CATCHING UP WITH ANNA:
AN INTERVIEW WITH NO/AN’S FOUNDER AND DESIGNER
By Philippe Pourhashemi
Can fashion -and the manufacturing of intricate objects- reconcile us with the environment and sustainable values some of us happen to share? Looking at Anna Lehmusniemi’s journey is one of gradual awareness and commitment, deciding to leave the concept of seasonal collections behind to go for a slower, and more thoughtful, approach.
Style is ultimately about coherence and longevity, which means it has very little to do with fashion in the end. A practicing minimalist -whether it be in her professional or private spheres- the Finnish designer sees beauty in reduction and elimination. Utility therefore matters more than embellishment.
We sat down with NO/AN’s founder and designer to discuss her values, her perspective towards the creative process and how getting simplicity right isn’t as simple as it may seem.
How long have you been thinking about launching your own brand?
I’d say a decade. I was designing bags freelance for other companies and became increasingly frustrated with the pace of fashion and how fast everything went. It started to feel meaningless to me and I was also thinking about the environment and ecology. I think that these values are also important for our customers who have embraced the idea of a permanent collection, as opposed to a seasonal one.
Would you say that the storytelling of a brand is important for consumers then?
Definitely. People ask more questions today and they are more aware of how and where things are produced. Deciding to have my bags made by hand in Portugal -and having the name of the artisans who make them featured inside each piece- was a way for me to reconnect with the human hand and this key notion of craft, which cannot be separated from time. It takes time to make beautiful things, and I think the appeal of handmade products is here to stay.
Do you see fast fashion disappearing in the long term?
No. I think it’s always going to be there, one way or another. We just have to hope those companies start producing in more ethical ways, but it’s going to take them a really long time to get there. Fast fashion came quite late to Finland, and I remember H&M opening stores in Helsinki when I was 12 or 13.
Finnish fashion schools are famous for their talented graduates. How would you define Finnish fashion yourself?
We don’t have big brands like in Sweden for instance, but Finnish designers dare to be different and go their own way. They are quite fearless and uncompromising, I guess.
What does minimalism mean for you, and why is it important in your life?
Minimalism is anything but boring for me. I personally do not like the idea of an accessory becoming too noticeable, and people often forget that designing simple things is actually much harder. You need to think about every single detail, bearing in mind the practical aspects, as well as making sure your bags are comfortable to wear.
Is this why you chose grain leather?
Grain leather is durable, and I prefer slouchier bags than structured ones in general. The advantage of minimalist styles is that they really let the quality of the material shine through, which for me is true luxury. I also love the look and patina grain leather develops over time and enjoy wearing my bags even more when they get used.
What does luxury mean in 2022?
High-quality products made by hand, preferably in Europe. Luxury is being able to trace materials and know precisely how a product is made. For me luxury is also about elegance and discretion somehow. I’ve never found logo bags luxurious for instance, because they tend to overpower the wearer.
It’s about branding, not quality.
Some bags become famous because of their shape, leather or proportions, as opposed to a single logo.
Yes, and this is what I want to do with my bags, from the leather itself to the double straps or shape of the handles. My hardware is also quite pared-down in order to give the leather center stage.
What do you enjoy about simplicity?
It makes life easier for me, and I find it more fulfilling to get rid of things than pile them up. We have far too many objects around us, and I cannot create within a cluttered environment either. At the end of the day, my design process is about elimination, which is what I tend towards.