This being the first Helsinki Design Week since the city was selected as the World Design Capital 2012 last November, there was an unprecedented air of excitement to the event, which ran from 26 August to 5 Sept (the concept of a week being seven days obviously a restrictive and unecessary one to creatives), and to the capital’s hundreds of design-led businesses. Many of these form the Design District Helsinki, a vibrant 25 streets and 190 establishments that take in everything from shops and galleries to studios and hotels. Unsurprisingly, they went to town with special openings, discussions, performance and all manner of weird and wonderful stuff, including a gorgeous Mary Poppins-style canopy for this little outdoor café in the district.
International brands like Marimekko vied with concept stores like My Oh My in a windows installation programme, the latter surely winning in the originality stakes with its display, by Finnish illustratorRiitta Ikonen, of a wearable anthill dress.
The Design Forum Finland shop, not to be outdone and often the site of exhibitions by emerging and young designers, held a fine display of product prototypes by Kamui, John Void and Kaamos in its exhibition Hit Happens, with pieces that were inventive takes on the classically elegant in glassware or, in the case of Jukka Hakanen’s gnome lamps, witty Stark-style.
And designers were more than willing to invite design fans and curious passers-by in to see their premises and work spaces. Graphic designer turned head and neckwear designer Jenni Ahtiainen even welcomed us into her rock chic space gTIE (www.gtie.fi) with a glass of Salmiakki, a liquorice flavoured liqueur that had no right to taste as good as it did.
One of Finland’s biggest graphic studios, Kokoro & Moi, not only opened its doors but gave presentations and engaged visitors in discussions about the meaning and purpose of design. The space might have been small, but the work – clients include World Design Capital Helsinki 2012, Design Forum Finland, Helsinki Region Transport Authority and Nokia – is impressively varied and accompished, a playful, vibrant streak running through it that has parallels with the light, elegant lines and simplicity of Finland’s most famous creative, Alvar Aalto.
Aalto’s influence on the city’s designers is at its most evident in a growing range of restaurants, cafes and shops, many of them happily plundering the modern style to create interiors that make clever use of small premises to give a sense of light and space – maybe it’s a reaction to all that darkness in the winter months. Ateljé Finne is a great example, and it should be interesting to see what its owner Antto Melasniemi does when he brings pop-up Finnish restaurant Hel Yes to London later this month. With Aalto furniture in exclusive new colours, Iittala tableware by Harri Koskinen, unique tables by Linda Bergoth and art by sculpto/video artist Maria Duncker, it should be every bit as original as Helsinki Design Week proved to be.