Linda Kokkonen’s Wiccan Craft
In the 1960s, Alex and Maxine Sanders founded the Alexandrian Wicca coven, a neopagan religion relying heavily on nature worship and gender polarity. Though the group originated in England and was based on the earlier Gardnerian Wicca tradition based in Bricket Wood, Hertfordshire, it gained traction all over the world, including Spain, the US, Brazil, and South Africa. Finnish designer Linda Kokkonen drew heavily on the Alexandrian coven while researching her BA collection at Aalto University, Helsinki. “They had the same values as hippies at the time, about honouring nature and respecting everyone, but with all these dark rituals. I felt really connected to that,” Linda explains over Skype from her home in Helsinki, where she is currently at work on her MA collection.
Her interest in witchcraft was sparked by Finland’s pagan traditions that predated the country’s conversion to Christianity. She was also interested in how clothes historically link to rituals, not just in witchcraft but in everyday traditions of dressing. With the exception of a full-length, cascading red lace and tulle dress, every item was made in black, a reference to Victorian mourning clothes that Linda liked for their potential to evoke deep sadness, but also romance and sensitivity. Her silhouettes referenced the era, too, high-neck dresses with puffed sleeves, corseted blouses and a pleated, babydoll-like black chiffon dress that is both innocent and nocturnal. To insert a touch of goth functionality, Linda added leather jackets made from reused motorcycle-wear. Her signature techniques, she says, are the ruched cuffs and collars, adding to the aura of sentimentality, as well as assembling her pieces “like a puzzle, stitching together bits of fabric or covering it with lace.”
The red dress in Linda’s collection, in some ways the keynote and the connecting tissue between her different characters (as well as her favourite piece), was, in fact, her last addition. “I’d been looking at my collection for a year already,” she says, “and I knew I had to make some brave decisions, to design something new. I was set on only using black, but then the red dress came to me. I was thinking about movement, and because the hem is so big, I think it creates a really beautiful motion when you walk.”
“Functionality, reusability, everyday luxury – these are recurring themes among the design students of Linda’s generation and, perhaps, a hopeful indication of the direction fashion is headed in.”
Her designs – the red dress, in particular – won her a place on the shortlist at the Hyères Festival. While most fashion students at Aalto across the BA and MA are encouraged to apply, Linda was surprised to find her work shortlisted, alongside contestants like Belgian-born Lisi Herrebrugh and Rushemy Botter (now creative directors at Nina Ricci). Linda found the festival challenging, not just technically but as a representative of her ‘brand’. “I’m not a person who speaks a lot,” she says, “but at Hyères there are showrooms and presentations. I had to learn to talk to people”. Alongside each collection, festival sponsors Givaudan Fragrances urged the designers to create an accompanying scent. Linda’s perfume, a combination of musky, fruity and smoky tones was made to evoke a scene of forest witches sitting around a fire.
Linda first developed an interest in craft and drawing in secondary school. “I hated fashion back then,” she says, “so I decided when I’m older I want to be a designer and I want to do something different.” Before starting at Aalto, she studied classical tailoring for three years, “learning to take measurements and cut patterns and sew super carefully.” She’s glad to have delayed starting university. “I make better decisions now,” she says, “it was good to not be 18 and be starting at Aalto, because I knew that it can be really rough.” She is conscious that while her designs belong to a Nordic tradition of storytelling and fairy tales, they don’t really fit the mold of detached minimalism that Scandinavian fashion has become known for – instead, her silhouettes call to mind UK-based Molly Goddard and Simone Rocha who, like Linda, err on the line between exaggerated, girlish silhouettes and a bizarre, almost (in Rocha’s case) sombre aura.
While Linda’s collection is technically womenswear, she thinks of them as “clothes with a feminine touch that everyone can wear” and is moving, with her MA collection, towards more unisex designs. Her practice is built on an uncompromising ethos of sustainability – she only uses recycled lace, jersey and leather and does not buy fabric that contains polyester. “I chose the materials based on my inspiration and moodboard,” she says, “and then I find the ethical version of it. I want to show people that sustainable clothes can be really beautiful.”
“Linda’s perfume, a combination of musky, fruity and smoky tones was made to evoke a scene of forest witches sitting around a fire.”
Functionality, reusability, everyday luxury – these are recurring themes among the design students of Linda’s generation and, perhaps, a hopeful indication of the direction fashion is headed in. She wants her designs to sit somewhere between haute couture and ready-to-wear, looking for an “everyday kind of luxury experience. A garment that is beautiful and handmade, that you don’t just wear once on a special occasion, and then leave hanging, in your closet.”