(Feature photos above: left by Robbin Whachell / right by Sam Stringer)
It was not your typical closing show for a fashion week, but it was indeed memorable. Many of us were wondering about this new Finnish designer, Antti Asplund and with such a unique design name, Heterophobia, the show was highly anticipated. As the team for Vancouver Fashion Week readied for the final show, a few center seats across from me were held open. A blond man in a cap and street clothes, wearing a bandana around his neck was ushered in and he carried a bouquet of flowers and a white pillow. I later learned he was Henri Pohjanhovi, the designer’s marketing manager. The two seats next to him remained open (well sort of) throughout the lengthy, but most-interesting fashion display that followed.
The show was bright and colourful and at most times quite outrageous with an array of accessories like household nylon dusters, army gas masks, grenades, painted bags, shoes and fabrics. The show was set against a video backdrop that featured Asplund and his muse Hiu Lume, which was directed and filmed by a Finnish artist Andre Pozusis, and edited by Katariina Nordfors. It’s message however was not clear to me at the time.
“The video is based on my text about equality and it keeps evolving for every show,” Asplund told me. “In Berlin it included a part in German, in Finland it had some lines in Finnish and for Vancouver I wrote French text. The video and catwalk show in Vancouver were extended with a new part called Colourless Clan which deals with issues of violence on the streets, and racism that is still in the air in North America and all around the world. It tells about coping with the fear of being different – that’s what the word HETEROPHOBIA stands for,” said Asplund.
The show was also dark and ghoulish at times. What struck me first was the simplicity of much of the collection, there were signature T’s and undies, and the use of cotton and nylon fabrics had unfinished edges and loose threads, but it all seemed to be part of ‘the look’. A piece that stood out for me was the army fatigue jacket that was piled with ripped fabrics. I enjoyed the rainbow coloured pastel quilted plaid outfits with the ‘Elmer Fudd’ hats.
I had 70 cents on my personal account. But I had a dream and a strong vision…
Antti Asplund introduced his Heterophobia collection earlier this year at the Berlin Fashion Week. “The show was a great success with the Finnish fashion designer receiving resale agreements and offers of cooperation from all around the world,” says the designer’s website.
Asplund said his career changed dramatically when he designed a small collection of products on a 70 cent budget to be sold at a Pride Week in Helsinki. “I collected all plain clothes I had for the shoot and got a printer from my beautiful downstairs’ neighbour. I loaned money from my mother to buy paper to iron prints on tees and briefs. We shot the campaign photos with Laura Vartio and photographer Andre Pozusis, we modeled and were styled identical without gender – Eetu Heinonen covered my blonde hair with brown braided wig. I wanted to abandon my self-image and become anonymous for the collection to send a visual message about equality.”
It was a prominent time in Finland, as the designer wrote, “Finnish government put a black cloud on the LGBT community on Wednesday when they decided not to pass the bill of equal rights of same-sex marriage to the parliament … The cloud vanished on Saturday when 20,000 people of all genders and sexual orientation became one big colourful group. We sold out of every single item that day and got a long reservation list.” It was after that, that he was invited to Berlin Fashion Week.
After revealing the collection, Asplund received support from a large number of businesses, design professionals and individuals. Asplund’s friends formed a colorful group of people, which the designer calls ‘his caravan,’ his team of 40 people who he has collaborated and worked with, which pursues acts of guerrilla marketing for the brand by moving the show in spectacular outfits around, being live advertisements for the collection.
During the Vancouver Fashion Week show, one model dressed in a nylon white fleece outfit and hat, carrying a stuffed panda bear, stopped in front of the man with the empty seats and handed the bear to him. The panda took it’s rightful place on the pillow next to him, while we all sat in wonder.
I wanted to abandon my self-image and become anonymous for the collection to send a visual message about equality…
The show ended on a colourful note with sailor-themed striped tight outfits and models carrying various country flags until the rainbow flag was carried out by Asplund himself. Asplund proudly waved the flag down the runway where he stopped to give a big kiss to the male model before him. When the entourage of models paraded out for the final walk, confetti cans were ignited perhaps declaring, “The rainbow coloured celebration of unlimited love with the Caravan of Equality.”
From Vancouver, the Caravan continued to Los Angeles and then on to New York. Asplund and Pozusis are working on his first art exhibition called Come Back to Dark – based upon his poems about the darkness and rebirth as an artist. The exhibition combines texts, songs, videos, photography and performance. His couture collections are based on these works.
Oh, and about that panda?! After I asked Asplund he said, “Caravan Panda is our mascot. He’s been traveling with us since the very beginning and has visited Berlin, London, Vancouver and now Los Angeles.” Panda even has his own twitter account at https://twitter.com/caravanpanda. “He is an essential part of Heterophobia performances both on the catwalk and in everyday life. He always gets the front row seat. Panda is a mischievous character, often vain and nonchalantly #unimpressed at the mundane and ordinary – unlike the rest of the Caravan…”