by Emily Virgil
Beginning mid-century, Scandinavia set the stage for modern minimalist design marked by functionality. While Sweden and Denmark cornered industrial design, Finland found a fit with textiles and has provided decades of invigorating solutions to the medium. Today, a modest outfit called Ivana Helsinki carries on the tradition, turning out a spectrum of offerings (from womenswear to bedding), which echoes the country's long love affair with brilliant textiles. When Marimekko applied vibrant colors and non-figurative shapes to oilcloth, fashioning the fabric into dresses in 1952, it virtually changed the way printing was done and resulted in a commercial frenzy. Half a century later, Ivana Helsinki represents a new brand of modern Finnish design, noting a similar aesthetic to its iconic predecessors.
Ivana Helsinki is not an actual person but rather a fictional character created by designer Paola Suhonen. Suhonen, who is trained in fashion design, also created a fictional history for the brand based on a Russian manufacturer, Paolo Ivanski, who moved to Helsinki in 1938 to open the world's most northern match factory and who adored escaping on weekends to go camping with co-workers. The reality of Ivana Helsinki is not so far off. A family-run company (Paola's sister, Pirjo, is in charge of marketing), IH consists of only eight people, all Finnish and all dedicated to the slow design approach.
Not surprising, Ivanski's "camping" spirit permeates all reaches of the Helsinki world. Old photographs from nature excursions pepper the site, leaving one to wonder whether the images are of actual employees or those of an old story. As for the clothes, tough cotton jackets are well-suited for the modern adventurer with thoughtfully placed pockets and smart tailored seams. Dresses and tops merge practicality with a fresh, childlike sweetness (no trousers here).
Every year, IH presents a collection of assorted prints, mostly monochromatic, hand-drawn, and single-subject and all hand-printed. Potent green speed boats, brown camp tents, pink cats, and Russian dolls awaken dresses and bikinis, shirts and jackets, handbags and coin purses, even plates and trays in a new line titled Hemma (Finnish for "home"). It features bedding, slippers, and other no-nonsense housewares all printed to coordinate with the apparel collection.
Better still, Ivana Helsinki upholds an ethical, progressive practice with all products crafted by hand in Finland; no chemical dyes, fur, or leather are used. According to Suhonen, "the clothes are full of positive melancholy and hope of tomorrow," but thankfully those wishing to wear their affection for design on their sleeve, get to enjoy them today.
Ivana Helsinki is available in New York at Otte (132 North 5th Street, Brooklyn, 718-302-3007) and in Chicago at Eskell (952 West Webster Avenue, 773-477-9390); www.ivanahelsinki.com
Hand-printing everything from dresses to handbags and bedding, Ivana Helsinki picks up where Marimekko left off, carrying on Finland's legacy of whimsical contemporary textiles.