Words Chloe Moss
Portraits Etienne Gilfillan
“When designing clothes I always felt like the body says what the clothes look like… but shoes are always the same.”
My first thought upon being handed a pair of towering FINSK heels was that I was about to take a tumble. Being slightly lacking in grace and poise, I braced myself for at least a wobble. But once I’d donned the striking colour block shoes with their cut-out heels I soon realised that not only was I not going to fall, but that my feet were surprisingly at home in this initially scary footwear. If even I can stay upright, then it’s testament to the fact that FINSK shoes are as functional as they are eye-catching.
Created in 2004 by Finnish designer Julia Lundsten, FINSK has become synonymous with avant-garde yet entirely wearable designs, championing an architecturally driven aesthetic and a simplified colour palette. With an emphasis on a modern, structural look, FINSK keynotes include cut-out heels and colour blocking, eschewing frills and embellishments and letting the shape of the shoe do the talking. Most importantly, Julia’s shoes take into account comfort, and actually allow the wearer to move. Whilst collaborating with Dutch fashion designer Iris Van Herpen for her Spring/Summer 2016 collection at Paris Fashion Week, Julia was a huge hit with the models, who told her they were in awe of how easy the shoes were to move in. “All the models were like ‘Wow! I feel like I can run around’”. So although the shoes make an intimidating first impression, they are ultimately founded on a strong understanding of practical components, making for incredibly wearable design.
The focus on architectural influences comes naturally to Julia, whose parents both worked as architects. Having studied fashion design at the Royal College of Art, she realised that footwear was her true passion because of her appreciation for structural design. “When designing clothes I always felt like the body says what the clothes look like – because someone is big or someone is thin and they look so different – but shoes are always the same.” After graduating in 2003 Julia worked on a freelance basis for numerous clients whilst honing her own design plans. By working for a Brazil-based company she was able to explore what would become the base for her own future studio and had the opportunity to begin working on her own collection while still learning from other, established brands. After a year or two, Julia launched her first collection and FINSK, with its distinct brand identity, was born.
Having gained access to Brazilian ateliers through her freelance work, Julia made the decision to base her own factory there because of the highly skilled craftsmen, and the opportunity to ethically source every material going into her shoes. Her guiding principle was that “we never use leathers just for the sake of the leather”, so the primary materials for the shoes come from animals farmed for meat, rather than solely for their hides. Basing the atelier in Brazil also allowed her to take advantage of local craftsmanship and the unique techniques used in shoemaking there. With Brazil hosting fourteen people working on the practical side, two others overseeing the work, and Julia and her business partner based in Bloomsbury, FINSK operates with a relatively small team, allowing the collections to feel like a genuinely collaborative effort.
FINSK hash numerous shared credits under its belt, having worked with the likes of Basso & Brooke, Marimekko, Tia Cibani and Ports 1961 to create footwear to accompany their respective runway collections. There is also the collaboration with Iris Van Herpen for Spring/Summer 2016. Van Herpen’s collection combined craftsmanship with technology in a line that involved laser-cut, highly structural pieces. Julia’s footwear, then, with its sky-high and intricately carved heels in nude and black, provided the perfect accent to a collection that focused on sharp shapes.
Another exciting collaboration sees FINSK teaming up with Finish heritage rubber footwear brand Nokian. Famous for their wellington boots made using natural rubber, the brand’s secret formula, created in 1989, is still used today. The challenge for Julia was to combine her own techniques, established over a decade, with those of a European-based factory to create something that represented the FINSK aesthetic. Having worn Nokian boots as a child, Julia wanted to create versions that she could wear as a busy adult. The collection itself showcases the artistry of both brands, with the distinctive FINSK stamps of colour blocking and a structural heel transforming the humble wellington into something that you might even wear to the office.
Having introduced a unisex line, Julia continues to showcase the diverse nature of her designs, as well as responding to the ever-changing landscape of the fashion industry. FINSK has long since ceased to adhere to the traditional fashion calendar, preferring to respond to their clients’ desire to shop the looks they want when they want – and many international brands are now following suit. While some buyers seemed initially bemused by Julia’s intimidatingly architectural shoes, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. FINSK has built a loyal following and continues to offer exciting and challenging designs.