Meet AALTO, the Label Exporting Finnish Fashion to an International Stage

Aalto Resort 18 | © Aalto
Aalto Resort 18 | © Aalto
Photo of India Doyle
23 November 2017

As part of our Behind the Seams series, Culture Trip catches up with AALTO.

Hailing from Helsinki, Tuomas Merikoski is an LVMH finalist bringing a Finnish design sensibility to the Parisian fashion stage. These kind of dualities and pairings are central to his aesthetic, which brings together Eastern and Western values; dichotomies between the digital and real world; functional design needs and exaggerations of scale. Collections see Merikoski translate ‘Big Picture’ ideas into succinct narratives, and Spring/Summer 2018 promises to offer AALTO’s idiosyncratic take on the Internet Age. Ahead of the AALTO Spring/Summer 2018 show at Paris Fashion Week, Culture Trip caught up with Tuomas to talk web brutalism, architectural inspiration and exporting Finnish fashion onto an international stage.

Culture Trip: What was it about fashion that you were interested in?

TM: The cultural aspect linked to lifestyle, and the fact that it is close to people; it’s on the body, unlike architecture and industrial design.

CT: What elements of Finnish aesthetic and style do you feel you have taken with you into your designs?

TM: The contrasts and extremes, thinking in isolation and the clash of Eastern and Western cultures. There’s also the ‘directness’ of expression: no small talk or useless formalities.

CT: What’s the fashion scene like in Helsinki? Do you think there’s scope for it to become a fashion capital?

TM: I prefer the idea that Helsinki can grow and be the voice of alternative creativity, art and fashion. Maybe even the capital of alternative and youth fashion. But Helsinki is small, and the Finnish fashion industry itself is so small that it’s probably unrealistic to expect it to become an economical hub in a larger sense.

Aalto resort SS18 | © Aalto

CT: You work with deconstructed silhouettes and create quite layered looks. What is it about this aesthetic that interests you, and what has shaped this aesthetic?

TM: I reckon reality – design sort of being linked to real-life needs, and therefore the need to create user-friendly clothes. I also like contrasts mixed together.

CT: Who are your favourite architects?

TM: Alvar Aalto and Oscar Niemeyer, of course!

CT: What were you looking at, inspiration wise, for Spring/Summer 2018 and how do you see this manifesting in the final collection?

TM: I’m interested in how the digital world is second nature to us today, and the idea of web brutalism. We are overwhelmed with too many logos and signs in today’s world. This is emphasising the mash up of multiple influences. I’m interested in individualism, but at the same time understanding better the true, timeless values that exist in this new virtual environment.

Aalto SS18 | © Aalto

CT: Why did you decide to show in Paris?

TM: Our main concept is to build a Finnish identity brand for the international designer luxury market. It is key to be present where the action happens, so one has to show in Paris.

CT: How does running your own brand differ from working in a major house?

TM: To be honest, it is very different. Getting experience in large luxury houses is a huge benefit and ensures you have the ‘know how’. Being an entrepreneur in a start-up environment, dealing with business, budgets, financing etc. is a totally different thing. Of course, creatively, we have less resources, but I don’t see that as an issue, as such.

There’s also a difference in terms of art direction, because in AALTO everything is virgin and we’re building something from scratch. In big institutional houses there is a lot of history and past that shapes a brand, and makes a designer’s work a bit different too.

Aalto SS18 | © Aalto

CT: What are the challenges of attracting new customers and building a brand, does it ever limit your approach to design?

TM: Well, the bottom line is that a good product with a strong aesthetic and brand identity is the most important thing. Operating through wholesale only is different from direct retail, and it is important to think commercially in terms of quality versus price. Every business model has challenges, and there are always limits. However I take that as a challenge rather than a restrictive thing, which I think is a healthy approach.

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