Interview Mia Dillemuth | Photographs and collages Helen Korpak

The Golden Age of Finnish art is seen through a fashion designer’s eye in Carolina Forss’s MA thesis for Aalto University. Forss will present her collection, inspired by especially Helene Schjerfbeck, in the main stairwell of the Ateneum Art Museum’s building on Finland’s Independence Day, 6th of December. Around Journal had the chance to interview Forss before the event.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

As a designer I have explored different ways of finding creativity. So far, I have recognized a few inspirational resources that frequently occurs in my work, and one of them is history. This involves looking at the past from a contemporary perspective, and through a young designer’s eye implementing the observations into the work. In my previous collections I built the narrative around a 1950s American housewife’s unpredictable mind and in another fashion design work I looked at Europe one hundred years ago. 

Can you introduce us the ideas behind your thesis which has quite a lot to do with Finnish national painter Helene Schjerfbeck?

In my latest work, my Master of Arts thesis at Aalto University, I moved closer to my own origin, to Finland. And again, history plays an important role. This time I have looked at a particular era in art history: The Golden Age of Finnish art. This is a period from late nineteenth century to early twentieth century. Renowned Finnish painters such as Helene Schjerfbeck, Akseli Gallen-Kallela and Albert Edelfelt were active and productive during this time. 

Why did you choose this subject?

Fashion and art have influenced both worlds as long as one can remember. In my thesis I explain how this inspiration happens, what art looks like ‘through designer glasses’ and how designers implement the observations into the design work. The Golden Age of Finnish art is, from an art historical perspective, a well-researched area. But a clothing and fashion focused approach is new in the field. Looking at pictures with a fashion designer’s knowledge can bring new layers and meaning into well-known paintings. 

Can you describe your approach to textiles and materials in this project?

The collection is based on the collected research which I have then translated into a womenswear and textile collection. The aim has been using art historical elements in a contemporary way. The textiles are fine and strong, such as light, raw silks and nylons. The fabrics are a mixture of worn out textiles, sheer georgettes, knitwear and own experimental material designs and techniques. Many choices in pattern motifs, silhouettes and cuts are based on the research. The colour chart has a strong link to the paintings. 

How does art and fashion collide in your thesis?

The thesis is divided into two parts: a written component and a work of art, which is a fashion collection. The research is based on ten different paintings, which I have paired into five pairs. A pair is built around similar visual language, but the person or people that are portrayed have different socioeconomic background. This, because many of the paintings from the Golden Age were either commissioned portraits of gentlefolk or an idealised and romanticised picture of ordinary people from rural parts of Finland. I have intentionally decided to solely focus on paintings and left out other art forms such as photography. 

My focus is observing the portrayed persons dressing, both in clothing and textiles. I have compared the depicted clothes, sartorial choices and textiles: what the people wore in the paintings and what the garments tell about their background. I also observed garment details, colours, overall mood and silhouettes. Potential similarities in dressing between the classes is something that I have laid a further focus on.

Ateneum Fashion – Helene Schjerfbeck à la mode event on the 6th of December.

Related article in Finnish