Playing Dress-Up

Embroidered panties on top of jeans. Treasures from great-grandmothers’ trunks. Japanese fashion designers. Fox collars. Lacy parasols. Glam rock hairdos and tight, tight jeans.

The Hel Looks exhibition is an off-shoot of a street fashion site that Liisa Jokinen and Sampo Karjalainen created in 2005. The mission of their project is to portray stylish, original and individual dressers from Helsinki. Currently the site features 400 photographs.

Jokinen says the idea for Hel Looks developed during her bike rides to work in the spring of 2005. The first photographs were taken in July, after a trip to Stockholm. “We realised that street fashion in Helsinki is actually much more diverse and interesting than in Sweden. {quotes}Stockholmians are fashionable, but in Helsinki people look more original{/quotes},” she says.

But why traipse around Helsinki streets and clubs, take hundreds of photographs and post them online? On their website, Jokinen and Karjalainen say that they want to encourage people to dress individually and create their own styles, and to promote emerging Finnish designers. However, the main reason is that Helsinki-dwellers look great, they say.

{mosimage}The staff at Jugendsali say that craft teachers particularly have taken to the exhibition. Not a day goes by without a group of school children visiting. Expect a new generation of stylish dressers! The Hel Looks exhibition is a source of craft inspiration indeed. Jokinen and Karjalainen’s subjects refuse to make do with what chain stores and fashion magazines offer them. They create their own styles with second-hand and vintage clothing, and have no fear of modifying and customising.

In her portrait, Anni, 14, shows off her revamped shoes. “I bought my shoes from a shop and decorated them with pearls. When you make clothes yourself or customize them, you get exactly the clothes you want,” she says. And who says boys don’t sew? “I bought a jeans jacket for 50 cents from the recycling center, cut off the sleeves, dyed it, added the patches and made this vest out of it. My mother bought the jeans for me and I took the seams in to make them smaller. I don't go to shops,” says 15-year old Heikki.

In the age of big clothing chains with even bigger logistics operations, you can buy the same dress or shirt in almost any major city in the world. However, you don’t have to, and Hel Looks showcases people who don’t. Small labels spring up from basement workshops and self-taught seamstresses create unique designs. Fashion is no longer created only in Paris. Tokyo attracts Jokinen more, however. In fact, Hel Looks was initially modelled after Fruits, a Japanese street fashion magazine by Shoichi Aoki. “You have to admire the sense of style of the Japanese, but both Japanese and Finns have their own styles and that is good – it isn’t obvious anymore, as mainstream fashion becomes more and more uniform,” Jokinen says.

At its best, dressing up brings a bit of art and whimsy into every morning. “Dressing up is entertainment for me. I never take it too seriously even if I can spend hours thinking about clothes. It is a hobby and lifestyle that I couldn't live without,” says Minna, 25. Jokinen agrees: “Dressing up means having fun, being creative and playing. I don’t want to take fashion deathly seriously. Lots of things can be fashionable right now, in their own way.”

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