Helsinki-based designer Sasu Kauppi, purveyor of edgy streetwear, is trying to sum up Finnish fashion, especially the capital’s growing underground scene. ‘It’s something that used to be minimalistic and down-to-earth, but has recently been allowed to become provokingly showy,’ he says. Finland has always been seen as a dark and distant cousin to the rest of Scandinavia. The Finns are arguably even shyer and more introverted than the Swedes and Norwegians, and spend most of their time – if the tired stereotype is to be believed – drinking vodka in a sauna. That’s obviously far removed from the truth; Finland is a creative hub with a healthy interiors, furniture and fashion design scene, as well as experimental musicians and world-renowned architects.
Finland’s image has become one of cutting-edge modernism, with the country’s style contingent giving it the reputation as a hard-hitting and avant-garde fashion hub. As always, the style is as much grounded in music, art and Helsinki’s status as a focus for alternative sub cultures as in catwalk trends. ‘There are two major trends defining the country’s style currently: heritage fashion and avant-garde black fashion, both with a Scandinavian twist,’ says Harri Kangas, buyer at My O My menswear store. ‘Helsinki is moving slowly towards the other big Scandinavian cities, but since we are still more straightforward thinking, we pay less attention to dressed-up details. So, yes, you could call it edgier.’ Websites such as Hel-Looks have been documenting local sartorial developments for years, and anyone with the patience can use it to trace Helsinki’s journey as it not only catches up with Stockholm and Copenhagen, but arguably even surpasses them as Nordic style capital.
The reasons for this are multiple. Aside from the art and music scene, there’s a vibrant fashion university in Helsinki these days. In recent years, two Aalto University students have won the prestigious Hyères festival prize for fashion, and numerous alumni now work for European luxury brands or run their own labels. Much of this is down to the head of the BA course in fashion design, Tuomas Laitinen. Not only does he guide his students with a steadfast hand but he also runs his own label, Laitinen, together with his sister. Having presented in Paris for years, this futuristic goth brand has helped build the domestic image, particularly now that Laitinen no longer lives in London or Paris, but in Helsinki.
Fashion’s new wave
Heikki Salonen, designer of Diesel’s main womenswear line, is also a Helsinki resident. Here Salonen thrives as part of a mid-layer of semi well-known but independent designers, free to pursue their distinctive vision – which is often dark and monochrome, harsh and gritty, graphic and knife sharp. Finland’s two top fashion magazines, SSAW and Revs, have been key in helping to showcase that vision. Not that they feature only Finnish design; but with their forward-looking ideas they’re helping to broadcast that raw Helsinki aesthetic to the rest of the world. SSAW, incidentally, was co-founded by Tuomas Laitinen, who is a bit of a poster boy for Helsinki’s darkly sophisticated fashion scene.
Stores with more
Another hugely important aspect of Helsinki’s fashion scene is, of course, its stores. The city has its fair share of high-end boutiques. My O My, Beam, Nina’s and Helsinki 10 all sell a mixture of international labels and smaller indie brands. Ann Demeulemeester, Rick Owens and Raf Simons are all readily available, creating a top tier of ‘luxury goths’. But none of these stores really focuses on the young local creatives, the next generation of Laitinens and Salonens.
Designers such as Kauppi, a former Central Saint Martins student who moved back home after graduation, perfectly personifies the Finnish street attitude and urban take on fashion. Inspired by the famous Finnish black metal bands, he recently showed blue and white denim as opposed to the predictable black. The frayed material and oversized-versus-tight silhouette gave the collection both a raw edge and interesting proportions. ‘I would describe my aesthetic as high-end sportswear with an attention to detail inspired by subculture phenomena,’ Kauppi explains.
His take on Finnish style in general is honest and brutal: ‘Mainly it’s about wearing something that falls between “quiet and functional” and “I couldn’t care less” … though I feel that an overly emphasised edginess can become boring.’ Kauppi’s last words of warning are relevant to any fledging underground scene: what goes up can come down. But, for now, Helsinki is still heading up, high on street-savvy coolness.