On Tuesday night, a Helsinki jet-way transformed into a fashion runway, with an audience of more than 400 people gathered on the tarmac of the Helsinki International Airport, an event ironically titled “Match Made in HEL.” A group of six European and Asian designers from London-based Finnish designer Heikki Salonen to Chinese label SANKUANZ were selected by Aalto University professor and SSAW editor Toumas Laitinen. Each showed a small sampling of looks on models descending out from an airbus, which left hours later for Singapore. It was just one of nearly a dozen events put on for Helsinki New, the two-day-long program showcasing established and up-and-coming designers from the city, and a striking declaration that Finnish fashion wants to reach much farther.
A short boat ride away from Stockholm, Saint Petersburg, and Tallinn, the city of Helsinki, to follow, has a fashion heritage that is hard to pin down. While Sweden and Denmark tend to dominate the conversation around Nordic fashion, Finns have long landed with foreign markets in Asia. Marimekko, often invoked as the icon of Finnish design and famed for its graphical, yet visibly hand-made prints and color combinations, has its largest presence outside Finland in Japan. A presentation at the company’s headquarters of the Fall/Winter 2016 collection showed a use of almost entirely archival prints from the company’s nearly 60-year history, in decidedly more fitted and streamlined looks, in a palette of bubblegum pink, brown, and pine green. One could argue newer brands like ONAR followed in that tradition, with Irene Kostas’s new line of sustainable shearing and fur, using unpredictable neon and candy colors on accessories that play with form but produced on a human scale.
Aalto University presented roughly two dozen collections by graduates and alumni of the fashion department. Maija Mero and Lucille Pialot turned common romantic elements such as ruffles, jewel tones, and sheer fabrics into lush, maximalist looks. Among menswear, a standout among the collections were shirts deconstructed by collaged nudes in the line by Maria Korkeila. The collection by Hanne Jurmu and Anton Vartiainen featured looks with cages of wooden backpacks, patterns made out of actual pressed flowers, and gnarled fringe. These were clothes that appeared to be dripping, decomposing, or molting, not just for their use of naturals but their insistence on forgoing speed. Julia Männistö showed her Männistö collection Boys Don’t Cry, already shortlisted for the 2016 LVMH Prize, made up of exaggerated skirts and dresses in deep indigos, layered with athletic imagery that suggest corsets. Both collections underlined a sense of play and storytelling within tightly contained worlds.
“I think this generation is not happy to see simple things around them all the time” said Pirjo Hirvonen, head of the fashion department at Aalto. “White, black, birch, pure. But young Finnish designers make rich designs, and that is totally new.”