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.
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. 🙂
FINLAND’S FASHION FRONTIER … THE REVIEW
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’.
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.
His colour choices and layering of prints is also solid and interesting; a jacquard camo print particularly stood out.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, womenswear
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.
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.
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.
OVERALL THOUGHTS & MUSINGS …
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.
Finland’s Fashion Frontier Show
Venue: Andaz Hotel Singapore
Production: Saara Sihvonen
Hair and makeup team lead: Miika Kemppainen