Despite fierce competition from other Scandinavian countries, Finland has been quietly staking its claim as a hotbed of design and fashion, with a thriving creative culture in Helsinki as well as further afield. Fresh from celebrating its status last year as World Design Capital, Helsinki offers everything from innovative boutiques and concept stores to cutting-edge interiors brands and brilliantly inventive cuisine. Venturing outside the capital reveals a cluster of other cities that also cater to the style hunters who beat a path to Finland.
Helsinki’s Pohjoisesplanadi is the city’s luxury enclave, a street where global mega-brands Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermès are found alongside innovative design labels and womenswear boutiques. Weary shoppers in need of respite can retreat to the beautiful Esplanadi park opposite, which comes alive in summer with theatre performances on the outdoor stage at Kappeli café. Founded in 1867, it’s housed in a wonderfully ornate building that’s full of old-world charm. Design aficionados can then head to neighbouring Eteläesplanadi, home to cool interior design shops such as Artek and 1-Store, along with smaller, craft-focused boutiques that support local artists.
While these boulevards, along with nearby Aleksanterinkatu, boast the lion’s share of the city’s fashion boutiques, part of the unique shopping appeal of Helsinki lies in its Design District, a section of the city with specially selected stores (look for the Design District Helsinki logo in the window) that showcase the work of Finland’s finest creatives. Brands such as Design Forum Finland, Glope Hope and the iconic Kartell demonstrate deftly why Scandinavian design is a standard bearer throughout the world. The latter’s Ghost chair, designed in collaboration with Philippe Starck, is a 21st-century design icon; opt for the version in traffic-cone orange to make an impact in the home.
Of course, it’s tempting to linger and explore the myriad delights of Helsinki, from harbourside markets to the luxury department stores. Modern travellers, though, are prepared to venture further afield in search of the best. The nearby city of Vantaa is a summer haven, with festivals and outdoor concerts held in its parks during warmer months. Its year-round appeal is provided by its shopping centres and outlet shopping opportunities; a venture inside the gleaming steel structure of Kauppakeskus Jumbo reveals a plethora of homeware and fashion offerings, including Iittala, Pentik and Bik Bok. The area also hosts regular vintage markets, perfect for lovers of 1920s flapper gowns and 1970s maxidresses.
Just to the west of Helsinki in Espoo the style hunting continues. Situated on the Espoo river a short drive from the capital, the city is a cultural hotspot. The Espoon Taidemuseosäätiö (Espoo Museum of Modern Art), for instance, has held exhibitions on everything from Nordic design to Italian Futurism, with this spring bringing a show on the art of Warner Brothers cartoons. Historical highlights include the sumptuous Träskända manor house and the cathedral, with more natural delights not far away in the beautiful Nuuksio national park. Part of Espoo’s appeal lies in new Artek and Marimekko stores and a branch of Stockmann department store, all of which have recently opened in the city. And when you’re suitably fatigued? The city’s wealth of saunas will unwind the knots built up from carrying all those shopping bags heaving with Finnish treasures.