Wednesday, April 6, 2011

finland: tandem sweaters & ice breaking ships


right: Finnish designer Sirkka Könönen; left: detail of one of her sweaters

Walking over to Sirkka Könönen’s boutique in Helsinki, I was perplexed. I had the correct address, but couldn’t find it. Dropping into another boutique, I asked the owner where Sirkka was located, and she advised me it was a few doors back, and “It looks like an antique shop." Indeed, if one is looking for yarn in the window, or knitwear, forget it. Könönen’s Helsinki shop window is crowded with foliage, a bureau and mannikins from the 1930’s, although dressed in her inimitable knits and in fact she does have a license to sell antiques in addition to her designs. Stumbling inside, numb from the winter air, Sirkka warmly welcomed me, making coffee and setting out traditional Karelian pastries. We chatted about her career. Her knit designs are stuffed in between old cabinets, bird cages, other found objects, and knit cakes on a top shelf, large and sculptural. Her flea market collection in the boutique reflects her attitude towards compassion and protection, she buys items that may be forgotten or useless. “Sometimes I must clean more, I have so many things, it is better I put it so. The knit and crochet wedding cakes? I was tired of knitting, I wanted to work in something more free." 

upper right: detail of stranded pattern from 1960's; upper right:Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art designed by American firm, Steven Holl; lower right: detail of Könönen sweater; left: Helsinki in the winter

Könönen has essentially redefined stranded knitting in terms of motifs and colors. While still studying at the Institute for Industrial Arts in Helskinki, she opened her boutique and was selling her knit wear designs to magazines. Experimenting with various concepts, Könönen once designed a tandem sweater, to be worn simultaneously by 5 women. She is a fascinating colorist, and bright colors contrast with subdued grays, sages, and mauves. Her designs are so distinctive when I was walking through the university neighborhood on my way to see her, I recognized leg warmers worn by students which she had designed, and at Helsinki Airport, saw a man wearing her fox sweater. 

right: detail of rya wall hanging; left: Nation Museum, Helsinki