November 30th, 2005


Hell looks

The BBC website today tells us that creative people are luckier in love. "If you are hoping to improve your love life, it may be wise to develop artistic traits, researchers suggest. The more creative a person is, the more sexual partners they are likely to have."

But Jani, one of the Finnish youths caught by the roving cameras of Hel-Looks, a fabulous and appalling website documenting the street style of Helsinki, has a much more direct approach. Never mind writing poetry, "to get girls a boy needs to have J-P Gaultier perfume, a foundation and a good hair cut."

The fact that Jani is wearing a bad suit, bad shoes, a bad shirt, and has a terrible haircut is all part of the riotous amusement provided by this website, which provokes as many genuine questions as bellylaughs. It's understandable, if a bit depressing, that so many Finns are wearing H&M, the Ikea of the garment trade. It's grimly predictable that many of them would be goths, like Saana and Emilia, who "like skulls and tattoos! The more tattoos you have, the better. Except on the face." And sure, anyone who's watched Aki Kaurismaki or seen the Leningrad Cowboys knows that Finland loves 1950s American style, just as anyone who's seen the documentaries of Mika Taanila can predict that 70s hippy style will figure too.

But why are there so many Hanoi Rocks fans in Finland? And why are so many Finn-teens wannabe Japanese? Iiris "dreams of a trip to Japan". Iines is "a manga and anime freak" and dresses in Gothic Lolita style, like many, many other teenagers here. Mia is dressed in the retarded toddler style familiar from Shoichi Aoki's FRUiTS. In fact, this whole website, and this way of photographing street fashion, wouldn't be possible without Aoki's influence.

Of course, they're not really trying now, but back in the 90s the Japanese did these styles so much better than today's Finns. Flick back 8 years in the archives Shift keeps of Girls on the Street and you'll see that. Japanese teens in 1997 looked totally 21st century, whereas Jenni and Aaron ("we don't want to shock – we just want to broaden the minds of Finnish people"), in 21st century Helsinki, look horribly, terminally, criminally 1997.

I can't help thinking that cities and their styles are quite closely tied to economics, and that there's a pecking order, with global cities like New York, London and Paris inevitably sporting more creative street fashion than second division provincial cities like Helsinki. That said, I did find some nice looks in Finland. I'm into the beardy look sported by Juuso or Matu. I like Heikki's credo: "My style is incoherent, cheap and ethical. I only buy second hand." And I like the girls who dress in what I'd consider specifically Finnish vernacular styles, like red-booted Susannah or Aleksandra, who roots for "homespun designer labels".

Enhancing versions of the traditions of your locality, rather than copying the Japanese styles of the last decade, is the way to dress in a fresh and contemporary way, it seems to me. I hardly even look at street fashion photos from Japan any more, so grey and boring have they become. Let's hope that, on the theory that hemlines follow the stock market, the fact that the Nikkei has just topped 15,000 will bring a bit of colour back to the streets of Daikanyama. Otherwise, where are the Finn teens of 2012 going to get their inspiration?