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Exclusive interview: Satu Maaranen

Satu Maaranen is carving out a name for herself as one of Finland’s most exciting exports. Sally McIlhone finds out more about the pattern-loving designer

Sally McIlhone

Feature

by Sally McIlhone

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Most of us spend years honing our careers before we achieve a degree of success, so when we witness the rapid rise of a young and vivacious shining star in our field, it’s only natural to be both captivated and palpably jealous. But when that shining star is as hard-working and humble as Satu Maaranen, it’s impossible to be anything but impressed.

Maaranen’s CV reads like a fashion designer’s dream. She studied at Finland’s prestigious Aalto University, and her graduate collection won first prize at the internationally acclaimed Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography. She went on to design for Finnish brand Marimekko, create prints for Dolce & Gabbana and Prada, and see her work featured in publications including Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and Vogue. ‘At first I didn’t realise how big a thing it was,’ Maaranen says of winning the esteemed prize. ‘If I think about how it has changed everything, it feels surreal; all the adventures when travelling around the world, new contacts and possibilities. Winning Hyères is immeasurably precious.’

Working for a world-renowned Finnish brand such as Marimekko was a perfect fit for Maaranen, who is a fan of the energy and creativity involved in designing prints. ‘There are so many possibilities: the movement, the layout, the proportion and how to make the rhythm work. I also love the feeling of freedom you get when making the prints,’ Maaranen explains. ‘And another aspect is how to make them wearable, so that women really want to use them in their everyday life and in their wardrobe.’

Maaranen says her inspiration for new prints comes from, among other things, ‘archives, old books, visual cultural heritage, modern art’, and describes her design spirit as ‘half Finnish, half French’. She continues, ‘I admire colourful prints and practical cuts. I specialise in hand-painted prints and sculptural shapes. In my work you see references to iconic couture, but in a more practical way. I love contrasts in material, colours and shapes.’ But, as she clarifies, everything in her work must serve a purpose. ‘There always has to be a reason why I use something in a certain place when I design. I never decorate!’

Finnish design is not renowned for being decorative, but Maaranen believes the country is developing a clear aesthetic. ‘Finnish fashion is described as eccentric. We are rich in textiles and materials, and clean in cuts. You see handcraft used in a modern way in Finnish fashion.’ This combination of eccentricity, simple silhouettes and high-quality materials has seen the country’s new designers gaining a noteworthy fashion following.

‘We have been recognised recently in the most important competitions,’ Maaranen notes. ‘This spring there was a story in Carine Roitfeld’s CR Fashion Book about Finnish fashion and how it’s been dominating the scene at Hyères lately. In 2012 the winners came from Finland, I won it in 2013 and in 2015 three out of 10 finalists were from Helsinki.’ 

Maaranen’s most recent collection to be shown at Hyères contains kimono-style coats, maxi-dress tunics and wide-leg trouser suits adorned with stunning painterly stripes in palettes that range from dusky greys to rainbow brights – pink, orange, white and green. She has an eye for creating the kind of sophisticated garments that are powerful yet feminine, so it’s no wonder women around the world are lining up to buy them.

‘I love seeing my designs when travelling around the world,’ Maaranen admits. ‘It is always interesting to see what kind of people buy my designs and how they combine it with their own style.’ Someone she would be keen to create for is actress Chloë Sevigny, who visited Maaranen’s showroom at Hyères last spring. ‘She said she loved what I’m doing. I was very happy to hear that. She even handpicked her favourite pieces from my collection. Her style somehow works with mine. She loves colours and has a very original style.’

Although Maaranen is still working on a commission-by-commission basis for now, with celebrity fans and fashion insiders championing her work this might not be the case for much longer. ‘I would love to find new customers, not just from the fashion world. To design prints for furniture or ceramics, for instance, would be amazing,’ Maaranen explains. With such a stunning repertoire, we’re sure this won’t be too far away. ‘There are no limits to where my brand could go with prints.’ We wholeheartedly agree.

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