“Aalto means wave in Finnish, in the sense of a new way of doing things. It’s a perfect fit with KER MER.”
Tuomas Merikoski is Making Waves with AALTO
Tuomas Merikoski came to Paris from Finland to complete a master’s degree in fashion at the IFM (Institute Française de la Mode). He began his career at French luxury group LVMH, first at Louis Vuitton then as head designer at Givenchy, before launching his own label, Aalto in 2014. ‘Launch’ is the operative word, Aalto translates as ‘wave’ in Finnish. Tuomas’ ambition is “to build something from zero, a Finnish-Origin House with the values of Finland.”
KER MER: We know very little about Finland in Western Europe. What are Finnish values?
Tuomas Merikoski: We’re a country in the top right corner of Europe. We have an extremely high level of education, we’re strongly into nature, we are democratic, we prize sustainability, honesty and integrity. We are a very young country, not weighed down by tradition. There are no societal layers, no royal family. We are non-conformist and forward-looking.
KER MER: Are Finns creative?
Tuomas Merikoski: Finland is super creative but there is no fashion industry to speak of. This is true for most Nordic countries; with the exception of Sweden, which has some creative brands such as Acne Studios, Cheap Monday and H&M. We have particularly peculiar customs. This crazy translates into a real creative force.
KER MER: What kind of ‘peculiar customs’?
Tuomas Merikoski: For instance, we don’t observe social niceties. We don’t do small talk, it’s considered superficial and rude. Our directness can sometimes shock. We’re also very shy and reserved, we need to drink to lose our inhibitions. Then things can get wild! But we’re proud to be who we are, with all our crazy weirdness.
KER MER: The formal ambiance of Paris’ luxury houses must have been quite a culture shock?
Tuomas Merikoski: By its nature, fashion thrives on change. I liked the challenge of being creative within a tight structure. I’m good at imposing my vision, getting it to my consumer. I’m a designer, not an artist.
How do French people react to Finnishness?
“It’s an unknown and we want to change it. We have an innate positivity, people react to that. We live in total darkness most of the year, we only see light in summer. It’s very extreme and highly contrasted. This is why most people perceive Scandinavian design as very black-and-white, minimalist and emotionless. I want to dispel this myth with Aalto.”
KER MER: Are you eco-conscious?
Tuomas Merikoski: We live very close to nature in Finland. I’m fascinated by how nature relates to chaos. Nature is innately violent, it’s powerful, unstoppable when it unleashes its full force. We’re seeing the results in our climate changes. Creating an imbalance in nature will destroy us.
KER MER: What is your approach to sustainability in fashion?
Tuomas Merikoski: I think people are getting fed up of hearing about sustainability, it has become a complex and political issue. Sustainability and consuming intelligently should be an integral part of our education and culture. While it can drive some creative projects, it should be evident that anything we buy has been intelligently designed and manufactured. If we want to change the world we need to start with ourselves. At AALTO, we systematically upcycle and eliminate what I call ‘stupid waste’. Sustainability should be integrated by the fashion industry as a whole.
KER MER: What materials do you prefer for AALTO?
Tuomas Merikoski: We use a lot of wool. It’s a beautiful material, easy to work with. It grows naturally, is easy to recycle and it auto-regenerates! Organic cotton is really growing, it’s now practically the same price as non-organic which is a good thing. We don’t use linen so much, as our Asian clients don’t understand it.
KER MER: Organic or recycled materials?
Tuomas Merikoski: It is not realistic for a small company to embrace 100% recycled materials. Ironically, they’re more expensive. Fashion is very consumer-driven, it is difficult to produce something that doesn’t cost the consumer more. The consumer judges only how the end product looks, not how it was made.
KER MER: Tell us about your collaboration with KER MER and L. Jeandot?
Tuomas Merikoski: I love nature and I love water, it’s my favourite element. Aalto means wave, in the sense of a new way of doing things. It’s the perfect fit with KER MER. This is reflected in my latest collection, Beach Beasts. The Aalto woman is inspired by water, she is like a fantastic female 21st century Corto Maltese. All references refer to marine life, from Jacques Cousteau’s red sailor hat to Theo Jansen’s amazing “Strandbeest’ construction. The setting is inspired by the secret island in the movie, The Beach, highlighted by Voilerie L.Jeandot’s recycled sailbags, handmade in France.
KER MER: What do you think are the specific challenges of this collaboration?
Tuomas Merikoski: We didn’t participate in this collaboration just for fun, we want to support KER MER’s mission. This is not a one-off, it’s the beginning of our story.
Our first challenge was to be really creative while finding the best way to use the sailcloth. The sails we recuperated have been exposed to wind, seawater and salt for 20 years. Their texture is stiff and rigid. Our womenswear is supple and fluid. We decided on the bags and hat as a good starting point. The second challenge is to develop a good business model. In order to be sustainable, this collaboration has to be commercially viable. We will see the reaction to this collection to see how it can evolve.
KER MER: Do you have the next KER MER – L. Jeandot project in mind?
Tuomas Merikoski: We’d like to do something bigger, more consistent. Maybe a raincoat.
KER MER: What will the next wave bring to Aalto?
Tuomas Merikoski: We’ve established ourselves in two major continents, Europe and Asia. We hope to conquer the US. And online, that’s the eighth continent, and the biggest!
Text: Jean Grogan
Translation: Rola Cusson