NEWS ANALYSIS: Finnish fashion wants to break out beyond our own borders
Why are only a few Finnish fashion brands known abroad?
By Hannu Pöppönen
At the end of last week, Helsinki hosted several events featuring fashion.
In a fashion show at the Aalto University on Friday, the general public had a chance to see creations by completely new designers, and on the same day Marimekko’s new designs were unveiled.
However, the purpose is to make Finnish fashion even a little more international.
The events have been gathered under the umbrella of Helsinki’s Design Capital Year.
Over the past few years, a large number of interesting designers and brands have emerged in Finnish fashion, but the buzz has largely remained within the confines of this country.
Many Finns are working at foreign fashion houses, including for example Heikki Salonen at Diesel, Juha Marttila at Nina Ricci, and Maija Komulainen at Calvin Klein, while new Finnish designer clothes labels are not actually very well known in other countries.
Exceptions include the Ivana Helsinki brand and Samuji, Samu-Jussi Koski’s clothing brand, which has grown rapidly. Samu-Jussi Koski was for many years on the design staff at Marimekko.
”The same brands - and nothing else - are also known in Sweden. Iittala and Arabia are well-known design brands, and so is Marimekko, but the newer products that have been designed after the recession in the 21st century are hardly known at all outside Finland”, sighs Annamari Vänskä.
Vänskä works as a researcher at the Centre for Fashion Studies in the University of Stockholm.
The problem is not the demand but the supply.
For example, three fashion students at the Aalto University of Art and Design won the Grand Prix for the 27th Hyères Festival in France at the beginning of May.
In Finland, fashion has been marginal compared with design, while the export of design has not been particularly efficient, either.
This compares very unfavourably with Sweden, where fashion exports rode on the back of music exports in the 1990s, and bodies were set up to coordinate marketing and promotion of Swedish lines.
Hereabouts, however, all new fashion enterprises are small, while designers often work alone or in pairs.
Vänskä calls for more by way of state subsidies for the export of fashion.
”No such institution exists in Finland”, she says resignedly.
Moreover, Finland also has no academic research on fashion nor investor angels who would be ready to invest in rising designers and fashion brands.
The aim of the Helsinki Fashion Summit, which was arranged for the first time on May 24th, was to fill the existing vacuum.
Johanna Bruun, the producer of the event, reported that a seminar was to be set up where investors are invited to meet with young designers.
One way to stand out from the crowd in the competitive fashion business is to be seen for example in movies, television series, and on fashionista blogs.
Such product placement does not solve the export problems, but it does make brands better known.
Hanna Sarén attracted wide publicity after Sarah Jessica Parker wore her clogs in an episode of the television series Sex and the City.
Moreover, curtains made of Marimekko’s famous Unikko (poppy) print were also seen in the same series.
In order to promote the Finnish fashion industry, a dozen or so fashion editors from various parts of the world had been invited to Helsinki last week.
One of them was Australian-born Dan Thawley, who works as an editor for the Belgian A Magazine, writing also for the Italian Vogue and the American Interview.
Thawley also acted as the head of the jury at the "Näytös XII" fashion show organised by the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture at Kattilahalli in Helsinki’s Suvilahti last Friday. The show exhibited the curated thesis projects by MA and BA students.
When it comes to Finnish fashion, even Thawley recalls first the traditional names of Vuokko and Marimekko, and among the younger designers Heikki Salonen and Tuomas Laitinen.
”If you ask someone for example in England or Australia, I guess even Marimekko is still better known for its tableware and interior decoration textiles than for its fashion clothing”, Thawley notes.
Thawley observes further that to most people Finnish fashion cannot ultimately be distinguished very clearly from other Nordic fashion, even though it does have its own characteristics and heritage, which young designers reinterpret.
Annamaija Vänskä is of the same opinion, only more so. ”If one takes a proper critical look at Swedish fashion, it is not as creative as Finnish fashion. Swedish clothes are rather classic, while the cuts of Finnish garments are interesting and Finnish designers have the courage to use prints. Finnish fashion is at a high level, creative and user-oriented”, Vänskä explains.
Marimekko’s summer show was arranged in Helsinki’s Esplanade Park on Friday May 25th.
SSAW is a fashion magazine that introduces the best Finnish fashion in an international context.
The magazine was published on Friday May 25th and it will be available at Stockmann's Academic Bookstore and from fashion stores in downtown Helsinki as of May 29th.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 24.5.2012
Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture: "Näytös XII" - fashion show
SSAW fashion magazine
World Design Capital - New wave of Finnish fashion steps in the limelight, 25.5.2012
Festival Hyères 2012
Nordic Fashion Association: Helsinki Fashion Summit
HANNU PÖPPÖNEN / Helsingin Sanomat