This article was originally published on April 24th 2015.
For 30 years, The International Festival of Fashion and Photography in Hyères, France has steadily built a reputation as a champion of undiscovered, immensely talented artists. And for the past handful of its fashion competitions, the students of Aalto University, a small program with typically fewer than a dozen people accepted per year, have made themselves the ones to beat. In 2012, a trio from the school, Siiri Raasakka, Tiia Sirén, and Elina Laitinen, took home the grand prize for their menswear collection. A year later, Satu Maaranen, also an Aalto student, snagged it again for her vibrant, sculptural “Garment in Landscape.” At the festival kicking off this Thursday, three of the ten finalists come from Aalto. A jury comprising Karl Lagerfeld, Virginie Viard, Olivier Zahm, Caroline de Maigret, Princess Caroline of Monaco, and Carine Roitfeld will decide the winners.
Given the university’s growing panache, it’s surprising that for many Aalto students, attending the school was, at first, simply a matter of convenience. “Of course it’s the best school in Helsinki, or all of Finland, but at the time I didn’t think I was ready to move [abroad],” says Finland-native Sophie Sälekari, whose collection made the top 10. Her fellow Aalto nominee, Elina Määttänen, says about the same: “I never thought of going away for school because I was quite shy.”
But the school also has another distinct appeal for budding talent. “We are not necessarily very practical in our designs, and we don’t feel the need to be very commercial, even though most of our designs are quite wearable” says Määttänen. “I also think it’s good that because it’s such a small country, there aren’t a lot of clear trends that everyone is following.” That sense of interiority is evident in the collections, which don’t feel as much like direct reflections of popular culture or commerce as the designs one might see coming out of hyper-connected cities London or New York.
Perhaps another reason why the work of Aalto’s students has felt so singular is the school’s emphasis on rich, immersive research. Sasu Kauppi, an Aalto graduate with a Master’s degree from Central Saint Martins who’s collaborated with Kanye West, runs his own eponymous line, and now teaches at Aalto, sees it as a mark of the school. “Aalto gave me a confidence to push my own aesthetic forward, understand the nature of a garment, and learn through extensive research and experimentation,” he said over email. “I think everything starts with research,” he added. “[Students] need to know how to do image research…and obviously use that research.”
For today’s students, that starts with not being overly reliant on the spoils of the Internet, but also finding a clever mix of a personal narrative and the valuable inspiration that can be mined from fashion’s history. For Sälekari, a former model and trained painter, that meant mixing her natural affection for prints with the sensibilities of the Wiener Werkstätte design collective of 19th c. Vienna. “It’s not just ‘Oh, I saw this cool picture on Pinterest and I took it,’” she says. “It’s, ‘Ok, where did you find this? What century is it? What does it represent?’”
For her part, Määttänen focused on woven fabrics, an idea brought to life by a collaboration with a student in the textile department. Aalto’s three nominees (including the duo Elina Äärelä and Heini-Maria Hynynen) will surely have their fingers crossed extra tightly this weekend, as the competition has come to be a point of pride for the school. But ultimately, for these students, the process of getting to this point has been its own accomplishment. “If I know from the start what I’m doing then it’s not really exciting for me,” says Määttänen. “I want [each collection] to be something that even I couldn’t imagine in the beginning.”END
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createdAt:Fri, 05 May 2017 14:32:49 +0000