It is June 2022. As dark-less nights take hold of Scandinavia and wartime news grip Europe, Finland welcomes its cool summer, and NATO. Finns flock to the nation’s stunning 188,000 lakes and rock at music festivals (yes, with music for all tastes beyond heavy metal, its famous export). Helsinki finds itself at another zeitgeist crossroads. Nearly half a century ago, the historic Helsinki Accords established inviolability of European borders and rejected use of the military for intervention in state affairs. That did not age well. A new geopolitical reality calls on the hopeful imagination of future leaders to seek different solutions to an updated list of challenges.
Creativity must scout the ways forward and the recent event Fashion in Helsinki did just that. As a collaborative initiative of Juni Communication and Aalto University with support from the Ministry of Education and Culture, Fashion in Helsinki is the latest example of alternative local platform-building, combining the domestic and global fashion industry with business reinvention and creative evolution. Finnish designers and educators responded with due urgency.
First, the most consumer-anticipated moment of the week: collections by five emerging Finnish brands. For their label HEDVIG, friends Sofia Järnefelt and Taru Lahti draw inspiration from the unlikely collaborations in their own familial lineages. Sofia’s grandmothers were an exiled Russian aristocrat and an outdoors enthusiast from the rugged Åland archipelago. The dynamic garments have a time-traveling sensibility incorporating different stylistic elements from the epic journeys of our lives.
Designer Rolf Ekroth himself took a road less traveled to get into fashion: doing military service, playing poker on the professional circuit, and studying sociology. It gives his perspective a certain visionary edge: where utilitarianism meets nostalgia. Been there, felt that. Artist Ervin Latimer channeled his passion for queer politics, anti-racism, and non-conforming style into a label that exposes masculinity as a performance. Thus, familiar silhouettes get respectfully desecrated like the wide trousers cut at the shins.
Latimmier had its brand debut this winter at the coveted menswear platform Pitti Uomo in Florence. Designer Sofia Ilmonen explores femininity as a game of possibilities with her garments constructed from bright modular squares easily (re)assembled with buttons and loops. A fascinating concept garnered her an enthusiastic following and much industry attention, including the Mercedes-Benz Sustainability Prize at last year’s edition of Festival de Hyères.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Ingberg took a different approach and launched his unisex label By Hinders in 2020. Initially inspired by the idea of using wool byproducts from his family’s sheep farm, the designer expanded into other natural fabrics and now creates quiet statement pieces that “celebrate the daily rituals of being.”
To connect the dots of education, entrepreneurship, and social justice, Aalto University and Juni Communication worked with Scandinavian Mind media group to facilitate a two-part seminar focused on the impact of technology on the circular economy and material innovations within the Nordic design ecosystem. First part took place during Fashion in Helsinki while the second part will occur in Stockholm at the Nordic Fabric Fair in August. Yet another example of style-driven value-centered regional business cooperation with a focus on sustainability.
If you still insist on refusing to believe in the light at the end of a tunnel, Finland got you covered anyway. Perhaps, you may be interested in all-black outfits from Nomen Nescio, a trendsetting brand which has just celebrated a decade of its commitment to monochrome and minimalism by opening a flagship store in the heart of Helsinki. Looking good is connected to feeling better. That’s fashion science.
When it comes to the aforementioned “daily rituals of being”, Helsinki is at the vanguard of sustainable tourism and putting creativity at the service of long-term community goals. The splendid Design Museum – a must stop for anyone visiting the country’s capital – currently has a groundbreaking exhibition on accessible and equal design: Design For Every Body. You can take the ferry to Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, to contemplate the role of proactive design for the future at the mercy of harsh elements. Alternatively, you can indulge in a session at Kulttuuri Sauna, an austere yet fantastic sauna in the trendy corner of Helsinki run by architect Tuomas Toivonen and artist Nene Tsuboi, which also functions as an educational initiative on architecture and urbanism. Nature and nurture come together in profound yet simple ways in Finland. Kippis!