Feature / A Day in The Life:
Heikki Salonen of Vyner Articles

The East End is home to the bustling suburbs and distinct neighbourhoods which make up the spine of one of the world’s most creative and culturally diverse cities - London. Settled in the heart of this comes Vyner Street, famous for transforming the East London art scene, it is built on the fundamentals of galleries and street art. Nestled in this creative patch is the birth place of clothing brand, Vyner Articles.

Born while commuting between Helsinki, London and Italy; Heikki Solonen, founder and Creative Director of Vyner Articles eventually resided in the British capital with a scope to dedicate his focus to the menswear wardrobe, as opposed to his previous workings under the womenswear realm.

First and foremost, Heikki Salonen is known as womenswear designer. After graduating from the prestigious Royal College of Art in London in 2008, Heikki established his own namesake label focusing on tailor-made clothing challenging and reshaping the traditional representation of women. Five years at Diesel followed from this, a succession into a role provoking new forms of designing for women from a male perspective. A dangerous prospect, treading unchartered ground into a fine line of over doing it or simply not doing enough.

”Everything relates back to clothing, anything comes back to clothing. Whatever you do in your life it helps you to create.”
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It was this dangerous prospect that inspired him to branch out into new realms, with the introduction of his first menswear outfit, Vyner Articles.

Constructed under the ethos of community, Heikki built Vyner on the grounds of inviting everybody in and being on this street, in his studio setting has always been a collective experience. Erasing himself from the constraints of his namesake brand helped him push boundaries into the community; with events, dinners and exhibitions all taking place in the home/studio space that Heikki has made for himself to create from. Putting himself in such an environment has blurred the lines between him as the designer with his neighbours and his friends, all of whom touch on creative output for Vyner.

Working with friends and like-minded individuals is a common trend in the fundamentals of Heikki’s approach, “Your private space is kind of going solo, fashion is about the team and how you work with the team and I love that.” His studio is made up of people he has previously worked with in Margiela as well as friends and other creatives. They no longer get offended by his weird personality quirks or become overwhelmed with spending such a great amount of time with. This experience has added to the organic nature of creation and gives people the freedom to explore ideas without a deep concern of others opinions.

This sense of togetherness is imposed through Heikki’s approach to the working day, citing Alexander McQueen’s first days at Givenchy where ateliers would never eat with designers or attend eventual shows. This sense of division really resonated with Heikki and shaped his approach to do the exact opposite, helping create a basis of identity for Vyner Articles.

“I think it’s important to live your life as well. The worst designer is spending every week in the office and not going out and understand what’s going on in the world. I think it’s really important to do something you love, that is not clothing. Everything relates back to clothing, anything comes back to clothing. Whatever you do in your life it helps you to create.” A notion that stimulates the brain and brings together a good working environment for Heikki and his staff, inspired from the founder of Patagonia - Yvon Chouinard. A man celebrated by being a founder and a friend, allowing staff members to bring animals into the office and give permission for surfing trips during working hours. All of which contributed to a positive free-flowing working environment but also undoubtedly had an optimistic effect on the creative aspect of Patagonia. Employees were simply shaping their lives and working, not overly dominating days spent in the studio. A concept Heikki is willingly to push into his work with Vyner and beyond.

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Heikki’s most recent assignment saw him reach heights of becoming the creative director of Maison Margiela’s MM6 line. Converging into his familiar territory; influences and personality are a catalyst to his design. A thought that Martin’s (Margiela) personality is still engrossed in the house has undoubtedly reverberated with Heikki.

“What I really love about Martin’s work is that now I can really learn about his references. That he really loves Andy Warhol and Yoko Ono. When you read about them, they were about other people and more other people. Now I understand why I was drawn to his work as he has a similar idea to be with people and how to respect people. I think it’s interesting, that it’s not necessarily aesthetics what you see, but it’s much deeper.”

Even though they are two very different workings, MM6 and Vyner place well in Heikki’s approach to designing. His “Everything effects everything” approach is compared to the way Louise Bourgeois works, “They are always laughing how I work, when I’m sketching I usually have a documentary on, another something there and its really chaotic. Then I read about Louise Bourgeois and she does the same. Usually music, and television on, so much noise around.” His extensive research through books, videos and music allow him to dig deeper and shape his workings in both brands. But it is never dismissed that both brands are in two very different worlds. The avant-garde womenswear works in MM6, but Vyner is a completely wrong context to do it in.

Driving design forward can sometimes come with its limitations and setbacks, for example, a huge talking point in the world of fashion today is sustainability. Heikki and Vyner knew from day one that the brand must be built on the fundamentals of sustainability and organic materials, “There is no other way. It has to be the standard. That’s how things should be done from this point on. How to produce more stuff if it’s not done this way. I think everybody needs to be there within 5 years’ time, at least this is how it feels now. I think it has to happen. I think we are already late.” The issue is only going to get better with time, most recently adidas, Nike and Prada are buying into sustainability, conveying it through product to consumers. A movement which should inspire others to look in the same direction.

Brands new and old have taught and influenced the craft of Vyner Articles. Being obsessed with designers and clothing from a young age allowed Heikki to replicate the workings of the people he admired. But nowadays it’s not so much an obsession that is driving him, but a different outlook from the designer’s point of view. “It’s really hard to relate to when every brand does the same sneaker. I think, for me, the stories are most important. The relationships you see”, Heikki explains. This is not only an emphasis on his community and relationship spirit but an ode to the backstories, designers, and the coming together of two stories to make such a garment or collection. Particularly, drawing on the work Craig Green has been doing with Robbie Spencer, the designs of Green co-exist with stories that have shaped and formulated Robbie Spencer’s work. Making it a cohesive project with deper meaning.

Admirations for such peers is, and always will inform Heikki’s work. “I think Raf (Simons) is doing it beautifully, its beyond. It’s not just clothing, you can really feel a sense of building a community, though it’s kind of worldwide. You really share similar values.” Really fitting into the language of meaning behind a purpose, and Raf has that, along with his admiration of fellow London based designer, Martine Rose. Heikki pays a huge respect to these designers who don’t follow a trend or simply put clothes out based on consumer needs, but follow their own design language - understanding that it’s still paramount to be commercially aware in this day and age. Being commercially aware and sticking to your design values is championed in the British capital. A sense that people like Craig Green, Martine Rose and Heikki himself believe they have the power to change things - doing it their own way and not adhering to the status-quo that fashion has built up.

Vyner Articles is built on the unrestricted spirit of the community it inhabits, a centre-piece for creation through the inspirations in the world of creative designer, Heikki Solenon. Expect a showcase of retro artistry with an emphasis on music or even poetry through the unconventional lens.

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