Intimacy exhibition highlights what’s made Finland a leading country for innovative fashion
”It situates at the intersection of novel politicization and digital disruption of fashion,” tells curator Annamari Vänskä about the exhibition, displaying 40 Finnish upcoming and established designers and companies.
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
January 07, 2022
Vänskä works as Professor of Fashion Research at the Department of Design at Aalto University in Finland and her research focuses on fashion and visual culture, particularly on fashion media, fashion advertising, and fashion curating from the perspective of gender studies, queer theory, and posthumanism. She’s the curator of the Intimacy exhibition at Designmuseo in Helsinki, together with researchers from her Aalto University research group, post-doctoral researcher Jenni Hokka and PhD-researcher Natalia Särmäkari.
— Intimacy situates at the intersection of novel politicization and digital disruption of fashion. It updates our understanding of Finnish clothing and accessory design into the 2020s, exploring the intimate relationship between the body and the clothes we wear and introducing visitors to the creative design process, from initial sketches to the finished products. The exhibition also highlights the impact of digitalization and datafication on the work of the designer as well as the mechanisms through which fashion is manufactured, distributed, and consumed. Furthermore, it also focuses on issues of gender, sexuality, and inclusivity of fashion. A common starting point to most designers is also an ecological consideration. Designers use recycled and upcycled materials and design methods such as zero waste design that minimizes the fabric waste in the design process — or, only produce digital fashion in which case they only ”waste” data, says Vänskä, adding,
— The exhibition is based on extensive research on the work of the most prominent Finnish fashion designers of the 2020s, as well as that of the more anonymous designers behind contemporary work uniforms and wearable technology. It’s part of the research consortium Intimacy in Data-driven Culture (IDA), funded by the Strategic Research Council at the Academy of Finland, which explores, among other things, how intimacy functions as the driving force of the creative economy, including fashion.
— An important part of my scholarly work is curating exhibitions. It is an ”edutaining” way of analyzing concepts and themes as well as a great tool for popularizing research and promoting fashion, art, and design. The museum has received very positive feedback from their audiences and what is especially heart-warming to me as a curator is that through this exhibition, Designmuseo has been able to reach a new visitor segment: young people interested in fashion.
The exhibition displays 40 Finnish designers and companies, both more established and upcoming ones — who would you like to point out?
— Key themes in Latimer’s work include norms of whiteness, gender, and sexual orientation, through which the designer expands ideas of what fashion can be and the kind of bodies it is made for. The pieces exhibited are inspired by DIY drag queen culture of gay men and the history of cross-dressing, featuring stereotypical elements of men’s and women’s clothing: pinstripe suits alongside floral patterns and dresses. The collection also comments on body standards, as the clothes are fastened with strings and adjust to the shape of the person wearing them. In 2020, he was awarded the Young Designer of the Year prize and he’s also Managing Editor and founding member of Ruskeat Tytöt [Brown Girls] Media, a mouthpiece for the experiences of brown females and other marginalized genders in Finland.
— Henna Lampinen’s works combine material-based research and experimental design while studying and challenging body norms. She’s focusing primarily on the fat body and the sizing standards of clothes and addressing the question of how the beauty ideal, so closely connected to thinness, affects those whose dimensions fall outside the ”ideal” range. The work is part of a global fat fashion movement or ”fatshion” critiquing medicalization of fatness and terminology attached to it. Lampinen aims to transform fashion into a more versatile and non-discriminatory arena, identifying the way in which the structure and form of clothes express stereotypical prejudices of fatness and how these can be overcome by changing the design process. Highlighting the blind spots in fashion design, she gives a voice and visibility to fat bodies that the fashion industry has systematically attempted to ignore. Her activist approach challenges others to reflect on how fashion designers can dissipate the stigma of fatness and produce non-discriminatory fashion. In 2019, Henna Lampinen was awarded the prestigious Designers’ Nest prize at Copenhagen Fashion Week.
— The Helsinki-based design studio focuses on minimalist ethics and produces lines of all-black clothes. Garments by Nomen Nescio are timeless classics for every season and their design style is gender-neutral — the clothes include no external, internal, or applied elements that would indicate a particular gender, age, or status — as the brand promotes equality and non-discrimination. Nomen Nescio is also an advocate of the concept of slow fashion. The studio’s design philosophy focuses on making clothes that are sustainable, ethical, and ecological, and the clothes are manufactured in nearby areas from materials sourced from responsible European suppliers.
— The No Pain, No Glamour collection by Leevi Ikäheimo is an auto-ethnographic study of heteronormative masculinity. Inspiration for the collection comes from male bodybuilders, anatomical charts, the hypermasculinity of toy figures aimed at boys born in the 1990s, works by artist Robert Lostutter, and rave and techno subculture style in the early 2000s. Ikäheimo’s fashion soulmates include Walter van Beirendonck — where he currently works as an intern — Jean-Paul Gaultier and Bernhard Willhelm. One of the leading themes of the collection is the exaggerated size and vanity of the male bodybuilder’s physique. In his works, Ikäheimo processes his own experiences and emotions regarding clothing and society’s expectations of men and male bodies. His interest in bodybuilding is visible in the way he conceptualizes and shapes garments. The playsuit-like outfit of recycled cashmere merino wool incorporates patterns that resemble anatomical muscle charts. The muscles and their fibres are indicated with patches of bright, almost child-like colours placed accurately at the locations of the muscles on the anatomical chart. The garment becomes a soft, wearable muscle suit. The outfits poke fun at the unattainable ideals society has determined for male bodies.
Intimacy, Vänskä continues, also includes several brands and designers highlighting tech and innovation, such as 3D clothes, wearables, and innovative materials.
— Amsterdam-based The Fabricant, founded by Finnish-born special effects designer Kerry Murphy together with Dutch fashion designer Amber Jae Slooten, refers to itself as the first digital-only fashion house. Rather than physical clothes, The Fabricant creates experiences: animation and surrealistic and hyperrealistic digital 3D clothing simulations. The clothes can only be dressed on avatars — virtual figures — or photographed bodies. The Fabricant gained international fame in 2019 when it auctioned a digital-only dress, authenticated and tokenized with blockchain technology, for 9,500 US dollars. The company is based on digital craftsmanship and engages in cooperation with many international fashion houses, creating a new kind of fashion culture. The exhibited works use artificial intelligence. Images from Paris Fashion Week were entered into a neural network or calculated model based on information processing, and the new neural network-generated images provided the inspiration for the design of the clothes. The works reflect humanity, materiality, and the essence of the designer.
— The fabrics from the most famous Finnish fashion house are traditionally printed using pigments. The installation showcased here, The Art of Print and Shape, features four garments not decorated with the prints so characteristic of the brand. The outfits are actually used as screens onto which the prints are digitally projected. The reflections of the works include prints from the company’s oldest signature prints to its newest creations. In February 2021, this work was showcased on film at Copenhagen Fashion Week, with the prints projected onto models in motion. With this work, Marimekko transfers to a new, ”phygital” state that combines the digital and the physical. ”Phygital” here refers to the increasing ambiguity of the boundaries between the material and the immaterial, the reproduceable and the unique, own and shared, computational and bodily, and virtually mobile and locally present reality.
— Social media platforms are characterized by user-created content, interaction, participation and the communities formed there. Notions of intimacy and interaction are rapidly changing. Aapo Nikkanen is an artist who lives and works in Paris. He is also one of the founding members of the Paris-based art collective The Community. His installation, My Instagram Persona, explores how social media creates new types of intimacy and shapes the dynamics between public and private. For his work, Nikkanen went through the data that Instagram had saved on him and discovered a consumer persona made up of hundreds of different classifications. This list turned into an installation that visualizes the profile that Instagram’s artificial intelligence has created on Nikkanen.
— Can a garment be designed and produced by a machine? The founder of Self-Assembly, Matti Liimatainen, who’s currently finalizing his doctoral dissertation at Aalto University, explores this question in his work, Syntax of Clothing, in which he combines clothing design with mathematics and computer science, exploring the notion of a syntax shared between a computer and a human designer. He has produced a six-step system for designing and producing clothes: brief, design, interpretation, description, fabrication, and use. He develops algorithms and automates the language of fashion itself, finding resources in existing AI systems. Liimatainen teaches the computer his own intimate, embodied, tacit knowledge as a clothing designer. The installation is composed of three outfits designed through a numerical process, and a video series showcasing the steps of his system. The clothes, accessories, and foamed plastic sculptures were made with a laser cutting machine built by Liimatainen himself.
— The collection by Autuas Ukkonen is entitled Posh Lost, a Russian expression meaning vulgar, trivial, or scandalous, and related to the concept of kitsch. Ukkonen interprets the word through English by combining ”posh” and ”lost”. A parody of lost aristocracy is created out of frustration with Western concept of good taste and adulation of glamour, and the creation of fake selves made possible by social media. The collection is inspired by the camp and queer culture and the story of Russian Anna Delvey, or Anna Sorokin, who created a fake identity on social media, pretending to be a German heiress worth millions, before she was caught out in 2017. Stylistically, the collection is a nod to Italian fashion artist Elsa Schiaparelli. She created the waist-up dressing style, with the most flamboyant element of an outfit worn above the waist. This style has been reintroduced on social media, where people are featured in fragments, often showing only their face and upper body. This idea is visible in a suit jacket whose fabric is only processed in places that can be seen in a photograph.
— The Oura ring monitors pulse and heart rate variability (HRV), body temperature, respiratory frequency, and activity. In addition to the various stages of sleep, the ring pays particular attention to the quality of sleep: total duration, restful periods during the night, the time it takes the user to fall asleep, and resting heart rate. Data collected by the ring is transferred to an app via Bluetooth, providing the user with information on their activity and recovery levels, and quality of sleep. An Oura ring is a fusion of a technological device and an item of jewellery. The first consumer version of the ring was designed by the celebrated Finnish designer Harri Koskinen and the design concept aimed to streamline the design and make it as small as possible. It’s worn while sleeping, ruling out any sharp elements. As a piece of jewellery, it may carry emotional connotations, and it’s even been used as a wedding band. In wearable technology, the mobile application of the device or garment is an integral part of the product. The appearance of the application follows the streamlined design style characteristic of the Nordic design tradition. Converting complex physiological data retrieved by tracking bodily functions into user-friendly form is a key challenge in mobile application design.
What else do you have coming?
— Me, Jenni Hokka, and Natalia Särmäkari are currently in the process of publishing a book called Intimacy on the basis of the exhibition. It will come out this year in Finnish and English — we aim to publish the Finnish version just before the exhibition ends, and the English version a bit later. The book will feature most designers in the exhibition, and it will include a lot of images as we want to make it visually appealing. The text will give context to the Finnish designers from a global perspective and situate them in the current discourse of fashion, Vänskä concludes.
For more stories like this, sign up for our newsletter!