Travel: Helsinki – Into the Light

For me, Helsinki is all about light. It’s what I noticed most during my recent visit, whether streaming through my window at 4:30am, or making the evening seem like the afternoon at 10 pm. I found it hard to know the time of day: insomnia was never far away. But the light it gives clarity of vision. The world is clearly defined. Along with nature and landscape, light seems to play a vital influence in this land of just five million people. Since its independence in 1917, Helsinki has been defining its identity within the world with design proving to be a key element.

Helsinki Design
Installation at Helsinki Design District

Often likened to Japan for the purity of its design aesthetic, there is a dedication to beautiful materials and simplicity. The domination of light evokes a clarity of vision and definition of form that translates itself into design.

During my visit to Helsinki in May, i visited the studio and house of Vuokko Nurmesniemi. Now 82, she is a seminal textile designer whose work since the 1960s exemplifies the qualities of simplicity of surface design and form. With her house on the shores of the river, 10 minutes from Helsinki, you could have been miles away. She showed us examples of her work and discussed how she had always been about design not fashion.

Vuokko
Vuokko Nurmesniemi

Finland’s isolation until quite recently had led to few outside influences. This has perhaps allowed designers to focus and develop their own aesthetic and unique approach to design. Globalization has changed this.

I had been invited to Helsinki for the Pre Helsinki fashion event, which promotes fashion through discussion, networking and showcasing. Supported by Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Education and Culture this four day event helps to promote the discipline of fashion withing Finnish design, which has historically tended to emphasize other design disciplines such as ceramics or textiles. Now it is Finnish fashion which is gaining influence. From the biannual fashion and culture magazine ‘SSAW Magazine’ to the work produced by the Aalto University fashion students, the understanding of the relationship between form and function, materials and light, gives Finnish fashion a distinctive quality.

I was taking part in the seminar “FOR FA$HION’S S@KE” hosted by Dan Thawley editor in chief of A Magazine Curated By with Lou Stopppard of SHOWstudio as co-chair. The other panelists were Michel Gaubert sound designer, Ryan Aguilar Music Consultant, Lutz Huelle designer and milliner Stephen Jones. Taking an essay by Simon Critchley and a manifesto by Buirge and Bacher, we explored the consequence for fashion when it has itself become so fashionable that at times it is a dirty word. The wide-ranging discussion emphasized the effects of technology on all aspects of the fashion industry and the problem of being original in design when, at the click of a button, one is faced with so much information and creative possibilities.

Having the opportunity to see the work of students who are creatively using textiles and design dynamically related to the human form, and the discussions, visits to galleries and museums, this trip reminded me of a quote from Simon Critchley’s essay used as a starting point for our discussions:

“The human being is the fashioned animal and fashion is the key to understanding the human being”.

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