Interview Mia Dillemuth | Pictures Eeva Suutari | English Editor Julie Uusinarkaus

The 93rd Pitti Uomo fashion fair will be held in Florence from the 9th until the 12th of January. What makes this year so special is that Finland is the Guest Nation of the biannual event presenting eight menswear labels at the fair: Rolf Ekroth, Formal Friday, Ikla Wright x Turo, Mannisto, Nomen Nescio, Saint Vacant, Vyner Articles and Maria Korkeila x R-Collection. Guest Nation Finland is a project part of the Pitti Uomo’s program of special events. Around Journal interviewed Maria Korkeila about the project and on her design philosophy.

Why did you choose fashion as your creative outlet? Did you have other career dreams while growing up?

Despite having been interested in the arts from an early age and having showed a particular interest in clothes, I never really followed fashion per se before my studies. I remember having a lightbulb moment around the age of eleven that some people design clothes for a living, and that kind of stuck at the back of my head, so I decided to apply for fashion schools upon graduating high school. I’ve had a lot of different hobbies, creative outlets and career dreams growing up, and in fact, I still do. I love taking photographs (I usually photograph my own work as well), and that’s something I would like to develop further. Music is something that’s always been close to my heart. I listen to music practically all the time, and I’ve also dabbled in producing my own music a little bit.

In your collections different materials, shapes and techniques such as patchwork and embroidery are cleverly combined. How would you describe your style of design?

Material-wise I get very crafty; I like to develop my own textiles and manipulate existing ones, ranging from knitwear to woven jacquards and embroidery. The silhouettes tend to be very relaxed – I think clothes should be worn with ease, even if they look like couture pieces. My process is very organic and I like to develop ideas through trial and error, which translates to a kind of DIY/punk aesthetic, but I try to do punk in a way that’s relevant to today, to capture its spirit rather than copy-pasting what punk was back in the day.

How much do you think about sustainability in your work?

I think the question of sustainability and fashion is a much bigger question than, for example, a choice between organic or regular cotton (not to say that organic wouldn’t be a better option). The problem is the whole system, and we should focus on a structural development of the system itself, changing consumer behaviour, production rates and methods and so on. The question is of course how… . But as young designers, of a new generation, I think we should take responsibility and decide what kind of industry we want to create for the future. It’s not only a systematic problem of ecology but of ethics in general. Fashion’s lunatic pace is old news, but we need to keep on talking about it until things start to change.

With the menswear label Maria Korkeila x R-Collection, you are among the team of designers chosen as a representative at the renowned men’s fashion fair. How has the project been so far? What does this opportunity mean to you?

This has been an amazing opportunity for me, and the first of its kind that I have taken part in. I was very excited to get the chance to work with a Finnish family-owned label, and we got along really well from the get-go with head designer Lilli Norio. For me, this was one of the first opportunities to see how it would feel to produce my own collection “IRL”, as so far I have mainly been working for others. I have learned a lot along the way, and I’m hoping that this could open doors to similar projects in the future.

R-Collection is appreciated for their functional and good quality wardrobe classics such as anoraks, sweatshirts and pants. How did you approach this design challenge of combining two different aesthetics, yours and R-Collection’s? Can you tell a little bit about the process?

The process started when I visited their HQ in Kajaani (in northern Finland), and this trip ended up being the starting point for the collection itself. I got to explore their archives and hear stories from employees who have been there for decades, and see Kajaani, where it all started. One story that stuck with me was that Prodigy had worn R-Collection to the MTV EMAs in Berlin in 1994, which at the time was a huge thing for R-Collection, who were mainly known in Finland. I decided to focus my research on their archives of that era and brought back elements like faux shearling teddy coats and baggy pants. The old catalogues are like family albums: models are different family members, cousins and friends of the family. The photos are paired with whimsical captions, and it all just exuded this spirit of sincerity and jubilance that I wanted to try to capture in this collaboration as well.

You have quite a distinctive eye for colour. Where does it come from?

Good question … I don’t really know! I often wear only black from head to toe. In any case colours are something that I pay attention to all the time, everywhere: looking at combinations and hues, for example. I think colours translate to something more abstract. I’m often inspired by non-garment-related things like art or music, and I guess with colours I try to communicate a reaction or feeling that I get from whatever it is that is inspiring me at that moment.

How do you approach the gender issue in your design work?

My work falls into the category of menswear, but I think dividing fashion into gender binaries is very outdated. I hope that my clothes can and will be worn by anyone who likes them, regardless of what gender they identify with. Fashion mirrors society, and I believe the change we’re seeing in fashion in terms of gender norms is a reflection of an openness, acceptance and awareness that is growing in society at large.

What gives you inspiration, food for the mind?

I’m influenced a lot by the arts and music: I go to museums, exhibitions and concerts. Also music in terms of dancing is inspiring; dancing can serve as a form of creative meditation, and I often get ideas and solve problems on the dance floor. I watch movies, read, travel … the usual forms of getting information and visual stimuli I guess. Also, I find a lot of inspiration in my friends.

What do you love most about being a designer, and what are the challenges?

I love doing research and that initial buzz you get when you start to work on a new project. Also the feeling you get when you realize something and it works just the way you wanted it to, or even more when you make a mistake and it turns out to be a useful one. I think one of my biggest challenges is when you finish a project: letting go and moving on to the next one.

Who are your favourite artists? Can you think of any art piece you would like to own?

In the arts I’m often drawn to nouveau-realiste artists like Christo & Jeanne Claude, Yves Klein, Cézar, etc. Some of my favourite contemporary artists are Laure Prouvost and Taro Izumi, for example.  My interest in the arts is not related to ownership, and I’d prefer to support art that operates independently and not for the sake of an economic transaction. I’d like to see more art in public spaces or that are interactive/accessible to the public rather than just in white cubes or hanging on my wall at home. In terms of music I listen to everything really. John Maus will always have a special place in my heart, but there are too many good artists and bands to name only a few.

Picasso among many other artists has stated that taste is the enemy of creativeness. Do you believe in such thing as good or bad taste?

I think taste is, in general, seen as purely subjective, but I think it is also very much something that we learn from our surroundings, peers and particularly from institutions, for anyone who has gone through a creative education. Personal taste is developed as a reaction to and/or in contrast to these influences. So in that sense, yes, there is good and bad taste that different entities aim to define, particularly in fashion, but I guess it’s up to us to decide whether “good taste” is good or “bad taste” bad.

Maria Korkeila has already been honoured as a designer at the Hyères Festival in 2017. The “foster child” of Aalto University has also acquired experience and knowledge of the fashion business while working for Rick Owens’ textile team and for YSL’s womenswear team.

9.–12.1.2018 Pitti Uomo 93
Guest Nation Finland Showroom,
Central Pavilion, Spazio Carra Fortezza da Basso, Firenze