Fin­nish Lines

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With a bur­geon­ing, unique fash­ion scene, Helsinki is fast be­com­ing a cap­i­tal of cool.

tHERE ARE PINK and mint green bi­cy­cles dan­gling in the shop win­dow. Swing­ing among the bikes are shoes coated in pas­tel glit­ter and crys­tals. Some have bunny ears or a pom­pom tail, and there’s a pair of rain­bow plat­forms. In­side is more pink, shine and fluff, and a crazy ar­ray of heels in ev­ery colour imag­in­able. Wel­come to the world of Minna Parikka — Fin­land’s most suc­cess­ful and in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed shoe de­signer. Parikka founded the la­bel in 2005 and her one-wo­man com­pany has since been pro­pelled onto the in­ter­na­tional stage, with her shoes fea­tured in the pages of Vogue and Elle, on the feet of celebri­ties such as Tay­lor Swift and Cara Delev­ingne, and in stores across more than 20 coun­tries. Parikka’s bou­tique is in the his­toric quar­ter of Helsinki on one of the city’s most ex­pen­sive shop­ping streets, Alek­san­terinkatu, where build­ings date back to the 18th cen­tury. Max Mara is a neigh­bour, as is the shop My O My and Tre, which of­fers a selec­tion of Fin­nish brands in­clud­ing hat la­bel éN, the Rick Owens-es­que uni­sex brand Nomen Nescio, and Vuokko, the la­bel by the grand old lady of Fin­nish fash­ion, Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmes­niemi. Her stat­uesque, over­sized and geo­met­ric cre­ations from the 1960s and ’70s in­spired those of Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo of Comme de Garçons.

Although colour­ful, Tre looks a bit mousy next to Minna Parikka’s glit­ter ex­plo­sion. “We call this the Minna Parikka uni­verse,” says Iines Alavuo, the on­line sales man­ager, smil­ing as she walks around the store. “We want peo­ple to feel like they’ve en­tered a sweet shop for grown-ups.”

Alavuo says she of­ten hears sighs of de­light by tourists as they en­ter the store — peo­ple who won­der whether it re­ally is a Fin­nish brand. The im­age peo­ple have of Fin­nish fash­ion is Scan­di­na­vian-min­i­mal­ism, or the vivid prints of Marimekko — still per­haps the coun­try’s most fa­mous fash­ion la­bel.

There’s a Marimekko store on Alek­san­terinkatu and, along with par­al­lel Po­hjois­es­planadi, th­ese streets are great for get­ting ac­quainted with the city’s fash­ion scene. There’s Louis Vuit­ton and Mul­berry, and multi-brand stores of­fer­ing the likes of Céline, Ba­len­ci­aga and Chanel, along­side tra­di­tional Fin­nish la­bels such as Aarikka and Marja Kurki. But, if you want to see con­tem­po­rary Fin­nish de­sign, this isn’t the place to go. You’ll have to ex­plore fur­ther to dis­cover why Helsinki has be­come one of the most in­ter­est­ing fash­ion cities in the world.

YOUNG IN­TER­NA­TIONAL STARS

It all be­gan in 2006. That was when sib­lings Anna and Tuo­mas Laiti­nen won the spe­cial jury prize at the In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val of Fash­ion and Pho­tog­ra­phy in Hyères, in the south of France. Fin­nish fash­ion was pushed into the spot­light, and their brand Laiti­nen was soon fea­tured in fash­ion mags such as Dazed (for­merly Dazed & Con­fused) and Vogue Italia. It wasn’t un­til Tuo­mas Laiti­nen be­gan teach­ing fash­ion de­sign at Helsinki’s Aalto Univer­sity, how­ever, that things be­gan to re­ally shift.

Tuo­mas trained at Lon­don’s Cen­tral Saint Martins, one of the most highly re­spected fash­ion schools in the world, and trans­ported that level of de­sign ed­u­ca­tion to Helsinki when he took charge. He used his net­works and pushed his stu­dents to­wards big­ger and greater achieve­ments. Now, Aalto Univer­sity’s May fash­ion show is a who’s who of the Helsinki fash­ion cir­cuit, at­tract­ing in­ter­na­tional fash­ion jour­nal­ists and brands. The Busi­ness of Fash­ion, an on­line re­source for in­dus­try in­sid­ers, ranked Aalto Univer­sity’s study pro­gram as the third most pres­ti­gious fash­ion school, right af­ter Cen­tral Saint Martins and Kingston Univer­sity, both in Lon­don.

Many of Aalto’s alumni have found their way into the most prom­i­nent fash­ion houses in the world: Lan­vin, Ba­len­ci­aga, Saint Lau­rent, and over the past five or six years, his stu­dents have made the Hyères fi­nals, with some tak­ing out top prizes. Although most ta­lent ends up work­ing for ma­jor lux­ury brands abroad, some stay in Fin­land and de­sign for big la­bels such as Marimekko, as the Hyères 2013 win­ner Satu Maara­nen did. Oth­ers set up their own la­bels.

The de­signs of th­ese non­con­formists can be found in a clearly de­fined area in Pu­navuori, a once rough work­ing­class neigh­bour­hood close to cen­tral Helsinki that is now one of the city’s trendi­est lo­ca­tions. Also known as the ‘De­sign Dis­trict’, it’s a hive of bou­tiques, restau­rants, bars and cafes, with peo­ple loung­ing on ter­races or along the fa­mous shop­ping mall, Iso Roobertinkatu.

In the heart of the De­sign Dis­trict, Fredrikinkatu boasts in­ter­est­ing shops by in­de­pen­dent de­sign­ers, in­clud­ing R/H Stu­dio. An ab­bre­vi­a­tion of the sur­names of the founders and de­sign­ers Hanna Ri­iheläi­nen and Emilia Her­nes­niemi, R/H is renowned for its play­ful clothes (as well as its prints), made lo­cally. The brand’s sig­na­ture de­sign is a Mickey Mouse-es­que pat­tern that can be found in one form or an­other in each col­lec­tion. “It is our most pop­u­lar prod­uct”, says store man­ager Salla Ceder. “The pat­tern is so graphic and univer­sal that it ap­peals to a wide va­ri­ety of cus­tomers.”

Nearby you’ll also find Arela, known for its high-qual­ity cash­mere clothes, 2OR+ that pro­duces leather goods

and Onar that sells eth­i­cally sourced fur cloth­ing and ac­ces­sories. Other no­table la­bels are Anna Ruo­ho­nen, Nomen Nescio and Ivana Helsinki, and there’s a book­shop, Nide, where you can pick up fash­ion books and in­die mags.

But it’s Sa­muji that is a must-visit. Founder and de­signer Samu-Jussi Koski is the go-to op­tion for Fin­nish fash­ion­istas, and has taken a big step to­wards reach­ing in­ter­na­tional mar­kets with his New York branch, which opened last Novem­ber.

En­ter­ing Sa­muji is like walk­ing into a new world; one where ev­ery­thing is more har­mo­nious and more beau­ti­ful. Its in­te­rior re­flects the same el­e­ments the brand is known for: earthy tones, Scan­di­na­vian forms, rus­tic nos­tal­gia and Ital­ian-qual­ity fab­rics and leather. Now Sa­muji has ex­panded its col­lec­tion to in­te­rior decor pieces as well, so you can take a piece of it home with you.

MENSWEAR ON THE FASH­ION FORE­FRONT

It’s not only women’s fash­ion in the spot­light — the menswear mar­ket is boom­ing in Fin­land, too. Last May, Fin­land was cho­sen as the guest nation in the world’s largest in­ter­na­tional men’s fash­ion trade fair, Pitti Uomo, in Florence. This means that in Jan­uary 2018, 10 of the most prom­i­nent Fin­nish menswear brands will present their col­lec­tions to around 20,000 buy­ers and 2000 me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

“The most in­ter­est­ing menswear de­signer in Fin­land at the mo­ment is Ju­lia Män­nistö, with her la­bel Män­nistö,” says Martta Louekari, whose job it is to pro­mote the coun­try’s fash­ion in­dus­try. “And there’s also Rolf Ekroth, and Sasu Kauppi with his la­bel SSSU.”

Louekari says at­ti­tude and a strong vi­sion is what unites Fin­nish fash­ion de­sign­ers. That ap­proach has fos­tered an any­thing-goes look and, cou­pled with a gen­eral open-mind­ed­ness, an eclec­tic Helsinki fash­ion scene. So, throw on a Sa­muji cash­mere coat or a pink felt éN hat and join a move­ment that’s com­bin­ing per­son­al­ity with time­less style.

GET­TING THERE VIR­GIN AUSTRALIA OF­FERS FLIGHTS TO FIN­LAND WITH ITS CODESHARE PART­NERS AIR BER­LIN AND ETI­HAD AIR­WAYS. TO BOOK, VISIT WWW.VIR­GIN­AUS­TRALIA.COM OR CALL 13 67 89 (IN AUSTRALIA).

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