Fashion Curating: Unsustainability, gender and class readdressed

Fashion Interactions is a multidisciplinary exhibition that explores fashion culture by means of contemporary art, design and media. The exhibited works comment, on the unsustainability of the fashion industry, analyze the relationship of fashion and corporeality, and investigate how people use clothing as a tool for building identities. The exhibition is Curated by Annamari Vänskä & Hazel Clark and it presents works from: Federico Cabrera, Heidi Lunabba, Jasmin Mishima, Anna Mustonen, Nutty Tarts, Timo Rissanen, Salla Salin, Heidi Soidinsalo, Saara Töyrylä and Timo Wright. This exhibition opens on Friday November 15, 2013 in New York City. It is a collaboration with Parsons The New School for Design and the SheilaC. Johnson Design Center, Finnish Cultural Institute in New York, and the Centre for Fashion Studies (Stockholm University).

Image 

(Fashion Interactions-exhibition, Timo Wright-‘un fit’ video still)

FASHION CURATING NOW is a daylong symposium at Parsons The New School for Design on Saturday November 16 9:30 am-5 pm. The symposium reflects the subjects around the Fashion Interactions exhibition focusing on the possibilities and challenges of contemporary fashion curating on a global scale. Critical points of view are stressed, as is contemplation of fashion’s kinship with art, design, industry, performance, and self-presentation. I asked a few questions from Leena-Maija Rossi, who is the Executive Director of Finnish Cultural Institute in New York, about the seminar and other related topics. 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Can you explain the background of the seminar?

L-M Rossi: The background of the Fashion Curating Now is in the exhibition project Fashion Interactions. It has its origins in the show Boutique, curated by Annamari Vänskä, which was part of Helsinki’s World Design Capital year in 2012. Finnish Cultural Institute wanted to bring a new edition of the show to New York and partnered with Parsons New School for Design in order to do that. The process of “re-curating” an already existing exhibition made us think of curating fashion at large: how to present fashion in an interesting way “outside the  market”? How to make engaging exhibitions on fashion, how to show its entwinement with fine art, how to find new fora for curating, e. g., in the new media? How to make visible the political aspects of fashion?

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Finnish fashion and design have gained more international visibility, creating their own trends as well, how do you see current research field is following trends from the industry?

L-M Rossi: I see fashion research as a developing and dynamic field, especially when it connects with studies on class and consumerism, and, of course, studies of gender and sexuality. I do not know if the task for the research is to follow the trends, I rather see research as a field for critical interventions.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In Finland, it seems that industries have also been able to point to cultural questions, what do you see as current research themes coming from the field/industries themselves?

L-M Rossi: Sustainability is of course a timely research theme, and the way it intersects with the issue of class. I am also really interested in the potentiality of queer fashion research, and I would really like to see more analysis on gender nonconformity, not so much of equaling queer with identity categories.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Yourself, you have written about advertising, media, gender representations/performance-related, in the contemporary visual culture. What do you see this global exchange is giving to these themes?

L-M Rossi: I think fashion is a crucial part of visual culture at large, especially because of its border-crossing nature. Gender is being profoundly done by people’s choices of dressing up and wearing their clothes, and these choices are, again, influenced by advertising. So one could say that the fields of fashion and advertising are constantly participating in the global processes of doing and undoing gender.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How well or how do Finnish fashion industries communicate globally? How do you see the branding, would it be more individual voices than a canon etc.?

L-M Rossi: It seems that many Finnish designers communicate quite naturally in the international field of fashion. Like visual artists, I think they first and foremost present their individual voices; it is very difficult to build a uniform “brand.” But then again, many seem to be thinking of such issues as high quality materials and sustainability. 

 Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Art, fashion, design: How would you speed-describe these together?

 L-M Rossi: Fashion and design are artforms, fashion is an interesting field within design. All of them make difference in everyday life.  

 Image

(Fashion Interactions-exhibition, Nutty Tarts & Heidi Lunabba) 

/// INFO: FASHION INTERACTIONS ///

Fashion Interactions-Exhibition

Opening: Friday November 15, 6pm – 9pm

November 11 – December 13, 2013

Open daily 12pm – 6pm

Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries

Sheila C. Johnson Design Center

Parsons The New School for Design

66 Fifth Avenue at 13th Street, New York

The exhibition is supported by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, Frame Visual Art Finland and Consulate General of Finland in New York.

   /// FASHION CURATING NOW ///
Symposium, Saturday November 16, 9:30am – 5:00pm

David Schwartz Fashion Education
Parsons The New School for Design
560 Seventh Avenue at 40th Street
New York

Finnish Cultural Institute in New York Facebook.

http://www.ficultureny.org/node/330

http://www.newschool.edu/sjdc

Finnish Samuji attending Capsule in New York

Finnish Fashion brand SAMUJI will be part of CAPSULE Women’s fashion showing on September 15-17 2013 in New York. The brand started in 2011 with a collection for women, and for fall 2013 with a collection for men. SAMUJI’S story embeds love for the everyday, highlighting its simple functionality, and setting values for designs that are sustainable.  In addition, SAMUJI items are crafted from quality materials coming from European and Japanese suppliers, and are made in Europe. The flagship store is in Helsinki. SAMUJI is also sold in selected stores in Europe, Asia and North America. www.SAMUJI.com 

More information about the Capsule show including brands and event location here

Finnish Paloni designers come to New York

MINNA SÄRELÄ is a founder of Finnish design collective PALONI, which is coming to New York this weekend to open a pop-up store during the fashion week. PALONI shop will be open through the end of February at the Ivana Helsinki NYC Concept Store. Their motto is: YOU CAN CALL IT DESIGN, INDIE FASHION, ART OR HANDICRAFT. WE CALL IT PASSION.

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Minna, I was so happy to hear that PALONI is coming to New York, tell me little bit about this ‘invasion’?

Minna: I founded Paloni one and a half years back, and lately started to feel that it’s time for the next step, broadening our scope and doing the first international project. New York opened as an opportunity through another Finnish fashion company Ivana Helsinki. After I got to discuss with their crew, things started going forward very fast. Our designers are very excited about this project and the possibilities it offers. We had a total of 37 Finnish designers joining the project, despite a very tight schedule for the preparations. Now it’s not just my project anymore, it’s something we do together. We have a group of 20 Finnish designers coming personally to New York, and together we will promote Finnish design and fashion know-how, build a pop-up store within the Ivana Helsinki NYC Concept Store. We will organize events and parties, network and build ourselves wider horizons for future dreams.

 
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: When you started the company-collective, who did you include, was it by invitation and with like-minded people?
 
Minna:  When I started, I had 45 designers that I represented. Now I’m trying to settle the number at about 80, although there would be much more demand and need from the designers’ side to join this kind of a platform or network. Still, I think it makes more sense both to our designers and customers that we can concentrate on the people we represent.

At first all of my co-operations with designers started by finding interesting labels or designers, and looking for cooperation. Now I get many requests every week from designers who would like to cooperate. I try to answer them all and to help them all, even if I think there’s something about their line or products they should still work on before going to the market.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: HOW INTERNATIONAL IS PALONI?
 
Minna:
I see Paloni as “born global”. Even though we’ve only operated in Finland so far, our way of communicating in English, and with international vibes, have brought us international customers and connections, and made our network international. Also our designers come from across the globe, although this New York project concentrates on making Finnish designers’ skills better known.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I learned from your website that you have been participating in eco- and sustainable fashion events, what have you learned about this field, and what are your thoughts about this trend?

Minna: I really wish it will not be just another trend among others, but rather a chancing force that will make the whole industry into something different and affect our behavior profoundly. I feel there’s much need for making ethically and ecologically sustainable options available and better known. I don’t believe the change comes from pressuring or from being negative. It needs to stem from each one of us. Personally, I feel that wearing a garment I respect in all ways makes me feel more balanced and respected, too. There’s a lot of discussion and information around this issue, and I’ve learned so much about the debates and aspects in the past years. However, I think offering information will not change it very much – we already get too much information every day. I think we rather need some easy and pleasant ways of loving fashion more sustainably. By bringing together tens of designers that represent this ideology and by offering their offerings as a holistic array and experience, we try to build sustainable design in a pleasant way, and include a wide enough collection to be part of it.
{All photos Paloni: Minna Särelä, captures: Sami Perttilä}

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: WHAT ARE YOUR NEW PROJECTS WITHIN PALONI, AND YOUR EVENTS?
Minna: Simply teamwork. By doing things in a committed team and by supporting each others’ potentials we can reach much more than with big money. The word ‘Paloni’ comes from the Finnish word “my passion”. When you have passion for something, it shows. And when it shows, others get excited too. And when that happens, impossible things become possible.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What do you expect from your visit in New York, how many times have you visited?

 

Minna: Although I haven’t been in New York many times, it’s one of my favorite cities in the world. I think each one of our designers have big and very different expectation. Personally, I expect networking, finding new inspiration and ideas, -these two things combined can lead the way to something new and unexpected.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is Paloni hoping to bring the products here, or will operate via the e-shop?

Minna: The Paloni pop-up will be open inside Ivana Helsinki NYC Concept Store from February 11th until February 28th. This is a good chance to see, feel and try on the products in person. However, we also have an online store through which we have worldwide shipping at all times. The collection we’re presenting in New York are these designers’ new spring-summer collections. New Yorkers will have the privilege of getting to buy these items first – they will only become available in our Helsinki-store and our online store in March. Our online store has all this information in English, and can be found from www.paloni.fi/store
 
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Welcome to New York!

Minna: Thank you! And welcome to our opening party on Wednesday Feb. 13th at Ivana Helsinki NYC Concept Store! We will have DJ Fiona Timantti playing Finnish music, and you’ll have the chance to meet our designers in person.
Read also story about Scandinavian Design in this blog

Check the Paloni website: http://www.paloni.fi/

Fashioning ‘eco’ concepts

If fashion is now promoted with both ecological values and celebrity cultures, a question of who is wearing what and whose designs, includes a new kind of conceptual thinking.  Historically, fashion is the clothes that we are wearing. Then, a questions of social class plays an important role, since we are making the clothes our own by wearing them. Traditionally, women have been thought to be the ideal consumers of fashion, so fashion magazines have also created platforms where to discuss and make fashion as part of the women’s lives. In the circulation of fashion, clothes become fashionable again when the trends come back as new combination, and also next to new concepts and ideas. The historical, futuristic, and the near-past fashion are re-produced together with popular cultural icons. The cultural references of fashion keep also changing so that they are able to maintain the ‘hype’ status attached to classical designs. New technologies used in the fabrics, as well as green values are  important factors, which also reflect the moment. More importantly, ecological aspects that promote global awareness and respect the local traditions are now a necessity.

When in previous decades, the fashion products (and other products) did not take into consideration the ecological dimension of production, today’s processes are very different. The economics behind the change is pricing, as the prices in materials have been rising. Then, today’s consumers cannot be entirely responsible for paying the high cost, so the companies and designers have to be able to reduce the amount in production, and reconsider the materials, which they use.

When we are making our choices as consumers of fashion, more important to us than who is showing up in the shows is to be a conscious consumer. We should be asking, what is the ecological dimension behind the clothes that we buy. In addition, a cultural and geographical referent can become a conscious factor in our decision making; when in the making of the products this means emphasizing the local craftsmanship. One example of this type of local fashioning is a collective Contept Korea that has utilized an idea of Korean fashion culture in their global marketing. Designers who are participating in the collective aim at making Korean cultural image and national competitiveness as their goal. The Korean fashion, which has been promoted overseas has been sponsored by the Korean Ministry of Culture. With that governmental aspect, Concept Korea has been looking for new forums to promote Korean fashion and culture together, and to interact with new technologies. I participated in their showing in Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York in February 2011.

One of the designers Lie Sang Bong (based in Paris), has been drawing inspiration from Korean folk painting, from the black and white graphic designs which have drops of bright color like red in them. He has also created fashion sculpture and a bauhaus-architecture inspired collection, which both show sculptural dimensionality in clothing. Then, a Korean woman designer Doho impresses with work that has a feminine and flowy touch (see picture from Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in February 2011). Concept Korea perhaps comes as a continuation of the collective creativity that started with Seoul being the World Design Capital in 2010.

In today’s economical climate, the design world is thinking alternative solutions. When European countries struggle with economical difficulties, a good news could be that the countries are re-thinking the carbon limits in the production processes.  Only a few decades ago, environmental problems were thought to be part of the policy making of the governments. Now the industrial processes are considering the environmental questions as part of their designing of products.

Designer Lie Sang Bong with his crew at NY fashion week.

‘New Nordic Oddity”?…and other design definitions

What I find very intriguing in the current design-discussion, is the questions of how we signify the things, and how we see the world-object -relations from different points of view. What now seems timely, is to define and differentiate ourselves as consumers with more softer values. We are ‘humans’ after all, meaning that we are responsible of the planet, therefore, what kinds of significations we give to the things and objects in the era of mass-production is crucial. How we consume, how we define what we consume, how we differentiate things, adds value to the objects. The meaning-systems behind the branding of products are referential, but they are also truthful from the point of view that they engage our participation in the entire definition-game. As it is also true that what kinds of nouns and adjectives we give to the objects, puts them on the market more.

Where comes a need to define the objects, which we use, which surround us, and so on? A question is relevant in relation to design, since we incorporate the objects in our daily lives. That is the pre-value of the design. ‘National’, or should we say ‘regional’ or ‘geographical’ instead of a national as we share a global world, is attached to the design-products, and calls for several attributes. This is strongly the case in the branding of Finnish design. Let’s look back to 2008.

The summer of 2008 generated an exhibition of Finnish design in the Helsinki Design Museum. The exhibition was called Fennofolk-New Nordic Oddity. One of the exhibit curators, professor Timo Salli from the University of Art and Design in Finland, told the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat that the Fennofolk-New Nordic Oddity -exhibition aimed at honoring the local Finnish culture. It tried to find “weapons” from the Finnish culture. Additionally, Salli mentioned that the show was not trying to bring in the latest trends from Paris to be shown “too late” in Finland, but when viewed from the “Slavic-urban” perspective, the contents were precisely that of the “national romanticism” (Pöppönen/HS 11.6.2008).

In the interview, it became evident that the fennofolk idea had been invented couple of years prior to the show together with Salli and co-artists Jari Leinonen and Paola Suhonen (founder of Ivana Helsinki brand). Fennofolk-New Nordic Oddity displayed works from 80 different artists, who deployed a great variety of media in their works, not just birch and birch bark, which are the traditional folk art materials that Salli himself used in his exhibition designs.

What inspired me immensely about the show itself, and what also captured my curiosity when I read Salli’s interview,  was the idea of design branding; the core idea of how we choose to define the objects and things, give them certain value. And look at them in respect to our own pasts, weather it is local histories or our own experiences in Finnish forests, for example. The beauty of the Fennofolk-New Nordic Oddity is hidden in the paradox. Finland is, first, a culture of the ‘fenno’, what ever that means. At least it comes with the traditional methods of designing the birch. Second, Finland seems to represent in the design imaginings some kind of New Nordic or Northern Oddity, which could mean something Nordic (as it is part of the Nordic countries) and then something New (as exiting?). What remains is the definition of Oddity. A question remains, what would that be? How do we define Oddity in relation to Finland and its designs?

Helsinki World Design Capital might come up with some answers…

See also Paloni Designers on this blog

Would I buy a ‘poisonous’ handbag…

Marketing strategies are sometimes tricky, and techniques of seduction are part of the contemporary branding of products. Putting products out on displays, is then of course part of the entire strategy. We are sensuous beings. Consuming today means taking seriously the product differentiations. We should be paying attention to, how the different products feel, taste, smell, etc… In other words, a questions is, how we as humans experience and imagine objects and things.

What is the tricky point is that we are after all quite childlike beings when we make our choices to buy something. Hopefully our product differentiation is more in line with the future aspect; what would be good for us in the long run and what would be a more sustainable aspect in our buying of new things. This relates to, what is good for the environment and does not poison our bodies.

It is important to emphasize couple of questions: how much of the seduction in the advertisements, and in the product differentiation is based on the use of different color-combinations? How do the various techniques of branding speak to our sense of nostalgia aiming at reminding us of our childhood experiences, the shapes, designs, colors and patterns? I noticed something based on this idea.

There was a handbag, which was on display on a ‘poisonous mushroom’. Think of the red-white spotted Amanita. The color combination would be just so inviting, so deliciously right. The color and shape is full of associations, which can be traced to children’s books and other childhood designs…Just imagine Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland  (by Lewis Carroll). What actually happened to Alice? She was growing tall, shrinking…The image appears as both fascinating and scary. We do not necessarily need to know what happened to Alice in the story. Yet we should think about the poisonous as a metaphor for things that work in the level of seduction… An important question would be, as I see a beautiful handbag on display, would I buy it as it is on a top of a poisonous mushroom? What else does ‘the poisonous’ stand for in the contemporary consumption imaginings, what are the materials used in the products; do they harm the environment and so on?