Finnish design all around you

Finnish design has reached all kind of levels in our everyday life. You
can see it in the latest model of mobile phone, or carried in the form of a bag
by the trendiest teenager in a fashionable pub late at night.

{mosimage}Roots & wings

Marimekko is the leading Finnish textile and clothing design company,
which is also well known outside of Finland’s borders. They design and
manufacture high-quality clothing, interior decoration textiles, bags and other
accessories. Some of the greatest Finnish designers have collaborated with the
company, such as Jukka Rintala. He
started his career 30 years ago and is well known especially for the evening
gowns he designs. But they are not the only thing he does; he is a versatile
designer, and
he has done costumes for theatre
performance,
as well as
interior and clothing design.

Marimekko has been one of the most important Finnish success stories
over the decades, in fact ever since the company was established in 1951. Some
of their products and prints that you will see on the shelves of the shops
today are as old as company, but nowadays more in style than ever!

So, what’s new in Marimekko? Something very unique and interesting is going
on: the company has signed an agreement to start cooperation under license,
concerning the decoration of elevator car interiors. The agreement that was made
with KONE, a large Finnish machine manufacturer, provides an opportunity to
apply Marimekko design to elevators by decorating the internal walls of an
elevator car with a decorative laminate. “These two strong international brands
will strengthen each other and provide architectural planning with a new
dimension,” says Matti Alahuhta, the president of KONE Corporation. And
according to Kirsti Paakkanen, the president of Marimekko, “the agreement
reflects the goal of both parties to make design a part of people's everyday
lives”. And you can even change the laminate, so your elevator is stylish for
every occasion! You wouldn’t have guessed that the manufacturer of elevator
cars and one of the hottest clothing design company have anything in common, would
you?

 

Camping spirit

Finnish designers are very ingenious. If Marimekko designs interiors of elevator
cars, the designer of IVANAHelsinki gives the key of her apartment to her
customers. What is going on? Isn’t the regular shop enough? 

Wait, we have to go back in time first. The company was founded by
designer Paola Suhonen and her sister Pirjo Suhonen in 1998. There is a new
trend called Fennofolk, which is a mix of Scandinavian pure and simple lines,
and IVANAHelsinki represents this new style, which is a combination of modern
Scandinavian and Slavic style with a new twist. The style was born in Finland and the
oddness of the Finns is big part of it. That means that the clothes are a bit
absurd, in such a way that you will wonder if some part of the design should be
like that or not.

There is lot of going on in IVANAHelsinki these days. Paola Suhonen’s
designs are well known in Finland,
but also internationally. One country that particularly adores IVANA´s style is
Japan,
where the company has a huge market. Just recently, the Suhonen sisters paid a
visit to this oriental country to assist to several exhibitions of their
designs.

But one more domestic and slightly unusual promotion is happening here
in Helsinki:
Paola Suhonen opened her home to her customers! According to Paola’s sister and
business partner, Pirjo Suhonen, “the idea was to bring the shop into home,
totally the opposite to the normal way of thinking when home products are in a
shop”.

The apartment, or should I say home, is in trendy, but rough,
neighbourhood called Kallio, in Helsinki.
It is open for the loyal customers, who will get the key and can visit, spend
time and shop when they have time to do it. What makes this concept unique is
the level of trust. The idea is to make the customers to feel like they are at
home. There are 10 keys available and one of them could be yours for a month!

 

The bear is back!

Karhu, which means 'bear' in Finnish, makes sports gear, and much of
their range has remained unchanged from when it first appeared. The story of
the company was almost coming to and end when Karhu teamed up with an
advertising company and decided to do something: improve the marketing and tell
consumers about Karhu’s long journey. This is Karhu’s second success story.

The company was established in 1916 and the picture of a bear was
already used in the company logo. In the beginning, discus and javelins were the
most important products, but running and track shoes were also manufactured. In
the 1930s the product range expanded even more.

{mosimage}Due to the Helsinki Olympics (in 1952) Karhu became a significant sports
equipment manufacturer and earned its international reputation as the leading
manufacturer of athletic shoes. An interesting fact is that Karhu sold its
three stripes trademark to one – these days well-known – man, whose sport brand
also uses the same trademark. According the story the, price they got was two
bottles of good whiskey and about 1,600 euros. Over the next decades Karhu
became a well-known trademark for athletic shoes for top runners worldwide and
it developed the first air cushion system for its trainers in '70s.

Even though the design and quality were excellent, the marketing of the
products wasn’t very good and that is why the brand was pretty much forgotten around
the late '80s and '90s, until the beginning of the millennium when the Karhu
Originals collection was launched. The company co-operated with their advertising
company and they spent lot of money on marketing the trainers and bags and it
was worth every penny, because today Karhu is a big name in fashion; the
products have huge retro appeal and are extremely trendy nowadays. Karhu’s long
history and high quality are the things which attract the buyers today. Another
nice fact is that Karhu Originals are hand-made in Europe.

 

The plastic pioneer

Eero Arnio represents very well the innovative Finnish spirit. Born in
1932, he studied from 1954 to 1957 at the Institute of Industrial
Arts in Helsinki.
Not long after opening his own office, he designed the famous “Ball Chair”. The
fiberglass material and shape used supposedly a great novelty at that time. He
was and is also a pioneer in the way he works with the materials; for example,
he developed “rotation molding”, a particular method of working with plastic
(medium density polyethylene) that offers the same possibilities as fiberglass
in terms of quality, but at a lower cost.

 

Houseware magicians

The disillusionment at seeing the lack of creativity at the tableware section
of the Ambiente fair of Frankfurt led to former friends from the University of
Art and Design in Helsinki
Tony Alfström (1972 Finland)
and Brian Keaney (1974 Ireland) to found Tonfisk on December 17th,
1999. And no
wonder that the founders raise their glasses filled with Finnish vodka to mark
that day every year. Things are running smoothly for a company that
nowadays exports
their products to more than 30 different countries. This
dynamic and youthful
spirit appears clear when you take a look at their designer´s most creative
ideas
; they all radiate refreshment of ideas and a joyful spirit. If you have
the chance, take a look at the 'Oma' lemon squeezer by Jenni Ojala and Susanna
Hoikkola
, or the milk and
sugar “Newton” set by Tanja Sipilä.

And obviously, once
you start to transform your kitchen into
your own personal Finnish design museum, the experience can be fascinating. Shapes
that you would never imagine appear in concordance with the environment in the
design of small details to which you had never paid attention before. If not,
take a look to the curvy modern forms of Majamoo wooden trivets (
a three-legged metal stand for
supporting a cooking pot over a flame)
, trays or
chopsticks. The user may be tempted
to use their small beautiful
pieces to eat, or just to preserve them on the table as a timeless decoration
set.

 

125 years anniversary

But undoubtedly, when
referring to homeware design, special mention goes to the Iittala group, with
125 years of existence, which – apart from their own company
 also has strong presence through their brands
Arabia and Hackman. Its story dates back to 1881, when a glass factory was
established in Iittala, a small Finnish village north of Helsinki. Iittala has
25 shops around the world, highly concentrated in Holland, where you can find
10, and a new one was
recently
opened to the public in Amsterdam.

As a highlight in the
company’s history, there is the world famous Alvar Aalto vase, designed in 1936
and still widely produced

today
. Even with the passing of the years, his designs do
not lose importance
; rather the opposite, they
look more appropriate now than ever.
Even the
director of the Aalto Foundation, Markku Lahti, is invited in November to
a series of conferences around
the USA, an example of the respect and veneration that the
Aalto´s work generates all over the world.

And that is not the
only link in
North American with Finnish design. In Madison, Wisconsin State, in the USA, you
can find the headquarters of Fiskars, a company that creates quality tools. The
name comes from the city with the same name located in west
ern Finland,
where Dutch merchants established a blast furnace. Soon, the company gained
fame for the
high quality of their iron products, and that fame
has remained until the present day. The characteristic Finnish commitment
to innovation and ease of use can be found even in their gardening scissors.

You would think that Finnish design is simple and clean, but in fact it
can surprise you: Just take an elevator car ride, go to your favourite
designer’s home and chill out or take a walk in the trendiest shoes on the
streets. It is Finnish design everywhere!