By Hyon Jung Lee
Its winters are cold and dark, but the city is scorching hot. On a recent trip to Helsinki, the city’s progressive architecture, inspired design and innovative Finnish cuisine kept my head spinning (as did the unconventional hours that restaurant and showrooms tend to keep). Or was my head spinning from the staggering quantities of vodka I consumed in Helsinki’s brasseries, café-bars, drinking dens and pubs?
Trendy hotels like Hotel Glo and Klaus K cater to the international hipster set, and restaurants like La Société du Cochon and Kuurna plate inventive Finnish food, with an emphasis on local produce, top-quality ingredients and regional cuisine. Bars like Ateljee and Kämp Bar & Club are using local ingredients (such as domestic berries) and pushing “molecular mixology,” where cocktails meet science.
And then there are the shopping opportunities. A new generation of designers are creating some of the most stylish and innovative house wares, furniture and textiles in Europe. Whether designing a chair or a dress, hip, young Finnish designers remain focused on timeless style, clean lines and high-quality materials.
Unfortunately, many of the shops that sell these beautiful things tend to keep unusual hours. If you don’t plan ahead, you’ll be doing more window-shopping than actual buying. A few shops were closed Monday through Wednesday. Most shops close between 4 and 6 p.m. on Saturdays. Many are closed on Sundays.
These global designers must be busy at work in their studios or winning design awards, rather than just minding their showrooms. Most of the action is in the center of Helsinki, in an area known as Design District Helsinki. Comprising 25 streets and 170 businesses, this burgeoning district is chockablock with design and antique shops, fashion boutiques, museums, art galleries, restaurants and showrooms.
A Helsinki Design District map will help you navigate the neighborhood. The fold-up maps are available at Design Forum Finland, a promotion organization for Finnish design.
Hanging out in the Helsinki Design District is awe-inspiring. Of course, if the shops or restaurants were to extend their hours, the experience would have been wallet-busting, too. Of course, most of the bars were open until 2 a.m. and the bigger nightclubs like Redrum until 4 a.m., which explains my room-spinning headaches.
Helsinki Shopping Guide
In 1935, Alvar Aalto and three other Finnish architects founded Artek to manufacture furniture, lamps and textiles. Today, Artek remains faithful to Aalto’s core values and products with a focus on natural materials, long-term durability, high quality and clean lines. At the store on Helsinki’s main shopping street, Eteläesplanadi, I fell in love with an Aalto sofa, but alas, it would have been taxing to ship home to New York. The Aalto stool, an icon of 20th-century modern design, was boxed and ready for travel and assembly.
+358 9 6132 5277
Design Forum Finland
Design Forum Finland was formerly known as the Finnish Society for Crafts and Design, which has also been affiliated with the Design Museum and the University of Art and Design Helsinki. The progressive design center includes three galleries, a cafe and a shop, which sells glassware, wood and ceramics, textiles, industrial design products, books and jewelry. The eager-to-please staff is intimately familiar with every product on the floor – its designer, its provenance, and every bit of the history of individual objects. The shop in the Design District happens to keep convenient hours, but if you miss it, there’s another Design Shop at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, and it opens at 6:30 a.m.
Design Forum Finland
+358 9 6220 810
There was a whole lot of fuss when Sarah Jessica Parker wore the clogs and handbag designed by Hanna Sarén on an episode of “Sex and the City.” At the designer’s glamorous and charming boutique in the Design District, you’ll find precisely tailored collections for men and women, along with the adorable TV stars prominently displayed among her shoe collection. A well curated selection of accessories is also available, including men’s wear from French-Peruvian fair trade label, Misericordia, and silver jewelry from the Japanese label Atomic Number 47. There’s a good deal of fuss to come: Hanna and her husband, Jussi Tiilikka, just launched an exclusive children’s line, and 2008 will be a landmark year for the husband-and-wife team, as they collaborate with Finland’s biggest fashion chain, Seppälä.
+358 40 555 1595
I asked a half-dozen local Finns which is the “must-visit” boutique in Helsinki, and they all pointed me to Helsinki 10. According to Anders Westerholm, the editor of Helsinki Nightlife Guide, Helsinki 10 is a “feel-good place where lots of locals hang for a mixture of second-hand and trendy fashion.” The founders of Union 5, one of Finland ‘s biggest retailers of skate- and snowboarding wear, have merged their interests in books, music and fashion into a “lifestyle store.” This is the place to find cool streetwear labels, high fashion and select vintage pieces – everything from Comme des Garçons to Levi’s vintage.
+358 010 548 9801
Since the 1930s, Iittala has been a driving force of Scandinavian design, with legendary designers Kaj Franck and Alvar Aalto as the cornerstones for the brand. Today, Iittala is one of Finland’s biggest exporters, and it’s not surprising: the brand’s contemporary glassware, crystal, ceramics and cookware are renowned for style and durability. Every piece is designed for everyday living; the Iittala core philosophy is “of lasting everyday design against throwawayism.”
+358 204 39 3501
Whether it’s your first trip or your 50th, no trip to Helsinki is complete without popping in to Marimekko for immersion in its bold, colorful geometric prints. Founded in the early 1950s, the famed textile house made its mark when Jackie O bought several dresses from the brand’s collection in 1960. There are several Marimekko locations in Helsinki, and if you didn’t stock up on house wares and striped things while in town, not to worry — there’s another at the airport.
+358 9 686 0240
In the past ten years, IVANAhelsinki has become famous for her retro prints, rustic crochet work, woolen dresses, hand-painted stripes and embroidery. Among the most internationally recognized of Finnish young-generation talent, designer Paola Suhonen recently showed her “Diamond, Stripes and Revolver” collection at Fashion Week in Paris this past October. At her shop in the Design District, IVANAHelsinki Campus, you’ll find clever retro print clothing and youthful, if not unconventional accessories.
+358 9 622 4422
Lumi on 14
“Lumi on 14 is the destination address for the well heeled and glamorous,” claims the boutique’s Web site. A collective of global designer brands, this handsome shop features plenty of handbags and unusual accessories from all over Europe. The innovative bi-level space – a former spa and photo studio – is worth the visit. Old school services and comfort are emphasized – you’ll appreciate enormous dressing rooms and custom tailoring.
Lumi on 14
+358 44 271 2622
Need to look sharp for a meeting or a celebration? Ril’s features contemporary women’s clothing designed by Ritva-Liisa Pohjalainen, who was awarded Finland’s coveted Fennia Prize for lifetime accomplishment in design. The store features coordinated collections which emphasize “well fitting and easy care, comfortable to use and nice to wear,” declares the Web site. What else would a woman need?
+358 9 174 500
Feeling green? Secco is an eco-friendly shop featuring objects that are recycled or remade from discarded objects. Maybe you’re in the market for bizarre accessories, such as jewelry made from computer keyboards, handbags made from rubber tire inner-tube, or bowls made of vinyl records. Secco reopened with a totally new look in October, offering more “treasures of wasteland.”
+358 9 678 782