Mikel Rosen at EARS on Helsinki

The Europe-Asia Roundtable Sessions or EARS on Helsinki is a series of organized of round-table sessions, conferences and publications organized through the collaboration of multiple Finnish Government and Private Organizations and experts.

EARS aims at bringing together creative professionals from both Europe (mostly the Nordic Countries) and Asia to analyze business opportunities and share ideas and the best practices to help businesses break barriers. This year’s conference was celebrated this weekend in Helsinki with the attendance of entrepreneurs, fashionistas, filmmakers and top professionals in the fields of design, film, business, arts and music.

I had the opportunity to attend EARS on Fashion which was one of the four parallel sessions in which the conference is divided.

The main conferences and panels on Friday included talks with Finnish and Chinese fashion brands with experience in transcending borders and doing cross-cultural events  and business between the Europe and Asia. The main program included three conference talks and a panel of experts which included Samuji’s Marketing Manager Suvi-Elina Enqvist, Rasmus Drucker Ibfeltco creator of e-Types, Finnish influencer  Jani Nipola, Päivi Lonka the Chief Sales Officer of Marimekko and Mikel Rosen the founder of London Fashion Week.

EARS Helsinki

Mikel Rosen takes on Finland, Fashion and the future

In an already all star program one conferencist stood from the rest, Fashion Legend Mikel Rosen founder of the London Fashion Week and mentor to icons like John Galliano, the late Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney among many others through his extensive career.

Mr. Mikel Rosen may have had his start in London Fashion Week but he has created Fashion Programs for Central St. Martins College of Art and Design, working with multiple fashion brands and even starting the Singapore Fashion Week. Mikel Rosen love challenges and as such he is now part of the Art Institute of California-San Francisco.

It was a great opportunity to listen to him speak and then have a one on one interview where we discussed Finnish Fashion and his experience during his visit in Helsinki.

The Conference, “Banana Fondant on Top of a cupcake enough?”

I will start with the conference which was cleverly named “Banana Fondant on Top of a cupcake enough?” which was an analogy on how less can be more and even how excess and minimalism have their places when presenting fashion as long as they truly represent the vision and style of the creators. With examples on how small countries like Belgium and the Antwerp Six he talked about how Finland and the Nordics in general could position themselves abroad, he pushed the audience to find strength through collaboration and to avoid fear of going out there.

During our conversation we went a little more in-depth on how Finland, not being close to a major fashion capital, has grown independently and has created its own style. He made a great case for unity and collaboration without overdoing it or becoming a costume rather than a statement.

EARS Helsinki

Finland to him had a lot to offer, it was different and there was something in the air that he could not put in words but could even see through the people on the streets which he thought were striking and had an amazing style fueled by a strong minimal confidence he had not seen elsewhere. There was a specific case that didn’t go unnoticed, he saw a family walking around downtown Helsinki and the father caught his eyes because he was wearing a blue suit, sported a thick beard and a bright pink messenger bag…  a look that to us in Helsinki may seem normal or at least usual, a page out of Hel Looks, we indeed have a style in Helsinki but we haven’t even hit the surface on its potential yet.

Another predominant topic during the conference and during our one on one was the challenge of pushing forward something new to the world like Finnish Fashion Design, there is indeed quality and an abundance of success stories but one designer or a couple designers cannot bring all the attention towards Finland it has to be a group effort. He enphasized on the importance of Organizational Institutes such which would gather and really put some thought on the best way to present Finnish Design to the world, he mentioned how the London Fashion Week had been successful at pairing both established names and up and coming designers to bring attention to both sides of London Fashion, Finland in his opinion needs this effort.

The importance of having a voice is something that Rosen feels can make a brand global, you have to do your own thing and the attention will come he said, it is important to remain true to who you are and where you are from to succeed he said that it was all about relevance.

The Panel on how to brand Finnish Fashion to the Asian Market.

The panel was a very interesting exercise as it included well known Finnish Fashion figures, Rosen and Copenhagen based Drucker Ibfel who at times exchanged heated opinions on how Finland should move forward.  It was often not really a debate but a presentation of ideas and preconceptions on how Finland was perceived abroad, at some point the sole Chinese member of the panel intervened and asked the Finnish members of the panel to stop referring China as a market as he felt that it was too general and in my opinion cold too.

EARS Helsinki

The fact that the conference was about Asia-Europe didn’t stop Mr. Rosen from interjecting that those in the panel and Finland itself should not be obsessed only by the Asian Market but open to the rest of the world, he said that in order to get to lets say China it might not even be wise to use the direct approach as you could have an even more effective success if you would get your brand to Barney’s in New York or a trendy boutique elsewhere in Europe.

Finland as a Nordic Design Nation and a representative of such became part of the debate when Mrs. Suvi-Elina Enqvist from Samuji argued that the brand was not defining itself as Nordic but had its own path to say so… it was puzzling  how a brand created by a former Marimekko Creative Director would not proudly fly the flag of Nordic Design at any chance possible.

Cordiality prevailed and although a couple “I don’t agree” were voiced the exchange was insightful and it showed us how dialogue needs to be part of the daily fashion conversation not only in Finland but in the Nordics as a group.  It was exciting to see Rosen challenge even the audience to speak just as he did in his conference, not much of a back and forth with the audience but the effort was a grant gesture.

Finland may have great success stories but as a fashion capital Helsinki has its work cut out, its exciting to see these efforts bring ideas to the table and hopefully see some changes in exposure for Finnish brands abroad.

EARS Helsinki

The one on one.

After the panel and the conference we had small break and then I had my chance to sit down with Mr. Rosen and elaborate more on what had been discussed in the panel and in the conference.  Our main topics were his impressions of Finland, he had already said how he was impressed by the people, the culture and the very peculiar things he had seen in Helsinki, which also included Finnish Rap.

I have already written a bit on what we discussed in the conference section of this article but one thing that we discussed that wasn’t part of the conference was what he thought about Helsinki style. I showed Mr. Rosen some of the local designers that are not probably the ones promoted abroad with critical acclamation as they do not helm from Aalto University but are just as exciting as them. He already had seen that Finland had its own style and vibe and he found very interesting the prints done by Teemu Keisteri as he said that those clearly relevant and current.

We also discussed a bit about Finnish temperament and shyness, a concept which he thought was not at all true now that he had experienced Finland himself. He was not buying the fact that Finland was merely shy, he then elaborated and siad it was more about being introverted but still quite strong, he saw the theatricality of how people construct their outfits in Helsinki and people are definitively not shy but they maybe had not had the vehicule to express themselves the same way as in other countries.

Tom of Finland in his opinion was a great example of how someone who lived in a time and with many frustrations expressed fantasies and created art and self expression through them. He then drew a parallel on how London by being rainy 40 weeks out of the year had a similar experience to Finland which is even colder and darker most the year, a great example being the late Alexander McQueen who also created through an experience of frustration and anger.

In his experience all this particularities are exciting and Finland indeed has more to offer and reading through this notes you can see why Mr. Rosen is a legend, he manages to analyze and reflect on the environment and the way things look around the place, the main message we can take is that we have to value and push for a local development and the global is just around the corner and it will arrive.

The last item we discussed was his move to California, I mean San Francisco is not really known for Fashion but for technology so the move was a surprise to many. For him California was not about the money, but in fact about the challenge, he said that for him financially it would had made more sense to move to New York but California was a unique challenge he wanted to embrace in this stage of his life.

Though he has a lengthy and extensive career as in Fashion education in the United Kingdom he now is pushing a new generation of San Franciscans to do Fashion with the passion it is done in Central St. Martins or even Aalto which by the way is ranked third worldwide. He elaborated about the differences between the American and the European fashion students, in the USA they are not about the bottom line but more about the kill and maybe there is a more aggressive hunger for fashion in Europe at this point but he is hard at work and sees the potential in California.

Yet there are also success stories from California such as Rodarte who have a very eccentric take on fashion and art but have managed to pop up from the local to the world through acclamation in publications like Vogue, winning the Swiss Textiles Award and even donning the outfit worn by Natalie Portman in Black Swan. This example for me tied the whole conference, panels and our talks as a history of success by doing your own thing is possible, as a nation here in Finland it is about persevering and pushing the local industry to stay true to itself and finding ways to create and show the world what is done here.

All and all the message he brought to Finland was empowering and insightful, what the attendees do with it is yet to be seen but EARS could have not chosen a better mentor for a new generation of creators in Finland.

Thanks to Mr. Rosen for his time and to EARS Helsinki for the attentions before and during the event.

Mikel Rosen

Photos by Beto Guzmán Abundes