The essence of Minna Palmqvist’s conceptual fashions springs from female empowerment as filtered through social commentary. Certain themes repeat: female empowerment, self-acceptance and love, and the inherent societal contradictions. As the artist explains, “The core of my brand is about the clashes between the female body and societal pressures, internal pressures, what you have and want to be.” Through her Nordic designs, Minna is working to change that, one piece at a time—and it seems to be working. “People have told me my art has given them strength in dictating how their body is viewed,” she says.
We are all perfectly imperfect
Minna’s creations walk a fine line between art and fashion, and the artist’s focus on wearability. Because of these differing aspects, fashion show attendees are often drawn in to her work on sight, only later uncovering the message within.
Minna works mostly with natural materials, among them Swedish reindeer nappa, which presents a similar look and feel to human skin—a must when dealing with concepts involving the fleshiness of the human body. Although creating with leather takes more time than using man-made materials, Minna enjoys the value such handicraft eschews. She concedes, however, that using nappa as a stand-in for human skin can be both beautiful and revolting—yet another indication of the juxtaposition of form and concept.
Bra Pad T-Shirt
Oversize Bra Drape Dress
The clean lines, functionality, and incorporation of nature in Nordic design contributed to the artist’s unique design style. When translated to the MINNA PALMQVIST fashion, this simplicity takes on new elements, as exemplified by the designer’s “chubby leather” quilt. As Minna describes, the piece epitomizes the ample female form, its composition drawn from the silicone bra pads used to artificially inflate a woman’s size.
“I am obsessed with the perfection and imperfection of the human body.”
Minna has found her voice in a long-term, ongoing design concept named “Intimately Social,” which she debuted in 2007. “I was hoping that it wouldn’t just release me from thinking about the female body in a certain way,” she said, “but also make the observer question existing norms: that fashion not only looks good, but it can also be interesting.” She presents new work at least yearly, with each piece numbered according to the version and year of creation. Her latest collection, Intimately Social 11.13, is the eleventh variation on the project. She terms this style “Scandinavian sculptural minimalism,” a composition of both tactile elements and sculptural shapes. Intimately Social also includes a video series, available for viewing on the brand’s website. “The film illustrates a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” says Minna, revealing the inspiration behind the project. “She’s a good girl who has just had enough.”
Trusting the muse
Like any innovative artist, Minna follows the images and voices inside her head when creating. Ideas come to her and she lets them play out, excited to see where they will take her. Intuition and inspiration join thoughts and feelings in spurring her to create. Still, there is no single method she follows when crafting her fashions. Her process may center on experimentation and drapery one day, writing and drawing the next, cutting and pinning yet another time. She notes her process to be organic, a means of discovery drawn from what she sees and hears. Ultimately, she says, “I get inspired by the way our fleshy, intimate bodies clash with the socially accepted, skinny fashion body.”
“I get inspired by the way our fleshy, intimate bodies clash with the socially accepted, skinny fashion body.”
Creation is a time-consuming project for the artist, who does all of the work herself, from concept to composition. Grading patterns is a tedious process; after submitting prototypes to the factory, Minna must then tackle the remaining sizes, something that involves mathematical computation, marking, and cutting.
I wouldn’t say I studied fashion, I studied clothing and clothes making in a more artisanal way. Most people who went there started their own sewing studios. It was good because that’s where I learned the basics from pattern making to sewing.
Despite being responsible for every step of the process, she does not set impossible deadlines for herself, saying, “My creativity doesn’t work that way.” She does, however, look forward to growing MINNA PALMQVIST into a bigger company.
Letting go of labels
Minna’s fervour for the feminist cause is shown in full force through her works. There is a disconnect between the bodies females inhabit and those they wish they had, and it is this discomfort she seeks to illuminate. When it comes to appearance, women are held to a higher ideal than men; Minna’s fashion designs tell women that not only is it okay to be themselves, but that it is empowering to embrace imperfections and break away from cultural norms.
“Society always wants to label women as the sweet girl, the good girl, the sexy girl.”
“Society always wants to label women as the sweet girl, the good girl, the sexy girl,” Minna says. “We live in a patriarchal world, so that’s why I’m interested in it.” If, as Minna cites, a lot of women are seemingly dissatisfied with their bodies, then a designer who encourages them to embrace their flawed beauty is not only a welcome addition to the world of fashion, but a necessary one, as well.
Sometimes, people look at designs by indie creators and they ask “how is this so expensive” instead of asking “how is that jacket so cheap?,” the fashion houses are pressing the prices so low and when it’s that cheap someone is paying for it. The truth is humanity and quality costs money.
Dreams, reality, acceptance
Finnish by birth, Minna moved to Stockholm to obtain her Master of Fine Arts in Textiles from Konstfack College of Arts, Crafts, and Design; finding the artistic styles more to her liking, she stayed. Prior to relocating, Minna found her creative outlet in what she calls “the three-dimensional, sculptural, and direct way of working with fashion design.” Now, she says, “I continue working on the theme of the female body, and what it is being a woman in a patriarchal world.”
I create fashion items sprung out of my fascination for and frustration about our constant chase of a body we do not have.
Minna’s work has been widely heralded, as she was a 2011 nominee for the Mercedes-Benz Young Fashion Industry Awards in Stockholm, 2012 finalist in the T-Force Fashion Awards in Guangzhou, China, and a winner of the 2012 Who’s Next Young Designer Contest.
And the invitations just keep coming. “I was invited to a show in Poland called The Wondering Mode: The Meeting between Fashion, Architecture and Art,” she says, noting Hussain Chalayan to be a fellow exhibitor.
Minna was also recently invited to be a part of 'The Future Of Fashion Is Now'--an exhibition featuring a mix of fashion heavyweights such as Hussein Chalayan, Maison Martin Margiela, Rei Kawakubo and Viktor&Rolf, as well as up and coming ones such as Minna herself, all of whom have been selected by the curators because of what their bodies of work speak in regards to how the fashion world is changing in contemporary society. When asked how participating the exhibition has influenced her, this is what Minna has to say:
“It has strengthened my self confidence as an artist, to be part of this exclusive selection of fashion pioneers and put in such a respectable museum such as the Boijmans. It also made me longing to make a new art project.”
The exhibition is currently ongoing and will be up until January 18th 2015.
The Nordic style
Minna finds the Nordic design perfectly suits her style. “I’ve been very influenced by the clean lines, natural materials, and functionality,” she explains. There is a recurring emphasis in the region on quality, craftsmanship, and sustainability, which continues to flow through her work. “I find these things extremely important; they’re grounded in my core values.”
She draws distinctions among design styles across the Nordic countries. “In Finland, it’s about longevity and quality; they always go for the classics. Although it has the same foundation, Sweden is more sensitive to trends, more progressive and current. Norway is quite quiet, and Danish designers display a little more bohemia in their works. Iceland has a strong design scene, one that is symbiotic with nature and the surroundings.”
My choices of material are quite basic, I look for a good feel in the material. It has to feel good against your skin and it has to breathe. My dream is to work with even more sustainable materials.
Minna finds great inspiration in her adopted hometown of Stockholm. “I am surrounded by all these amazing women artists and writers, people with interesting thoughts and strong opinions,” she reveals. “We get to inspire each other; it’s an empowering group of people to be among.” Women who reject being told what to do and how to act inspire her daily, including such renowned artists as Louise Bourgeois and Marina Abramović.
That is not to say that she has forgotten her roots. “In Finland, she recalls fondly, “you can take a really small boat to a really small island in the Archipelago. You can be there all day, swimming and sunbathing. It’s incredibly luxurious.” This is not a fact for all of Finland! I was talking about the summers in Åland, the small Finnish island I come from, and how I can miss that quietness.
In Åland, you can take your small little boat and go to a really small island in the archipelago and you can be alone there all day. I find that incredibly luxurious.
Now that her fashions have taken their place in the world, Minna finds herself approaching design in a different way. “These days, I spend a lot of time thinking how the person wearing it feels. Empowered,” she suggests hopefully. “Feeling like you’re you.” In addition to embracing her ideas and inspiration, though, running her own business means that Minna has to think in practical terms, as well. So what’s next? “Preparing for fashion week; pattern construction; and, of course, working on her eagerly anticipated next collection for S/S 15.”