Representing the creative future

AALTO Fashion 2023: Can intuition drive design?

Discover the collections of this year’s AALTO BA and MA Fashion classes

Young designers at AALTO University unveiled the collections they had been cooking up over the past months at the school’s annual show Näytös23. From womenswear and menswear to knitwear, graduates presented a wide variety of innovative and creative designs that showcased the bold identity each one of them has. A uniqueness that sets them at the right pace to find their spot in such a saturated industry. “I have gathered knowledge I couldn’t have gotten from anywhere else, and I feel capable and hopeful that I’ll find my way,” says Erika Airo.

Building a final collection is, without a doubt, an extremely demanding project. But despite its hardships, it is also a privilege to invest so much time and effort in a project in this rushing field that is fashion, since it allows creativity to flow and bend the boundaries in a safe and controlled setting, away from the real world. Fashion can sometimes be onerous enough to trap you too, a feeling that becomes real only when the project you’ve been working on is finally set free. “I feel empty in a way now. It’s funny to think that there is something outside the fashion,” says Risto Kirjonen, BA student.

A closer look at the graduate’s work feels like diving into an utterly distinctive sea of emotions and memories. At a time when the future couldn’t be any more present, AALTO’s young designers have opted for introspection as well as reflection on the past to inspire the garments that cost them sweat and tears to craft. An immersive process through which they have not only experimented with new techniques based on intuition and personal experience but also found out more about their own identity and capabilities.

Aappo Törmänen

Through the manipulation of vestiary semiotics, the collection represents a set of confused hierarchical characters that range from hysterical doctors to perverts and puritans. These bodies find themselves deprived of their autonomy, left only breathing. But contrary to what one might think, it is not a collection about discipline, but about emancipation through control. “It asks questions such as how power and violence manifests through clothing and what is the relationship between desire, discipline and dress,” Törmänen says. While developing his ideas, the designer has increasingly become a fan of previously unexciting garments such as hoodies, underwear and socks. “I had very little interest in ready-to-wear, but I started studying mundane clothes around me and eventually found attraction towards them.” Despite the adversities, another key element in Törmänen’s creative process was intuition. “It was highly important to me to find intuitive ways of working. I started with the materials directly, having just a vague, abstract idea of where I wanted to end up,” he explains. “My methodology has changed so drastically due to my new appeal to mundane clothes. I even had a bit of a crisis with my identity during the collection process that I’m still recovering from.”

Aki Nummela

Nummela’s fascination with counterculture figures from New Queer Cinema and 90s industrial music has resulted in the frenetic, bimboesque characters that compose this collection. With a Gaga-inspired title, ‘Heavy Meat Lover’ creates new meanings for traditional classic garments and textiles by investigating aesthetic and tactile elements. These are then translated into clothing through the exaggeration of body proportions and the replication of jagged surfaces and textures that exist in the designer’s corroded and nebulous milieu. Metal scraps and tires have been repurposed to garnish the collections’ knitted, heavy leather and digitally-printed looks. A seamless combination of materials that’s reminiscent of those sequin dresses, stoned scratchy knits and a very special fur-collared PVC puffer jacket available at his mum’s party wardrobe, where the designer’s interest towards fashion sparked. When asked about the biggest challenge of creating the collection, Nummela doesn’t hesitate: “Making decisions regarding any choice – I’m a Libra.” Now they feel a strange mix of relief and emptiness as well as excitement for their future career, even if they’re unsure of what’s going to happen next. “I have no idea and I love it.”

Alex Luonto

Alex Luonto’s final collection ‘Objects of Desire’ is a semi-couture array of anti-garments informed by his previous work at AALTO together with his own personal wardrobe of curated vintage finds. “These two together act as the blueprint for the work while my goals were to achieve total artistic freedom combined with bodily freedom on a journey into extreme minimalism,” he says. Sometimes the desired outcome cannot be achieved through traditional techniques, prompting innovation. That’s exactly what happened to Luonto: “I developed a hidden stitch that allows you to use the machine-sewed tracks accompanied with hand stitching to have control over the quality.” This new stitch can then be tightened, simulating the shape a corset would create on the body. Despite the collection’s minimalistic aesthetic, the designer has maximized the chosen materials, ranging from velvets, silk ribbons and leathers to feathers, suiting wools and curated vintage objects placed meticulously on the clothing. “Everything is made out of the highest quality natural materials to obtain a certain feeling of opulence and luxury.” Luonto is now ready for his next adventure. “I feel like the way I construct, reference and execute fashion could translate as well into film direction.”

Anni Salonen

Pre-loved garments from recycling centres, dumpsters and even her own closet piled up as Anni Salonen curated a selection of them that would directly form and inform her final collection, ironically named ‘not another sustainable collection’. “I don’t consider my work sustainable because it is dependent on an unsustainable production-consumption system,” she explains, despite her intrinsic environmentally-friendly approach to fashion. “It shouldn’t be this easy for me to find perfectly good clothes for free.” Among those pieces that give way to repurposed garments – mixed with leather due to its improved look when worn out – there’s knit made by her mum when Salonen was a child as well as some fabric from clothes knitted by her grandma and aunt. With her younger sister designing a print, the collection clearly has family and the designer’s own experience at its core. An asset that probably gave the final result the cohesiveness it needed, a big challenge for Salonen because of the endless materials that would have made it all too busy.

Elina Silina

Names ‘Daughter of the North’, Elina Silina’s collection explores the handover of Latvian ancestral knowledge through textiles and craftsmanship. Its essence also lies in deep-diving into Latvian folk symbols, their meaning and practical uses. “I aim to convey the role of textiles as being much more than merely a material,” she says. “I see cloth as a way to express one’s beliefs and identity, as a means of communication.” With this view and a broadened understanding of the unique role of fabrics in connecting people within their culture and other ones globally, the collection is also a new take on Silina’s own roots. The Latvian intricate balance between colour, pattern and material present in the design of surfaces and overall silhouettes made sourcing the right materials and highlighting traditional craftsmanship essential for the development of the pieces. That included knitting and crocheting with hand-spun raw wool from locally grown sheep and goats, and dyeing raw wool with mushrooms and onion skins and combining it with specialty yarn made from Baltic amber. “The process of creating the collection was mostly fulfilling and fun, however, there were times when I felt overwhelmed and emotional, and I was missing home and my family,” the designer explains. However, she now feels accomplished and excited for the future. “I am continuing to carve my path in the world of fashion.”

Erika Airo

To explore the emotional functions and capabilities of clothing, the collection fuses Erika Airo’s personal history and the environment where she grew up, especially the nature of Viikki, in Helsinki. A place that she feels like her own despite of being public spaces she has only passed through. “It’s strange having such a strong relationship to a space that it feels like a part of you, to almost feel ownership over it. And to understand how foolish it is at the same time,” she says. Several pieces in the collection serve as poignant connections to specific memories or emotions, translated through the choice of materials, the form or the unique craftsmanship involved. “There are memories that I’d like to hold closer to me, that make breathing a little easier, and I was looking to make clothes that would be the physical representations of those times and places.” Tactile memory played a big part in the developing process since Airo sought textiles that were reminiscent of previous experiences in her life, especially childhood nightgowns, old football tracksuits and windbreakers, and more specific items such as her grandma’s rya or her dad’s old hoodie. Translating ideas into tangible garments is not always easy, but the designer mirrored the process of tattooing as a continuous effort to create ease and trust. “When I draw tattoos, I don’t have a clear picture in my mind. It’s more an emotion or a movement of the hand that I’m trying to capture. I have trust in the foggy parts of the process and the knowledge that I’ll know when to push or let things be.”

Idaliina Friman

Countless families experienced the horrors of WWII, and Idaliina Friman’s is an example. The forced decision to flee from Finland that her family had to take once the country surrendered to Russia has deeply inspired the designer, leading to a collection of hand-knitted embroidered knits and hand-dyed silk tulles mimicking the faded colours of worn-out clothing. All informed by the kind of garments her grandparents carried with them when leaving their homes abruptly, in a rush, and not knowing if they could ever come back. “I was especially inspired by the study of what kind of symbolic meanings and emotions were related to the objects chosen for their journey and the way they were carried, stitched and hid inside the clothing,” she says. That’s also why second-hand shearlings and surplus wools have been paired with pearls made of recycled glass, jewellery and accessories, unexpectedly transforming the silhouettes with their weight. “They portray my own personal memories, and emotions and also represent the emotional bond to certain materials and objects, drawing my own connection and interpretation of my grandparents’ experiences and examining how these themes still, after generations, are shown in my own identity through the feelings of rootlessness and emotional attachment to objects and material.”

Kaius Viljanen

Inspired by early 2000s Finnish streetwear and rap music, the collection is a balanced mix of classical tailoring pieces and streetwear clothing. A combination that’s also present in the actual creation of the garments, with Kaius Viljanen adapting the traditional techniques tailors use to build pieces that fit his very defined style. “It was quite difficult to combine those two different worlds that are essential for me, but I really need to have both themes in my work because otherwise, it would be too serious,” he says. “I made some prototypes of dropped-shoulder jackets with similar hand-done padding as in traditionally made jackets, but I felt like it was restricting the drape and movement of the cloth.” The designer also has a pragmatic hands-on approach to fashion, probably influenced by the artistic background of his family. “From the beginning, I wanted to make most of the stuff by myself, so I have also woven some fabrics for the collection, and made some shoes from scratch as well.”

Kuutti Lemmetyinen 

Raised in an open-minded environment and extremely influenced by art, Kuutti Lemmetyinen has named his collection ‘Ei ole koiraa karvoihin katsominen’, a 1702 Finnish proverb by Henrik Florinus which is equivalent to ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. The whole process of creating this set of sculpturally structured garments has been inspired by the observation of different objects made out of attention-drawing materials or covered by them as if it was a shell. “I associated the idea of a gore and a cover straight to a body and a garment,” he says. However, money had a big impact too, since it is challenging to finance a collection as an unemployed student. “This challenge guided the way to having bizarre contrasts with different materials. Some of them are crummy curtains from Tallinn and some are antique rugs found in a dumpster in the streets of Stockholm.” Those materials have later been draped, hiding and exposing the body as a way of playing hide and seek to perpetuate the dualistic idea of body and garment at the core of the collection. Now that all the work has been unveiled and he has been awarded the Marimekko Prize at Näytös23, the designer is hoping for some rest before continuing his studies. “You’ll probably find me lying in the middle of the woods for the next two months.”

Olli Autio

“I’ve always been super imaginative and emotional even as a child, but also always had difficulties in quantifying and expressing my emotions, which have just been colors and shapes in my head,” says designer Olli Autio. That world full of creativity that resides in their head is what has given way to a collection of barely visible lurex, pattern-heavy industrial jacquard knits and 3-dimensional hand-made crochet garments that have been elevated with glitters, foils and patterns. ‘Customize your character’, a title directly inspired by video games, aims to intertwine the elaborate stories and worlds in Autio’s head, which have always been a way to escape the real world. “As an adult, this has transformed into seeking escape from this bleak grey world and my mental health struggles, but also seeking escape by diving into fantasy media like video games and roleplaying games,” they explain. “My collection is a reflection of my way of perceiving the world, but also an attempt to create protective characters that stem from my personality and way of dressing, but separate it from me and lift it to a more magical plane.” The designer is proud of their achievements with this project, although they feel weird about putting an end to it. Autio is in no rush to exit school yet, wanting to focus on taking their art to the next level. “The future can wait, now I just want to do the things I want to do.”

Pamela Hakala

Art has always been embedded into Pamela Hakala’s life. “I have always utilized art as a tool for thinking and it plays a major role in my collection designing process,” she says. Her final collection ‘Girl, Horse and the Leech’ delves into a set of visual and literary outputs of subconsciousness that tell a story from a place the designer calls Maisema, a scenery she has created through techniques like photography, drawing and automatic writing. Draping has also played a big role in the collection, both with fabric on a torso and with serviettes on cutlery, giving way to an expressive and voluminous array of sculptural garments in satin, steel bones, merino wool, tulle, and old wax cloth. “Sewing boning in the tulle tubes was painful but probably the biggest challenge in this process was becoming aware of what I was making.” During the development of the collection, Hakala found herself questioning her identity and distanced herself from acting subconsciously, even though that resulted in a sharpened narrative with endless symbols she has now made her own. What’s waiting for her now is still unknown, but hopefully, the designer will get everything she aims for. “I want to keep doing my own thing unapologetically and maybe have my own brand one day.”

Risto Kirjonen

A self-taught fashion designer, Risto Kirjonen has laid the foundation of his own aesthetic and methodology during his studies at AALTO. His intention is no other than to create functional garments that still catch the attention within the overcrowded world of contemporary fashion. “I want the pieces to be functional but not too literal. My philosophy as a designer is not to make pieces just for the art. I want the pieces to also have a practical aspect, a reason to exist,” he says. And that has been the exact base of ‘Seeking for the border’, a collection inspired by 1920s mountaineers and their clothing that plays with the functionality and absence of it while still staying true to the art of garment making. It’s a journey to find the boundaries and bend them. The resulting seven looks feature taped seams and water-resistant materials that unite with natural Merino knits to become versatile pieces perfect for the outdoors and the city. “Executing my first whole collection needed good skills with timing,” Kirjonen explains, opening up about the hardest part of his creating process. “If I could get back in time, I would have started to execute the final pieces a week or two earlier, even though I think the hurry is deeply embedded in the industry.”

Ruusa Vuori

Challenging the conventional boundaries of the human body and seeking liberation from self-imposed limitations, Ruusa Vuori delves into the realm of embodied knowledge in her final collection. The exploration extends to the perception of personal space, emphasizing the significance of borders and transitions including various surfaces, membranes, openings, and holes, together with pushing through them. The focus of Vuori’s work lies in enhancing sensory experiences and heightening the awareness of embodied sensations, drawing from her own dance background. Through her designs, she explores the sensations of wearing a garment, how it interacts with the skin, its movements and the way it influences one’s own moves. “I think of a piece of garment as a gesture that evokes sensory experience. My work has developed by experimenting, in a process where one’s body is the subject. I have tried to listen, to analyze and to illustrate the information the body-subject has internalized and present it in a wearable form,” says Vuori. In the process, she focused on very small details even though her aim was to create bigger spaces. “I feel it’s important to include those smaller, restricting garments. They can be very distressing, but at the same time, the garment hugs the person wearing it and gives them a feeling of security and freedom from decision as the garment defines how one moves in it.”

Sohvi Vaananen

Life is an accumulation of experiences, but what if we could wear them somehow? Titled ‘Wearing an Experience’, Sohvi Vaananen’s collection is inspired by performance art, a discipline in which artists use their body as a tool and as their material to create experiences even if the results cannot be sold. Such ephemeral art deeply informed the designer’s creative process, dedicating five sessions to every material to build an array of garments that aligns the model and the maker in perfect tandem. “Each garment’s shape is made live with another person in two stages. Material is first manipulated on the floor by drawing on it, cutting it or crunching it up and draping it on a body afterwards,” she explains. These pieces have been paired with silver-plated bronze jewellery created with sculptural methods and inspired by positive body language used in our interactions such as an open posture or a smile. However, these innovative and collaborative processes are not always easy to handle by artists. “It has been very personal and introducing another person to my creative process when creating a garment has been inspirational although it added an extra layer of pressure for the work to be successful.”

Susanna Saarikko

‘Since Chair’ is a collection built around a core element – a hand-made wooden chair. But for Susanna Saarikko, the chair became a tool more than a subject, through which she explored its relationship with the body and space. Always from a sculptural point of view, she analysed the possibilities the chair and the experience of spending time on it would offer to design. Despite the apparent complexity of the process, the designer leant on intuition to succeed. “In sculpture, working feels intuitive. I wanted to apply this to garment research as well and ended up simply spending time with the chair with different experimentations and trials. I wanted to be able to let the material and its cues guide me,” she says. “Sometimes fashion design research gets a bit too conceptual to me, so the chair positioned me back to my actual surroundings, space, materials and their essence.” The result is a set of shape-transforming pieces in a predominantly neutral colour palette that grow and diminish in volume depending on the quantity of material that was available. The designer also relies on simplicity to explore her creativity. “Sometimes a simple thing is the only thing you need to spark ideas.”

Valentin Schwarz

Valentin Schwarz focused on his own experience as a transgender man for ‘Anders als die Andern’. The collection’s title serves as a tribute to Magnus Hirschfeld, whose research on queer people would have been ground-breaking if the Nazis hadn’t burnt it all in 1930. “I am happy to say that my body is finally morphing into something I recognize when I look into the mirror,” says Schwarz. However, over the past two years, he reflected on the fact his clothes were not morphing with him. “I started to wonder: what if they did? I never understood the idea of very tight fitting tailored clothes anyways, all of our bodies change so rapidly within a year or two that they might not fit anymore.” This led to experimentation, aiming to bend the rules of tailoring and gender norms and incorporating characteristics of bondage. “Ropes can be used to create a map on two sheets of fabric. It becomes a tunnel for the rope.” This way, garments can be adjusted in length, width, fit and style to accommodate any changes that occur in our body or even our mood, resulting in a lineup of clothing that represents and twists stereotypical gender roles. When asked about his next steps, Schwarz says his big dream is to have his own brand but also admits new brands take years to start being profitable. “This is a very competitive field so I am just as terrified as excited to get out there.”