At the top of Finland's fashion hierarchy sits a former Central Saints Martin student. Tuomas Laitinen not only presents his eponymous menswear collection in Paris but last week, as part of Pre Helsinki, he also guided his Aalto University fashion students through their graduation show. One of his students, Satu Maaranen, was earlier this year awarded the Hyères fashion prize, the second time in a row one of Laitinen's disciples has been given this industry accolade. And if that wasn't enough, Laitinen – together with co-founders Timo Ilola, Salli Raeste and Chris Vidal-Tenomaa – also launched the third issue of their Finnish biannual fashion tome, SSAW. True to his Finnish DNA, Laitinen might be shy but with his forays into design, styling, tutoring and, many years ago, modelling, Laitinen is the unofficial head honcho of the local fashion pack.
The other designers taking part in Pre-Helsinki had a lot to live up to. Not only did Laitinen give us a taster from his SS14 collection, but fellow ex-Londoner Heikki Salonen, the creative director of Diesel's womenswear line, also launched a side project. Together with local creatives, Salonen presented 'Deadstock', a fashion and music project based around improvisation. The second day saw A Magazine's Dan Thawley debate the future of fashion with Jonathan Anderson and Benjamin Bruno from J.W.Anderson, sound artist Michel Gaubert, Candy Magazine's Luis Venegas and Parisian art director Marc Ascoli.
The fashion scene in Finland, much like in Norway, lives in the shadow of fellow Nordic countries Sweden and Denmark. With strong and characteristic styles, these two nations has birthed several internationally renowned brands, and are arguably at the top of the fashion game today. Finland doesn't lack talent or iconic designers, artists and architects - but there's seems to be a less well-oiled domestic PR machinery promoting them. Looking at the sophomore Pre Helsinki edition, that's about to change.
Except for shows and presentations from classic Finnish design brands like Marimekko, international press and buyers viewed the next generation of local designers. Partly in the shape of Aalto's grad show, but also through smaller individual brand presentations, like the one from Sasu Kauppi. Like Tuomas Laitinen, Kauppi is a Saint Martins alumni who's returned to the mother land. Here, Kauppi has matured a specific streetwear-led design aesthetic, mixed with his own take on the Nordic mentality and doses of sub-cultural attitude. Leaving London for Helsinki made sense for Kauppi, though he sometimes misses the big city: "I graduated from Saint Martins in 2011 and came straight back to Finland to set up my own label. I like the snowy winters, I find inspiration here. But of course I miss London." But Kauppi isn't bound to any European country; most of his stockists are in Japan and other parts of Asia.
For AW13, Kauppi's collection was inspired by the work of Norwegian black metal photographer Peter Beste. His images of this very Nordic music scene gave Kauppi his visual language, but not the colour palette. "This season it's all white and blue, a bit like the Finnish flag. I felt black was too obvious." Instead, it's an indigo blue that plays against the pale, white shade: "Just using all-white was too plain as I'm into contrasts and colour blocking." At his presentation, a moody affair set in a warehouse lift sliding bars, Kauppi showed off his layered looks. But what looked like layered outfits were in fact layered garments: "Yes, I used jersey, satin and denim in different shades in a few pieces, creating new colours. You can really see it the last piece, a combined coat and jacket in a blue and white denim combination with ornamental elements made from patches on the back."
Kauppi works out of a small studio in an industrial area in central Helsinki. Next to his studio, there's a car dealer selling vintage rides and 50s memorabilia. Opposite, new residential buildings are being built. Finland, like many other Northern European countries, have escaped the worst of the financial crisis, unlike the Mediterranean area. Building sites are can be seen all over the Finnish capital; the region seems to be recession-proof. This can be sensed in the fashion scene. The Aalto student show, comprising 19 hopeful students, felt vibrant and energetic. Under Laitinen's guidance, the college has managed to identity an aesthetic; they are shaping the future of Finnish fashion. Pre Helsinki works like a smorgasbord of talent, not a three-day long show marathon. By mixing presentations, panel discussions, catwalk shows and studio visits, both international press and Aalto students gained something.
Photography Meri Karhu and Jukka Ovaskainen