Elle Korea

A name worth noting: Tuomas Merikoski, Creative Director of AALTO. Originally from Finland, he now lives in Paris, where he launched his brand in 2014 with the aim to promote the not so well-known Finnish take on beauty, building on his previous experience as a designer at Givenchy and Louis Vuitton. ELLE visited AALTO in the new studio they moved into in September, and met with Tuomas Merikoski in the midst of the preparations for the upcoming season.

The brand’s name is very unique. What does it mean?

AALTO is one of the most common surnames in Finland and at the same time it means “wave”. Thanks to the world famous designer Alvar Aalto, it sounds familiar to foreigners and is easy to understand. I chose this name to imply that my brand was born in Finland, but I also like the sea and waves.

What made you launch your own brand?

Prior to launching AALTO, I worked for nine years at Givenchy, and for six years at Louis Vuitton. During this time, I have seen many brands launch, and unfortunately also disappear, before the public even has had the time to notice them. I wanted to avoid creating AALTO with the sole purpose of launching a brand, and focus on a well-thought plan on how to convey our unique vision.

What does ‘unique’ mean to you?

The ‘unique’ I just mentioned comes from there only being a few Finnish people in the fashion world. It is difficult to express with a specific word. No matter how long I live in Paris, my identity continues to be very Finnish. Besides, there is no high fashion Finnish brand, so the appearance of AALTO is unique in itself.

Why Paris?

I wanted to show AALTO’s Nordic aesthetic to an international audience. For that, Paris, a fashion hub, was more appropriate than Finland.

Is AALTO is a Finnish design-oriented brand?

That’s exactly what AALTO is, a Finnish design-oriented brand. Finns as a people are realistic, pragmatic, they don’t like embellishments. They don’t usually engage in unnecessary conversations or small talk, and neither do I. Most of everyday life is very down to earth. AALTO is not a fairy tale haute couture brand, but a brand of functional clothing with reasonable pricing. Perhaps this is all very Finnish.

When AALTO launched, you incorporated the work of the late Finnish photographer Jouko Lehtola in your collection, and have since then continued to create collaborations with various artists. Could you tell us more about this?

With the launch of AALTO, I also wanted to show the world the art and culture of contemporary Finland. We chose to work with Jouko Lehtola’s images because they represented an innately innocent and poetic young generation in Finland, and these photographs are in line with the image AALTO pursues. After that, we took on a completely new challenge and worked around Moomins, a national Finnish cartoon character. Now we are looking forward to working with the Finnish conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Overall, AALTO emphasizes inspirations taken from the youth culture. What kind of youth culture is it?

The youth culture I think of is the one Jouko Letola depicts. It’s a crude, innocent and unconventional beauty that is not refined. It’s a youth that has the courage to express their feelings without filtering rather than obey fixed rules.

I’m curious about the story of the S/S 18 ”After Nature” collection.

The theme of ‘After Nature’ was inspired by the current situation in which humans dominate nature. Because it is a rather heavy theme, I chose to use colors to express the optimism of the collection. This vivid color palette symbolizes Finland.

The yellow Repack bag is especially interesting. What is the story behind that piece?

Repack is a Finnish packaging start-up that aims to reduce waste by reusing delivery bags multiple times. In order to help the environment a little, AALTO uses Repack to ship the goods to the customers of our online store.

The time when a brand could survive by just making good clothes is over. Digital now seems to play a more important role in promoting the brand.

I strongly agree with you on that. Who knew the development of digital would change fashion so quickly? This phenomenon goes beyond the fashion show and into the website, e-commerce, and social media. Recently, we relaunched the AALTO website to match the digital trends and to communicate more closely with customers around the world. Fortunately, their feedback is also more engaged than before.

In 2016 AALTO has been shortlisted for the LVMH Prize, and two years later it is already being referred to as an established designer brand. What is necessary for a young brand to succeed?

The most important thing for young designers who want to lead a new era is to consistently deliver a strong message that comes from your heart. The market changes brought about by the development of digital can give a brand enormous visibility at first, but many brands disappear quickly after. Even a new designer should not lose his or her own distinct philosophy and message, and should lead their brand steadily.

Interview by Ji Eun Kim Rhee for Elle Korea