By Katja Pantzar, April 2009
Street fashion website HEL LOOKS is redefining the style image of the Finnish capital – at home and abroad.
On a sunny spring evening there's a palpable buzz outside Helsinki's Cable Factory. Guests are arriving for the first annual Elle Style Awards Gala, which also marks the first anniversary of the Finnish edition of Elle, the world's largest fashion magazine.
Among the modish crew are freelance fashion journalist Liisa Jokinen, 35, and her partner Sampo Karjalainen, 32, founders of the popular HEL LOOKS street style website that has garnered a cult-like following.
"I'm always looking for something new and original," says Jokinen, who started HEL LOOKS in 2005 with Karjalainen, taking inspiration from pioneering Japanese street fashion magazines such as Fruits and Street.
HEL LOOKS, on average, features about three images a week. They chronicle a range of individual looks – from chic to downright bizarre – captured by Jokinen and Karjalainen's cameras on the streets of the Finnish capital.
People from all walks of life pose in the shots, which are accompanied by a brief write-up that includes their first name, age and a brief description of what they're wearing and where their inspiration came from. For example, Aino-Sofia, 30, says, "I love to find second-hand gems." Jari, 45, says, "Music videos and movies inspire me."
All of the closely cropped shots offer a glimpse of the city in the background in the form of a trademark green tram, a significant building, the wording on a sign, or some detail that is quintessentially Helsinki.
Quietly sprinkled throughout the site in a typically modest Finnish manner are a few shots of local personalities, well-known models, stylists and others names in the fashion industry. Many are also at the evening's Elle gala, such as model and boutique owner Nina Kurkinen and talk show host Maria Veitola, who walks away from the event with the award for best dresser.
Yet the site, which receives 10,000 hits a day, is not an insider fashion blog. It's a tribute to individual style and looking good regardless of age, budget or occupation.
"A sense of style doesn't have to cost much," says Jokinen, who believes sustainability and style go hand in hand. For her and Karjalainen, who is also a cofounder of Habbo, one of the most successful social networking websites for teenagers, HEL LOOKS is a hobby that has generated interest locally and internationally. Jokinen has recently given interviews to Wired magazine, Hong Kong's WestEast and Afisha-Mir from Russia.
The duo's raison d'être for HEL LOOKS is simple: "Because we want to document Finnish looks, because we want to encourage people to dress individually and create their own styles, because we want to promote emerging Finnish designers, because we like fashion, clothing, young people and photography, and most of all – because you look great!"
Jokinen says that most people are pleasantly surprised when she approaches them and asks to take their photo. "Only about one out of every 20 people I approach declines. They've made an effort in putting together their outfits and they recognise my request as a compliment," she says.
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