This post will be a little bit different than what I usually do, but I’m so happy to write it! I wanted to shine a light on some Finnish female entrepreneurs in honour of International Women’s Day (on which I’m starting my first draft of this post). More specifically, female fashion designers who have their flagship stores in Helsinki. Finland has long been one of the world’s best countries for women to work in. Finnish women gained full political rights in 1906, and we had our first female president in 2000. This year, Helsinki topped a list of European cities for equality!
In the fashion world, Marimekko has long been Finland’s best-known brand. Armi and Viljo Ratia founded Marimekko in 1951 and the company has since empowered female designers such as Vuokko Nurmesniemi and Maija Isola. The latter is the creator of Marimekko’s iconic “unikko (poppy)” print.
Today, there are many more Finnish fashion designers gaining international attention, and many of them are women. I visited the flagship stores of three fashion brands headed up by women, and I’m eager to share them with you below!
Address: Aleksanterinkatu 36, Helsinki
Several years ago, I walked past the window display in the Minna Parikka store for the first time. It was love at first sight. The shine of patent leather, the glitter, and the overall whimsy and playfulness captivated me. Minna Parikka’s signature trainers with bunny-ear-shaped tongues were suddenly everywhere I looked on the high street. I’ve even seen a mother and daughter wearing matching white bunny ear shoes! (Yes, Minna Parikka makes children’s shoes too!)
Minna Parikka has really made a name for herself since opening her flagship store on Aleksanterinkatu in 2012. Her shoes have graced the feet of world-famous pop stars like Lady Gaga, and gone from Helsinki’s main shopping street to London’s via Selfridges. They’ve been in Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. I’m completely unsurprised by the success – I’ve never seen shoes quite as creative and charming as Minna’s! This year’s S/S collection features pumps with lollipop heels in pastels, metallics and shiny black. The way they’re designed, the whole shoe almost looks like candy!
I own a pair of second hand Minna Parikka booties myself, but I hope one day I can get some bunny ear shoes. Until then, I’ll settle for gazing at the fabulous window displays that Minna Parikka keeps putting out.
Address: Uudenmaankatu 15, Helsinki
Ivana Helsinki is more than a fashion label. Started in 1998 by Paola Suhonen and her sister Pirjo, the brand now creates fashion, art and films. From reading their philosophy on their website, it’s clear that they are storytellers as well. The whimsical, poetic way Paola Suhonen describes the inspiration behind her collections shows through in the garments themselves.
The current collection is inspired by crystals and shells. It is full of bright blues, colourful prints and golden sequins. I loved the way the flagship store displayed sequined dresses from the current collection – against an intentionally rough and scraggly backdrop that looked like a half-finished wall. It was an awesome contrast that made the golden circles on the dresses pop out even more. Another collection by Ivana Helsinki features Moomin characters, and one is inspired by Suhonen’s passion for animal rights. Therefore, dresses with pictures of adorable rescue dogs!
A delightful thing I discovered when visiting the boutique was that you can rent Ivana Helsinki dresses! 25€ will let you take a dress for a spin for two whole weeks. Now I just need an occasional calling for semi-formal wear.
Address: Bulevardi 15, Helsinki
I wasn’t familiar with Katri Niskanen before I started researching for this article, and I have SO missed out! Katri Niskanen won the first season of Finland’s “Project Runway” back in 2009, and launched her flagship store on ritzy Bulevardi (literally translated as “boulevard”) the following year. The brand also has a bridal showroom in Helsinki and Niskanen offers bespoke couture gowns on demand.
In the small boutique that I visited, rich jewel tones and pretty pastels harmonised with basic black. There are pops of glimmer and shine in the S/S 2018 collection, including a silver maxi skirt which I was enamoured with. Sleek silk and jersey garments were the most numerous in both the current collection and the classic collection, but S/S 2018 also brought in lace and tulle. Katri Niskanen’s designs felt so much like elegant grown-up versions of the tutus and lace dresses I wore as a teenager. Only, you know, much more fashionable!
To echo the stylish clothing, the centrepiece of the boutique was a white Nemo armchair by Italian furniture company Driade. Just as sleek and exquisite as everything else in the shop.
Women’s rights and fashion design are both thriving in Finland, and these three designers are great examples of this. Whether you’re looking for elegant colours and structural draping, complex prints and metallics, or a storybook-esque pair of shoes, Helsinki’s female fashion designers have got you covered.