I had an opportunity to interview designer Paola Suhonen of IvanaHelsinki after the s/s 2013 collection Mourning Sun Motel fashion show at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City. Paola Suhonen is the designer behind the IvanaHelsinki brand, and I met her at the IvanaHelsinki store in Nolita (251 Elizabeth Street, NYC).
Interview with Paola Suhonen of IvanaHelsinki
Where did you get inspiration for the new Mourning Sun Motel S/S13 collection?
Paola Suhonen: All of the IvanaHelsinki collections have a very bold theme or story behind them. The collections don’t form from today’s trends but are born from my personal interests at the time. I create a script from a story that I have in mind, and from the script come the ideas for the prints in the fabrics. The prints influence what kind of fabrics they will be on, and after that I start designing the concrete forms and shapes for the clothing pieces.
Inspiration for Mourning Sun Motel spring/summer 2013 collection came from a story I heard about a solar eclipse that happened in Finland in the 40’s. The solar eclipse happened on Midsummer night, when everyone was celebrating the nightless night. The endless light and complete darkness formed such an interesting contrast and the story stayed with me and sparked the idea for the collection.
Usually summer collections are light and sunny. Like in the Mourning Sun Motel collection’s story about contrasting darkness and the endless light, there is strong contrast between the light fabrics and the almost goth and melancholic darkness of the prints. The prints itself draw inspiration from my motel hobby. I have been collecting photos of old motel rooms and especially the wallpapers for years. The prints in this collection were designed with the inspiration from wallpaper prints from old motels with large flower prints combined with smaller flowers seen growing wild in Finland during midsummer. The play of these two opposites can be seen throughout the collection.
You are the first Finnish designer at the New York Fashion Week. How much work did it take to make it here, and what in your opinion was the defining moment making it happen?
Paola Suhonen: When I first moved to the USA, I first lived in New York City. We had a pop up store and we organized different kind of art events. We invited artists and designers and did different kind of collaborations with them. We also organized events during the Fashion Week and we able to draw attention to IvanaHelsinki, even though we were not part of the Fashion Week.
One of the events we organized was “Dress Go Around,” an exhibit of 100 of our dresses in SoHo. We invited ten women, and everyone got to choose their favorite dress for free of charge. The catch was: they had to wear the dress in one event and then donate the dress to someone else. The purpose was to follow these dresses around for a year via internet, and organize a big party when the dresses arrived home. For a while the plan was working well, and women around the world were enjoying the dresses and reporting it online. However, the dresses were so popular that only one arrived back.
I believe all of this brought so much publicity to our brand that we were able to reach our goals and attend the Fashion Week.
You just recently opened a store in New York City’s trendy Nolita. The competition in New York is tremendous, how have people found IvanaHelsinki?
Paola Suhonen: We used the same marketing strategy as with the pop up-store and we organized events a few nights a week together with different partners. First people just popped in out of curiosity, but now we have a solid clientele who comes back for us. A lot more hard work is needed, but the start is very promising and IvanaHelsinki is recognized better and better all the time.
The first ever Helsinki Fashion Film Festival was organized in Helsinki, Finland in August and you were part of organizing the event. How do you make this all happen: designing new collections, make movies and organize festivals?
Pauola Suhonen: IvanaHelsinki is my lifestyle and all of the projects somehow evolve around it. I don’t separate work and free time – IvanaHelsinki combines all of the things I am interested in. Of course it requires a lot of work and dedication, but I am fortunate I can do things I love and I am genuinely excited about.
Could your passion to film surpass your passion to fashion one day?
Paola Suhonen: I love apparel design, and dresses so I don’t think film could ever surpass clothing design. Both forms of creativity support each others. I like making short movies to each clothing collection and show them during our fashion shows. My first full length film ”7 Heaven Love Ways” premiered in the Flow festival in Finland on the other hand was a visual entity where the clothing played an important role.
You live in LA at the moment, will IvanaHelsinki have more American influences in the design or will Nordic lifestyle always be seen in the designs?
Paola Suhonen: I’ve always combined east and west in my collections, Scandinavia meets American road movie- culture. Nordic weirdness and mystic have also always been important elements. These three elements have always been part of my collections, and the thought of two very different worlds.
My Finnish roots are the foundation of my inspiration as a designer, and I don’t think it’ll ever go away. The memory of Finland may become more romanticized, and just becomes the stronger the longer I’m away from Finland. But perhaps the distance will minimize the Scandinavian elements from my designs, perhaps the opposite will happen.
How do you live Skimbaco Lifestyle? What living life to the fullest means to you?
Paola Suhonen: Living life to the fullest means to me that I don’t separate work and pleasure but I combine all of my passions and what I do everyday is my lifestyle. I’ve always had a need to make my dreams come true. I don’t want to live “then when” life, I want to make my dreams come true now, and I work towards my dreams determinedly. And when a dream becomes more concrete possibility, I start working towards it immediately.