Designer Carolina Forss: “I was inspired by women’s protest clothes during Finland’s independence struggle”

Designer Carolina Forss: “I was inspired by women’s protest clothes during Finland’s independence struggle”

Recently graduated designer Carolina Forss made her final collection inspired by the Golden Age of Finnish art. The collection will be shown at Royal Academy Summer Late to celebrate the opening of Helene Schjerfbeck exhibition.  


How did you come to find inspiration in the Finnish Art from the turn of the 20th century?

“The collision of different worlds fascinates me. I think it’s necessary to go out of one’s comfort zone in order to create something new and exciting. I read a history book that described how women during Finland’s struggle for independence wore black mourning clothes as a manifest. I started to see art from a different angle. The Finnish Heritage Agency’s archives have a vast collection of photographs which inspired me to focus on paintings from that era. As a designer I see them differently from an art historian. Besides the collection, my graduate project also consists of a written part. The Finnish National Gallery Ateneum’s previous director Susanna Pettersson helped me choose ten pieces which then formed five pairs.” 


In the collection you have used several different materials and developed a unique technique. What does this mean in practice?

“Knit garments are important to me and I wanted to include them in the collection. In the paintings the hems of scarves and aprons were often decorated with a simple knitting pattern. I wanted to bring it back to life in a new way. I was fascinated by the smocking pleater and used the machine and the technique meant for it in a way I’ve never seen anyone do before. Needle felting technique was used to combine light silk fabrics, I believe it suits the look of the Golden Age era. I analysed the way people were dressed in the paintings and how it portrayed their social class. Mixing and wearing out expensive fabrics reflects the way the Finnish society was divided into upper and lower classes. I wanted to interpret the era in my own, modern way. For example light silk and nylon fabrics resemble silk taffeta used at the end of the 19th century.”


Who would you like to attend the show and see you collection?

“Hopefully there will be professionals of many trades, not only fashion. For example people from the finance sector and art lovers. Interdisciplinarity in studies and art is great! Others’ knowledge and points of view inspire me. On the other hand it would be an amazing surprise to see someone like Stella McCartney in the audience.” 


What kind of discussion would you like to encourage with your collection? 

“I want people to think of habits of working and creating. The connection between art and fashion is nothing new, but how designers apply art in their creations remains a great secret. With the collection I wish to illustrate the interaction between the two. I have thought about inspiration and its birth. Royal Academy has given me free reign and I’m looking forward to July with positive excitement. The collection required a lot of effort and was made with love. The technical and written parts meant long and laborious days and with the show in London I get to celebrate the culmination of years of studying.”


RA Lates: Pleasure Gardens, 21.7. 7–11 pm, Royal Academy of Arts,6 Burlington Gardens, London, W1S 3ET. Tickets £25–£85


Text: Essi Miettunen, photo: Helen Korpak


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