Some Finns up: China, Hong Kong a new frontier for Finnish fashion
Forget Nokia - there’s a lot more coming out of Europe’s far north these days, with a new generation of talent seeking a wider market for their edgy designs
Finland has long been known for two things: Nokia, and a world-class education system. Yet any inquiry into the fashion cachet of the country will usually draw a blank response. Long overshadowed by its cooler Scandinavian cousin Sweden, the country has in recent seasons made the heads of fashion editors and buyers turn.
In Hong Kong, colourful lifestyle and fashion brand Marimekko is probably the country’s most famous style export, with a total of three stores in the city.
Pre Helsinki, Finland’s premier fashion association, recently completed a Hong Kong and China tour for its emerging designers. The purpose of the event was to connect the country’s top designers with brands, stylists, buyers and media to gain a foothold in the Chinese market. Pre Helsinki has been to China once before, but this was its first call in Hong Kong.
Through international tours such as these, along with a yearly fashion show in Helsinki to which the world’s leading fashion editors are invited, Finland’s next generation of designers have been able to reach a wider audience.
One example of this success is Satu Maaranen, who after last year’s China tour collaborates with juggernaut label Exception de Mixmind – best known for dressing first lady of China Peng Liyuan. Maaranen is signed to work with the company for three seasons.
Juslin Maunala, a business run by fashion designer Laura Juslin and architect Lilli Maunala, has also done well, creating a line of reflective accessories in collaboration with Swedish designer Ann-Sofie Back.
“Lilli and I see our brand not only as wearable products but as a full three-dimensional experience, including the products and the space created around them,” says Maunala. “We like to merge functional minimalism with unconventional elements and experimental materials.”
“The tipping point [for Finnish designers] came in 2012 when Helsinki was announced as the World Design Capital of 2012,” says Martta Louekari, co-founder of Pre Helsinki. She and business partner Miia Koski saw a new wave of promising designers who had the talent, but not the arena to help them gain international exposure and growth.
Although a government entity to support the nation’s textile industry existed, there wasn’t one for fashion brands. “After meeting with these fashion designers, we realised it was our responsibility to make something meaningful happen collectively with Finnish fashion. This is how Pre Helsinki was born,” Louekari says.
Similar to that of Sweden with its Scandinavian sensibility, the Finnish women’s fashion aesthetic focuses on a practical, slightly mannish sensibility, favouring boxy, roomy silhouettes. Yet, unlike the Swedes, the Finnish are much more experimental and willing to push the envelope. They play with abstract colours and conceptual textures with a high-fashion, sophisticated approach. This conceptual, though sometimes not wearable approach has found a receptive audience.
One example of this avant-garde sensibility is Ensæmble, a dark and moody brand by Alisa Närvänen and Elina Peltonen. “We like anti-colours – different broken tones of greens, blues, blacks, whites, beige and metallics,” says Peltonen. “We’ve tried bright colours as well, but for some reason they don’t feel very natural.”
It is this singular and focused approach to design that has allowed Ensæmble to create an exclusive collaboration with JNBY, spanning a capsule collection, film, campaign images and installation across the company’s 500 China stores. For these brands, this kind of reach into one of fashion’s most promising markets is a goldmine of opportunity.
The success of Pre Helsinki underscores the success emerging designers can have if they create a curated and focused programme for international buyers and media. The next step for this generation of Finns is to build a similarly creative business and commercial infrastructure.