As a kid, he was thrilled watching his grandmother designing costumes and stages for theaters. A big treat were the Eastern European animations broadcasted on TV. He can not remember ever wishing to be anything else than a visual artist. His love of fashion and design first took him to Italy and then to the UK and elsewhere. He has designed for Cacharel, Christian Louboutin, Diesel, Established and Sons, Harrods and Selfridges. Today his design language peppered with birds, animals and fantastic forests is highly recognized by Finns through the very popular Taika (Magic), Korento (Dragonfly) and Satumetsä (Fable forests) lines in the Iitala homeware collection. Join me to meet Klaus Haapaniemi over a glass of organic red wine in his Helsinki pop-up store.
You grew up in an era where the world was colored by Marimekko stripes. Your design language is quite the opposite. Tell me about that:
That is true! Marimekko was so in and in a way every day experience when I was a kid. Maybe that helped me explore something that was so different, a fantasy world that has inspired me ever since. I found my inspiration very naturally as a kid.
You have worked in many artistic spaces, how did you decide what to study at University?
I studied graphic design but I like to explore all kinds of areas- like this HelYes! wine we are drinking now. When I finished my graphic design studies in Lahti I was a bit desperate. Graphic design seemed so corporate and dominated by advertising. That is not my world. It felt a bit limited and I did not see that many opportunities. But then I met so many like-minded people. My friends work in fashion, art and illustration, so I found that one does not have to stick to the ideas one learns in school.
Finland has been very active in the visual space in the last few decades in almost every imaginable field… there is so much inspiration here. People can feed on each other.
That is true. In Scandinavia and specially in Finland there is huge respect for design and there are lots of schools. I have friends like Antto Melasniemi who are in the area of food and hospitality. Nowadays one can think of design as much broader than an object: a service and food are also design.
So what took you to London?
After school I moved to Italy, to a Medieval town near Venice called Bassano Del Grappa. I worked for many brands, including Diesel. I started with as key print designer for Diesel Style Lab and then started to work with all the lines. I like fashion because it is three dimensional, architectural. Today design has permeated almost every area, but back then when I studied, graphic design was paper dominated and rather two dimensional. Fabrics and fashion were a great area to explore.
While in Italy I was contacted by an agent in London and very soon I started to work for projects in the UK. I made a Christmas campaign for Selfridges department store. The project included not only the Oxford Street windows, but also a celebrity book that I illustrated. The campaign name was Christmas Stories. After that I got more commissions in fashion and other areas of design.
My first commissions for Finnish brands were with Marimekko –a geometric Polar Bear– in 2003. This was prior to the Iitala collections.
So tell me about your design language. What inspires you? Do you read mythology?
I try not to think too much. When I draw I try not to refer to anything, I just let my imagination go and create my own world. For my latest fabric prints I have been inspired by Finnish forests and traditional Scandinavian aesthetics. Maybe even the colors are drawing on these references, like Jugend designs. But there can be influences from different spaces like science -fiction and space. You can see some planets in the carpets I designed for HelYes! in Stockholm. There was this cosmic inspiration for the event. As you can see, I started with Nordic inspiration in terms of animals and forests, but then I ended up also with whales. They are all part of the same collection.
What direction will you take from here? Any big ideas?
Actually its about small ideas. I am very interested in continuing work with textiles. We plan to grow the company. In addition I of course have a number of customers for whom I do design work, particularly in Japan at the moment.
There are some similarities between Japanese and Finnish aesthetics. There is minimalism in both cultures, in how we relate to objects. In both cultures most of the visual thinking is taken from nature.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
Everywhere. I can be talking to someone when I pick some ideas. Music. Going to see an opera or a play. Even everyday ordinary routines can bring some new ideas. Mostly, I am fascinated by color combinations. Colors are my passion. All the senses contribute. Sometimes you don’t even need to see something, but you can imagine it from say a smell.
What are you reading now?
A really bad book about Aztecs! The author tries to imagine the Aztec world and he is not good at it. It is terrible but I am inspired by the amazing world of the old Mexican cultures!
What do you listen to?
I listened to a Mahler concert a few weeks ago in the Royal Festival Hall in London with Lilli Paasikivi, a Finnish mezzo soprano who heads the Finnish National opera. It was fantastic. I have very eclectic taste in music. I tend to work in silence, though. I need to have no interference when I work. Music has so much emotion, so it can easily lead you.
How big a step was to become an entrepreneur?
It is a big step. You need to understand what the business is. But I do try to keep myself out of that when I design. I try not to think of the client or the target group when I design. I need some distance to that.
If you were an object what kind of object would you be?
Something quite solid and introspective….
Which is your most admired historical figure?
I am really curious about certain personalities. I am not a big fan of them, but I am intrigued by characters like Napoleon. Or by people like Paul Klee. When I look at his colors I wonder what he was about.I actually started to read Klee and then I had to stop. He was a bit irritating. It is better to imagine him through his visual work.
What is your favorite aspect of Finland?
What do you love about London?
That it works although everything is a bit chaotic!
What do you most appreciate in a friendship?
Some people say loyalty. That is a bit boring. I appreciate friends who are constantly inspirational!
What is the most overrated virtue? What about the most underrated?
Honestly and truthfulness are overrated. I mean that in the sense of factual truth and precision. They don’t bring that much new to the world. If I think of the best storytellers it was not honesty that made their work great. It was imagination. I think imagination is underrated!
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