Representing the creative future

Henna Lampinen: History woven in metal and wool

The Aalto graduate's wartime-inspired collection is a triumph of form, moody glamour, and fabric manipulation

“I never actually thought I wanted to be a fashion designer,” says Henna Lampinen, speaking to me over a FaceTime call from her home in Helsinki. “As a child, I was really interested in anime and manga, and from there I got into Tokyo street fashion. I wanted to make clothing like that for myself, so I thought I’d try and go to fashion school.”

And so she did. After training as a seamstress, the 27-year-old went on to study on the fashion design BA at Aalto University, from which she graduated this year. Still, Lampinen has come a long way from her original motivation to make clothes; it’s certainly hard to imagine them on Sailor Moon cosplayers. Instead, she has found herself in the Vogue Talents September issue, and her collection has already appeared in editorials for Re-Edition magazine and Elle Finland, among others.

Coverage like that is impressive for any BA collection, but Lampinen’s clothes – characterised most notably by their richly detailed textiles and dramatic shapes – turn heads. Skirts, coats, and blazers in dark, utilitarian colours are decorated with rows of chunky stitching, their fabrics warped and folded into imposingly big silhouettes that are often cinched at the waist with thick leather belts. Countless scraps of tartans and checks are woven together to create singular garments that sing with texture to create a kind of scarecrow effect that is nonetheless beautiful.

This cleverly executed marriage of form and material is something that has taken the designer a long time to perfect. “My starting points were very different to what they are now,” she explains. “I must have tried out a hundred different things: wool, knitting with machines and also by hand, mixing stuff, trying out hand embroidery. I found ways of doing things I really liked, and things that were maybe not as cohesive.”

“I was researching World War II factory workers – these women who were working with big rusty machines was something that was interesting to me, so I started with hand knitting metal and trying to get that to work.” The collection’s aforementioned silhouettes are the result of metalwork woven into the fabrics, hidden beneath the wool or cotton to lend the clothes a kind of malleable volume that undulates in unexpected folds and puckers. “I decided to hide the copper wire inside the garments and kind of bring this idea of patina into the materials, sewing it into the bias tape,” Lampinen explains of the process. “The metal is inside all of the jackets and two skirts. In the blazers, you can see this wavy shape in the sleeves, back seam and front caused by the metal. In the two trench coat looks, it gathers the fabric in the gun flap and deep back yoke. The idea was that the materials would look like they’ve been through this same hardship as the factory workers.

As well as WWII factory workers, the collection is inspired by 1950s housewives and Joan Crawford, whipping up the dichotomy of the glamour, austerity, and empowerment of the time. “I looked at the change in women’s lives in the 40s and 50s caused by post-war propaganda, but I wanted to have this unbalanced feeling in the collection, like the clothes were trapped in a time loop, not limited to being inspired by one decade.”

This fascination with wartime history extends into Lampinen’s fabrics, some of which are made from vintage blazers she found in thrift stores. “Maybe it’s me getting too deep into my research, but I like the idea of these women that have been left by their husbands who have gone to war, and using their old stuff to make things.” She also managed to snag a sponsor from a Finnish sock company who donated leftover socks to her for use in the project. “I cut the socks, sometimes for three hours, and then start to hand sew them together,” she explains. “This process is cool because when I hand-embroider them together, I get the shape of the pattern, so there’s not really much left over, and no waste.”

Photography Nicca Sinervo

Lampinen will begin her MA (also at Aalto) next year, but in the meantime is taking a year out of education to do a bit of fashion designer soul-searching. “I’ve been studying for seven years straight so now it’s time for me to find myself and what I’m about as a designer,” she says. “You forget that sense of identity when you’ve been studying for so long. I’m applying to many competitions now, and using this year to try and promote my BA collection.” Does she find this new, out-of-school independence daunting? “It is very scary! When you’re at school working all day and all night and then you just go home, it’s an easy life, because you don’t have to think about things, you just do them. Now I have time to worry about everything!”

One of the things Lampinen worries about the most is that she is not as extroverted as some of her classmates: “I’m not that social, so it’s hard for me to… not necessarily to be in the spotlight, but just to promote and put my work out there,” she smiles. “It can be a barrier. I see many people in my class that can push things forward much more easily with their persona, and so I think sometimes I stop my own progress.”

Still, in an industry where success can be built on cool-hungry egotism and social capital as much as on creative skill and technical expertise, Lampinen’s quieter approach to the fashion world is refreshingly endearing, and the designer remains stoic and confident in her work. “Maybe you cannot always be that extroverted person,” she says, “but I also think that the work speaks for itself, so it’s not only that kind of person that matters.”