Camping it up
Emily Bick gets in the mood for a Scandinavian Spring
Think of Scandinavian fashion and the first thing that comes to mind is H & M: fashion at its fastest, where teams of designers knock off catwalk copies at the speed of broadband, rendering them into affordable polyester and shipping them across the globe. There is something grim about any chain of stores like H & M Ė however well they brand themselves with value-conscious, vaguely socialist Scandinavian rhetoric, they are, like Starbucks, McDonalds, and GAP, a plague that threatens to turn the whole world into the same sprawling high street.
Where does a sense of place fit in to
fashion? Cities have their fashion stereotypes, and people who live them.
Just check out the hordes of cybergoths with plastic ropes for hair
extensions in Londonís Camden Market, or stroll past the well-coiffed
matrons walking their lapdogs along Parisí Rue Faubourg de St. Honore.
However much our high streets resemble one another, local fashion tribes
Suhonen founded the company in 1998, while working as a freelance stylist and lecturing at fashion colleges. The label grew steadily, with full-scale collections produced in Spring/Summer 2003, and international distribution throughout Western Europe and North America. Perhaps the legend and expansion of the label has to do with Suhonenís stint in Milan in the late 1990s. In Milan, Suhonen worked as a designer for Fiorucci Ė a brand that is best known for its association with the skintight jeans and cartoon t-shirts of the slicked-back, sleazy disco days when fellow Italian Georgio Moroderís anthems reigned over the dancefloor. While in Milan, Suhonen also edited the trend pages of Moda magazine, stalking the streets for local exemplars of style.
IVANAhelsinkiís marketing approach reminds
me of Franceís A.P.C. label. A.P.C. produce high-end casual clothes that
look like they could have come from the wardrobe department of a Godard
film, but updated for the present. Itís stuff you can wear season after
season, both because of the classic styling and because the clothes are so
well-made that they donít fall apart. A.P.C.ís marketing strategy is to
insist that this is a byproduct of their ĎFrenchnessí Ė an idea that is half
serious, half joke, as seen in the bottles of own brand olive oil A.P.C.
sell alongside their clothes as artefacts of their brand of ĎFrenchnessí and
Each seasonís collection of swirling chiffon dresses, chunky hand-knitted sweaters and immaculately cut flat-front twill shorts is accompanied by a set of simple Ďcampí basics: twill shorts, cap-sleeved t-shirts, and totebags emblazoned with sharp graphics of matches and tents. The colours are bright Lego primaries while the graphics suggest Soviet Constructivism.
But ignoring the concept for one moment, IVANAhelsinki clothes are gorgeous, flattering, and easy to wear. Suhonen, born in 1974, called upon her memories of the clothes she saw growing up as well as the nostalgic but twisted mixtures of designer and secondhand garments she singled out on the streets. The nostalgia is mixed with an element of personal affection: the Ď1938í of the fabricated match factory story is the year Suhonenís mother was born, and the match companyís fictional founder, Ivan Paolovski, is a scrambled masculinisation of Suhonenís first names, Paola and Ivana. Most IVANAhelsinki clothes have a 1970s cut with a modern colour palette and manic layering of prints. The combination of classic styling and youthful detail suggest a collusion between Marimekko, Diane von Furstenberg, and Bernhard Wilhelm to produce everyday wear for a group of hip backpackers who can afford to stay at nice hotels when they get sick of their tents, but are more interested in hanging out together than showing off their clothes.
The family history embedded in the match story and the idea of Helsinki as some neutral zone where Scandinavian and Slavic influences mix freely is a sort of tour guide to IVANAhelsinki-land. Like most of fashionís ideas of place, IVANAhelsinki-land doesnít really exist, except in fantasy, and in yellowed photo albums from the 1970s. Still, itís a good enough analogy for what happens when a clever designer creates a national costume for the country of her personal memory, and does it so well that we all want to visit and take home souvenirs.
Emily Bick is contemporaryís fashion editor