Kristiina Lassus - a Finnish designer in Italy
By Hannu Pöppönen in Milan
There are advantages in Italy to being a woman and being from Finland”, says Kristiina Lassus.
“They are both good calling cards.”
Nevertheless, Lassus is one of the few Finnish women who have made it big in the field of design in Milan.
Lassus, who is not so well known in Finland, managed to get work as a designer, and design manager at Alessi, one of the best-known design houses.
Everything happened by chance. Alessi’s CEO Albergo Alessi was holding a students’ workshop in in Helsinki, and Kristiina Lassus was one of those attending. Later Lassus went to Italy, and visited the Alessi factory, and Alberto Alessi asked her to send him pictures of her product ideas.
“I thought that he certainly is friendly and polite, and as a shy Finnish girl, I did not take it seriously”, Lassus says.
But the CEO was serious. Lassus was hired as design director at Alessi - the first with an education in design. Until then, product development was in the hands of engineers, and Alberto Alessi himself. Another advantage from Lassus’s point of view was that she could speak English better than the people in the company.
“I was the first one that Alberto Alessi trusted enough to give the authorisation to make decisions with respect to designers and products. But of course, the fact that I was hired was based on policy lines drawn up by the company, and he had to give his approval to any decisions.”
Lassus served as the head of projects by the likes of Philippe Starck, a figurehead of French design, by Jasper Morrison, known for his minimalist work, and by Finns such as Stefan Lindfors.
However, six years with Alessi was enough for Lassus. The work took up all of her time, and Lassus wanted to design again on her own.
“I was not denied the possibility of doing my own design work, but I would have had to do it during my nonexistent free time.”
She set up her own studio in Milan and went to India, where her previous ideas of a collection of carpets was revived.
Her carpets were on display at a gallery exhibition in Milan during the furniture fair this year.
The carpets are tied by hand in India and Nepal, using Tibetan and New Zealand wool.
In her carpets Lassus uses colours and themes that are close to nature. She says that she wanted to create an alternative to both ancient and modern carpets.
Lassus’s carpets won the German Red Dot design award.
Her carpets are now on sale in Italy, Portugal, Greece, Denmark, and in Finland - in small quantities for the time being.
“In October, when the selling waws to have begun, the taps of all of the companies were turned shut. Interior design companies in particular suddenly stopped buying.”
In addition to carpets, she has designed dishes and steel utensils for Alessi, which also won a Red Dot.
Before her time in Italy, Lassus worked at Artek as a design coordinator. She did her diploma work on the problems linked with internationalisation and product development for the Finnish furniture industry, and ran into the same problems in her own work.
“I spent two and a half years in product development work, where not much development was going on.”
Finnish companies lacked good business ideas, product strategies, and decent product development, Lassus says. There are also differences between in atmosphere in the design fields of Finland and Italy.
“The atmosphere in Italy is inspiring, and in Finland it is depressing. Finns still often have envy lurking in the background, and fear that someone might have more, or have it easier than themselves. It is the greatest impediment to cooperation. Both commerce and product development require a desire for cooperation, and open-mindedness. The atmosphere is contagious, and is also reflected in the products.”
When Lassus moved to Italy, Finnish design was largely known on the basis of designers and objects of the 1950s. Now Finns are no longer dependent on the old reputation.
For instance, during this year’s Milan Furniture Fair, one of the most important Italian interior design journals, Interni, highlighted two of Finland’s younger generation of designers - Mikko Laakkonen and Janne Kyttänen.
“From the Italian perspective, Finnish design is perhaps the most appreciated - even better known than Danish design. I might perhaps place the Danes ahead of the Finns specifically in their knowledge of industrial arts, They know the materials, and they have handicraft skills. For instance, in furniture and lighting fixtures they have soulful products, which communicate positive energy. This is certainly also the case with Finnish products at their best”, Lassus says.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 17.5.2009
HANNU PÖPPÖNEN / Helsingin Sanomat