Tuomisto’s collection was perhaps the weakest of the five shown at Finland’s Fashion Frontier. However, again, the work was saved by the use of colour – one oversized t-shirt dress showed a nice use of autumnal colour and looked much more comfortable to wear. This would be a more interesting direction to take for future work.

Ida-Sofia Tuomisto Finland runway show
Look from Ida-Sofia Tuomisto final collection runway show in Finland. Image: Helsinki Now

The use of hard-textured materials combined with hand-manipulation would make it difficult to translate Tuomisto’s work into a retail range at a reasonable price; but something could be done with the dress mentioned above.


One of the things I love about Finland as a country and culture is that it is on the border of West and East, despite not many people being aware of it. I always refer to Finland as being the ‘Tokyo of Europe’ in that it has its own slightly quirky perspective on the world; it celebrates the creation of things, not just the final product; it has an educated, polite but just-a-bit odd population that is as happy dealing with issues at a global level as it is sitting in a wooden hut in a forest next to a lake.

Miia Koski, the managing director of Juni, the company behind Helsinki Now, told me that Finnish design is a mix of Scandinavian minimalism and love of natural textures, with the celebration of bright colours more reminiscent of Asia. And she’s exactly right.

Finnish fashion is a mix of the bright and crazy colours and textures we in Asia are so fond of, with the clean lines that are not only the hallmarks of Scandinavia, but likewise of traditional Japanese design. Finland is the Japan of Europe, but it’s also very much its own world.

Helsinki New is a series of fashion projects organised by Juni Communication & Production. Go to and check out its instagram account @helsinki_new

Finland’s Fashion Frontier Show
Venue: Andaz Hotel Singapore
Production: Saara Sihvonen
Hair and makeup team lead: Miika Kemppainen


  1. Oh man, are you seriously writing this kind of critique about young design students who have probably used all their resources into these collections? People don’t write so harshly even about big-money-making-companies and here you are crushing students efforts, quite cowardly.
    It is always good to say your opinions loud, but there is the right time and a place and sometimes the morally right thing should be chosen(which in this case more neutral approach would have costed you nothing).
    Not impressed by the journalism here.


    1. Dear Friendly Adviser … I treat big fashion the same way as emerging fashion, and actually these guys are graduate students with their own brands. If everyone says everything is great, and never give constructive criticism, then mistakes and bad design and plagiarism continues to damage the industry. It is ‘morally right’ as you say to give designers the respect of treating them as adult business people who are heading out into an industry that is dog-eat-dog … I want them to succeed, I want them to look at their work from another perspective and fight to be the best they can be. I won’t apologise for highlighting issues they may have overlooked. It is much more responsible to help them now, rather than later. As for whether or not you’re impressed by the journalism – everyone is welcome to their own opinion. Thanks for taking the time to read my piece and also leave a comment.


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