FIGURES IN MOURNING

“I want to be an example with my work while showing that reusing and up-cycling old materials can look aesthetically pleasing and desirable.” Finnish fashion designer Linda Kokkonen based in Helsinki, Finland, talked to SWARM Mag about her sustainably sourced collections named after infamous poisonous or indigenous medicinal plants, mourning nature, and the Victorian era.

Could you tell us a little about your upbringing? What led you to begin your career as a fashion designer?

I grew up in a small town close to Helsinki where not much was going on, especially in regards towards fashion. When I was a teenager, I did not really like fashion much, I loved arts and crafting in general. I was also very much into drawing and at some point, I started to get interested in Japanese subculture fashion. The fashion back then in Finland was quite boring to me and I wanted to create something more special and inclusive, something less mainstream. When I was twelve years old, I took my first sewing class, later on I learned how to tailor clothes. Once I felt that I had a good knowledge in sewing and tailoring, I applied for a BA degree in fashion design at Aalto University in Helsinki where I also completed my MA afterwards.

You predominantly work with reusability and focus on protecting nature – what drew you to suitable design?

This question is strongly connected to why I started my career as a fashion designer. After finding out more and more about how harmful the fashion industry is to our planet, I went on my own mission to find ways on how to create clothes, which are more sustainable. At first, I had big doubts if I really even wanted to be part of this industry but during my studies, I realized that only by stepping into the game I can really make a difference. Of course, I know this thought might sound a bit naive – how much can only one person really affect the industry. However, I still feel that I want to be an example with my work while showing that reusing and up-cycling old materials can look aesthetically pleasing and desirable. Luckily, there are more ways of designing more sustainably nowadays but I feel I have to take it to the next level while being even more strict and radical to lessen the harm to our planet. For me, at least this is the only way to tackle this still enormous remaining problem in the fashion industry.

What usually inspires you when designing a collection and how do you search for your themes?

Since a while, I have been inspired by the Victorian era, which also now reflects the current theme in my designs. While I was working on my bachelor thesis, I got inspired especially from the Alexandrian Wicca coven and Neopagan religions in general, how they worship and protect nature. In my collections, I mainly use black, which represents my mourning for the harm that is being done towards nature. Occasionally, I have some fixation on some specific colours which I like to implement in one piece of the collection or as small colour details in some of the black looks. The inspiration for using a different colour usually comes during the making process and represents a meaning to the collection’s story.

For me, it is important that the clothes have some meaning and are functional even though some pieces might not be for everyday wear. Currently, I am working on how to create garments that can be adjustable. Besides repurposing old clothes to give them a new life, this adjustable element gives the garment a longer lifetime. As the human body is constantly changing and it can be very frustrating when old clothes become too small or too big, this element supports the wearers’ needs. I think it is interesting to see in the Victorian era how people have been making garments that are so long-lasting and the closing details are so thought through. For me, it is important to learn different and also traditional ways of constructing garments, while a lot of hand sewing was being used to create robust materials.

Especially, to get inspired for small details and silhouettes, I love to look into historic fashion books. Another important aspect of my work is that I really do not need expensive and fancy equipment to be able to create the garments. I sew almost all pieces by hand and with my jigsawing of old fabric pieces and zero-waste techniques when developing fabrics, I somehow think that I have been preparing myself for the days when materials and energy are scare as we are starting to experience now.

What is the process when building a collection? Do you delve into long preparation and research before starting? 

I usually start with looking through my old sketches and inspiration pictures. There is often a lot of material I have not used for the previous collection and which I still wanted to use in future. When creating a garment, one of the most important aspects I think of beforehand is probably what use I want this garment to be for. I think, for example, that the clothes can be usable while being in the forest, in the city or while just being at home. My idea is to create garments that are luxurious yet functional and wearable on many occasions. I usually have a moodboard in front of me to remind me what the core elements are. Also, to avoid getting lost during my creation process, a moodboard really helps me. Otherwise, my mind can go into the research phase too chaoticaly and sometimes my first idea for the collection changes too many times.

After collecting all the inspiration pictures and making some sketches, I start with the hardest part for me, which is narrowing down the ideas to what the core elements are and how I want the collection to look like. Although this step might be unnecessary at the earlier stages as everything will be changed in the end again. However, it helps my creation process. I know that finishing this part gives me a kind of structure and leads me to the next step, which is deciding the materials for the looks. Usually, I use the collected secondhand fabrics and yarns I already have in my storage, but sometimes, if I need something specific, I go thrift-shopping around in the city I currently live in.

After figuring out all the materials, I start with the making of the first collection piece. For most of the pieces, I create not just plain materials, I make layers, patchwork, or better put, puzzle-stitch old fabric pieces together. So for me, it is easier to start with creating the material first and then thinking of the pattern. Sometimes, I end up making the whole garment during or after the fitting. I connect, for example, the front and back pieces on the fitting model and more specific details I add later on during the last finishing steps. This approach allows me to construct a garment without making a prototype beforehand, as it also suits my hand-stitched style of materials that I develop. So I can be very flexible during the making process and just add on to the garment while or after the fitting, or just cut off some parts that are not suitable.

What new projects/collections do you have planned? What are the next steps in your journey?

I just finished my new collection called Atropa Belladonna and launched it this September. I am also planning to open an online shop soon on my website and to take in some orders from the new collection. To explain better what I mean here: the collection can be seen on the website as a range of silhouettes and later on my clients can decide on the materials. If they would, for example, like to use one of their old garments to be up-cycled, I create the made-to-measure piece for them. However, I also want to provide an easier approach for clients who do not need tailored pieces, for example, I am planning to sell some hoodies, t-shirts, and simpler corsets but still made from up-cycled materials.

Per our current theme, FULL OF DESIRE, the last question is, as a fashion designer, you always have to be ahead of trends. What do you think people desire from fashion nowadays? 

I tend to work less towards trends in the sense of aesthetics but I can see that the movement of customers wanting to know more about where and how clothes are being made is not only a trend anymore but a demand for more sustainably made clothes. So in my eyes, the desire for environmentally-friendly made and well fitting clothes that are long-lasting will grow and remain.

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Bio

Linda Kokkonen is a Finnish fashion designer based in Helsinki, Finland. The nominated Vogue Talent 2017 is known for her romantic and dark designs with a strong focus on nature protection. Already with her Bachelor collection, the Aalto University graduate has been gaining a lot of attention from the international press and at several fashion competitions, like the International Hyères Festival for Fashion, Photography and Fashion Accessories. In her collections, she incorporates spiritual topics and her skills in tailored and handmade pieces. Her creations evolve around intuitive designing with a zero-waste approach while using recycled or natural materials.

Credits

Fashion designer / Linda Kokkonen @lindakokkonenofficial

Interview / Kateřina Hynková 

 

Atropa belladonna

LK SS23 collection shot by / @max.kallio 

model / @tara.nyberg

Producer / @la.mrls

Designer & Styling / @lindakokkonenofficial

Hair & Make-up / @lehiojuho

Assistant / @bilevelho

 

Psychotria Elata Collection

Shot by / @mariakorkeila 

Designer & Styling / @lindakokkonenofficial

Model / @dinasimonen

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