On my recent trip to Helsinki I met with two inspiring Finnish fashion designers and found that Finland is teaming with innovative, creative and leading edge design in fashion.
On a glorious mid summer Helsinki day I was warmly welcomed into the cosy atelier of the talented, creative and beautiful fashion designers Minna Paussu and Anna Markiz. Their atelier is located behind their charming boutique, North, in Helsinki’s very hip and fashionable Punavuori, the heart of the design district. They share their boutique with two other designers, Jasmin Santanen and Susanne Salo, and the four all display their designs in the one retail space.
I was welcomed and offered a selection of berry-based Finnish teas by Anna, who is tall, elegant and thoughtful in her demeanour. Her colleague, Minna, joined us and brought with her her vibrant energy, her beautifully bright eyes dancing with enthusiasm as she talks about her designs.
Minna is from Karelia, a region in the east of Finland. She worked for twenty years in telecommunications before undergoing a career change. She studied fashion design at the Helsinki Design School and subsequently launched her eponymous fashion label (and has not looked back ever since!).
Anna was born in St Petersburg, was brought up in Brazil, and has lived most of her life in Finland. She did her MA in fashion design at Aalto University.
My observation of Finnish fashion design just prior to meeting Anna and Minna was that it was so very unique. But it is difficult to describe exactly how. Perhaps it’s the absence of trend-led design amongst the Finnish designers. So my first question to Anna and Minna was whether there is a typical Finnish aesthetic when it comes to fashion design.
Anna referred to the minimalist aesthetic that has prevailed across Scandinavian design in the past, “but this has changed now. Nowadays, people move around a lot more, they travel more than they used to. With all the different experiences and influences that this connection brings, there is no typical Finnish aesthetic. Style evolves, like art. What is common to Finnish design are its values: quality in the product, ethics in production, fairness to the people who are involved in making the clothes and transparency in the overall process.”
Minna pointed out the Finnish focus on innovation. “Helsinki University recently combined its art, technical and business schools. Fashion courses now combine different disciplines from each school, and companies are involved in the courses.” All of this has resulted in a focus on innovation and technology in Finnish fashion design, while still remaining true to the aesthetic and its ethics.
Indeed, the two designers take these values to heart in their own labels. Anna makes made-to-measure pieces for each customer. She also produces limited runs of ready-to-wear pieces, but only two to five pieces of each.
Minna produces one piece for each size. If the customer likes an item, she will have it made for them, together with any adjustments that the customer requires. All pieces are made no more than an hour from Helsinki and Minna knows and works with the people involved in production.
Anna explains, “it’s about reducing waste and the environmental footprint in the production process. At the same time, our customers will have a unique and individual design that is tailored to their body and taste.”
So what are the challenges of getting into fashion design in Finland? Anna’s first observation is that, “it is a small market, in which there are a few designers who are well known both nationally and internationally. The challenge is getting known yourself! And in Finland that is all about gaining a track record and showing that you can consistently produce beautiful design. On the positive side, the Finnish fashion industry is not hierarchical like, say, the French fashion industry. People are approachable.”
Having browsed through their boutique, what was evident to me was the quality of the designers’ creations. However the style of each designer is refreshingly varied.
Minna’s style is colourful and vibrant. She designs all her own fabric prints, and uses natural fabrics like silk. “Colour is powerful. It gives you strength, happiness and joy. Prints are about power, characters and stories. My design process is about how I feel and my experience of things. Each design is related to a story. I also try to design as much as possible without seams, so that there are no breaks. The design falls perfectly on the woman’s shape.”
Anna’s designs are feminine and classic. Her design process takes into account every woman’s body and are not limited to a certain silouhette. “Fashion design is about highlighting the best aspects of a woman’s body and bringing them all together. I have a background in art, and I see fashion as three-dimensional art. But also it has to be wearable and fit the woman right.”
The four designers at North all place importance on the woman’s body and on creating timeless designs. Their client base consists of women who like individual design, who want to be different, and who appreciate the local aspect of their design, production and quality.
My conversation with these inspiring designers brought into focus the future of fashion. It is ethical, transparent, individual and (importantly) highly creative. Watch out, world, the Finns are coming!
North boutique is located at Kapteeninkatu 26, 00140 Helsinki.