The Weekly Bubbling series introduces promising talents of the design world. Alisa Närvänen and Elina Peltonen met when they coincidently designed almost identical pairs of trousers. Addressing the interface of fashion and art, Ensaemble is currently working on an installation for a Chinese clothing brand.
Hi Alisa and Elina, how are you?
E: We’ve returned from our summer holidays, and we’re currently working on a new project for China. It’s an installation for the new offices of the Chinese clothing brand JNBY in Hangzhou. The owner of the company is dedicated to collecting modern art and hoping to have artworks in each of the 16 buildings in the area. The block has been designed by architect Renzo Piano known for the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
A: The block includes an art museum, galleries, offices, stores, a hotel and a garden. We’ve previously created a video campaign for JNBY which they can use to market their collection. In addition, we produced a spatial concept for their kids’ clothing stores including furniture and small sculptures.
This is the kind of opportunity one seldom gets in Finland, isn’t it?
E: Well, yes. These commercial projects have been very nice for us. Artistic work involves full freedom but a lack of resources, and its implementation requires imaginative solutions. Commercial work involves a completely different set of resources. For example, in creating the JNBY store concept, pretty much anything was possible.
Is your work fashion or art?
E: Since the beginning it’s been clear to us that we’re united not only because of similar and complementary aesthetics but also because of our wide interest in culture and art. We founded a company in order to be flexibly available to various assignments. Although we originally designed clothing collections, we created related performances and videos with the same passion. We’ve always approached clothing on a rather abstract level, considering its connection to the human body and the environment and looking for a concrete form for these ideas.
A: At some point these performances and videos started to feel more important and interesting than clothing. During the transition, we produced a performance on the choreography of daily dressing up and undressing for the Design Museum in Helsinki. We designed an outfit the parts of which connect to create a 5.5-metre combination.
Kristina Sedlerova, who was interviewed for this series before you, wanted to ask this: how did you meet and understand that you want to work together?
A: We met during our studies in the University of Art and Design in Helsinki. I was working on my first collection and Elin on her thesis. At some point we realized that we had designed identical pairs of trousers without knowing each other. And not just any type of trousers, but a very specific model that is tied on. We admired and respected each others’ work and went to see modern dance recitals, for example. It felt natural to share thoughts and experiences. In the following year, we co-designed a collection for a fashion competition. It was a good way to start cooperation and find a common idiom and techniques. In 2011 we founded Ensaemble.
What do you do together and what is done separately?
E: We do all of the creative work together, seamlessly and organically. The ideas kind of flow, and we engage in plenty of dialogue. I don’t really have to explain anything to Alisa. I can send onepicture to her and she’ll pay attention to the same detail as I. It’s like having her to read my mind. In other projects I remember at some point that oh yes, I need to explain this idea to the others. In more practical matters we may divide our tasks. For example now that we’re creating a new website to present the commercial projects, Alisa is coordinating the website and I’m writing the copy.
What is hot in fashion right now?
A: There are many interesting things going on in The Netherlands. People over there are interested in sustainable development both from an academic and an artistic point of view, and they address many of the environmental issues in fashion. Ecological fashion is not only about purses made of foil coffee bags. It’s important for someone to finally consider the ethical side. Otherwise there is no credibility in talking about ecological fashion design. We’re also working on a major artistic project related to this.
What inspires you?
A: We’re currently inspired by stones with text written on them. Old clothing. And wet clay (laughs). Say something sensible!
E: Perhaps one major issue is that we hope to be accepted in a residence to work on things. The idea of isolation is inspiring to me as a mother of two (laughs). To enter another kind of landscape and to work full-time outside the daily life.
What else do you do?
A: We work as freelancers. Elina writes and I work at the new Amos Rex. Elina is a lecturer and doctoral student at Aalto University, and I teach in the Espoo School of Art. I train the teenagers about to enter Aalto. It feels like Ensaemble is a hobby but it’s also how we make a living. Sometimes I stop to think: is this really our work, playing like children?
E: Although we work elsewhere, too, Ensaemble is our dream and lifeblood. It directs us and helps us put other work into perspective. It’s true that our work rarely feels like work. Working with Alisa is always great.
Who do you admire or follow and why?
E: Heikki Salonen. The clothes designed by him are the kind we would have wanted to create ourselves but couldn’t. They are effortless and straightforward and reflect professional pride, craftsmanship and an independent stance. He does a lot of work in the background. He collects old clothes and studies their composition, for example. And he has certain gender-neutrality, which is difficult to achieve in clothing design.
A: He has been able to introduce craftsmanship to a wider audience. His designs encompass technical knowhow and respect for the clothes. If I had one of his products, I could trust that it will last. I wish all clothing designers could transmit this kind of trust.
More about Ensaemble here.