A two-part peek at this quirky capital of Nordic style. By Laragh Halldorson
As Europe's second most northerly capital (after Reykjavík) Helsinki is a city of contrasts. From 24-hour sunlight in the summer to almost zero in the dead of winter, this Nordic light has a vibe all its own. Building on a long, proud history of design innovation, Helsinki designers today are putting a youthful twist on the traditions established by Marimekko, Artek, and Iittala. Cosmopolitan Helsinki offers ground-breaking architectural design, hip, affordable fashions, and the freshest cuisine. Finns will tell you they like their coffee strong and their design clean, and a preliminary stroll around this compact city doesn't disappoint on either count.
To experience this singular mecca of independent style, head south from the crowded main shopping area to the Punavuori neighborhood. Once, an area better known for beer houses and brothels, the bustling streets are now home to a rich reserve of young fashion and design talent. Comprising the greatest part of the Design District Helsinki, maps of the area can be picked up at any of the participating shops. Densely packed around the streets Erottajankatu, Uudenmaankatu, and Fredrikinkatu, the dizzying array of small, hip boutiques and galleries will impress with an unparalleled selection of design objects and street-savvy fashion.
DDF is by far the best place to get a one-stop overview of contemporary Finnish design. This shop brings together the work of some of the most creative designers working today. Current highlights include the Latva Coat Rack by Mikko Laakkonen, Aniina Dunder's gorgeous jewelery made from paper, silver and reindeer skin, and a great selection of design books, glass, and ceramics. Also, be sure to scope out the temporary exhibition spaces and the great little café.
Note: DDF is one of the best locations in Helsinki to pick up some of the wonderful printed fabrics by Fokus Fabrik. This quartet of young Finnish textile designers produces beautiful, unique fabrics with an urban edge. Check out the ecological cotton Weekender bag printed with images of high-tension power lines and the stunning graphic bed linens. www.fokusfabrik.fi
The independent shopping scene in Helsinki has grown by leaps and bounds over the last couple of years thanks to shops like this tiny gem located in the heart of the design district. Lux carries a well-edited selection of clothing from Nordic names like Minimarket from Sweden and Peter Jensen as well as local designers Leikisti, Fokus Fabrik, and Antti Asplund. London labels Tatty Devine and Beyond the Valley also share shelf space with the funky in-house label Sohjo.
• Asuna, Fredrikinkatu 24, +358 (0)10 617 6500
"Clean, simple, and functional, just like the Finns." These words sum up the rationale behind the collection of sleek street-wise separates from Nordic labels like Annhagen from Sweden, Steinunn from Iceland, and local favorite Paris-based Anna Ruohonen. Don't miss the gorgeous leather bags from Finnish-French label Lumi. The men's and women's clothing also includes pieces from Euro faves Vivienne Westwood and Marithé et François Girbaud as well as 1921 jeans from Canada.
Secco Shop offers "Treasures from the Wasteland," which translates to funky, handmade objects created by mostly Finnish designers from reclaimed materials. Secco's mandate is to repurpose post-consumer and industrial waste products into high-quality, sustainable design. Look for unique pieces like earrings fashioned from cell phone parts, and QWERTY River fridge magnets made of old computer keys. Check out the Volume bowls by Aki Kotkas created using old vinyl records, the sleek line of handbags by Rubber Hills crafted from recycled car and tractor tire inner tubes, and delicate floral rubber jewellery from Wasteland Garden.
This fun, lively, and inexpensive café in the center of the design district is an ideal spot to grab a sandwich and coffee along with artists, designers, and local musicians.
Located on the leafy Bulevardi, this grand dame of Helsinki café life has served patrons since 1865. Delicious lunches and desserts make this a popular meeting place that buzzes from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
• Palace Hotel Linna, Lönnrotinkatu 29, +358 010-3444 100
Straddling the Punavuori and Kamppi districts, this hotel is guaranteed to please without breaking the bank. Located inside an unusual Art Nouveau building resembling a fortress, the hotel's cozy "1920s-meets-medieval times" lobby is in quirky contrast to the guest rooms designed in cool, clean Finnish modern lines. The truly awesome breakfast buffet in the cellar restaurant, amazingly obliging staff, and relaxed guest sauna make this one of the best places to return to after a hard day of exploring Helsinki's many hot spots.
A two-part peek at this quirky capital of Nordic style.