Anna Ruohonen is a versatile Finnish designer who has carved herself a special niche in the French fashion world. Born in Helsinki, she studied at several European fashion schools to perfect her craft before moving to Paris. Anna worked for Olivier Desforges, José Lévy and Martin Margiela before breaking out with her own line in 1999.
Her sleek boutique and workshop are housed in a six-story building, which she calls the Petite Maison de Couture. For the visitor, each floor is like unlocking treasures. Here, she designs and sells affordable ready-to-wear and made-to-measure beautiful pieces for the modern woman on the go. Her Scandinavian background means the designs are simple, well-made and timeless.
As a working mother of two children, Anna understands what busy women are looking for. The affable Anna enjoys meeting her customers in her workspace to help them find a flattering fit. A creative artisan, she has also worked on different projects crafting jewelry, designing fabrics and prints for several textile companies and producing costumes for film as well as theater in France.
She strives for perfection and balance in her life. Anna finds time to jog in her favorite park, the Jardin de Luxembourg, and lets loose with African dance. INSPIRELLE caught up with Anna Ruohonen in her atelier and at her recent fashion show to talk about her charmed bicultural and busy life in Paris.
Finland is so different from France. Why uproot your successful business there and implant yourself in Paris?
Life brought me to Paris. I came here to study and then I stayed here to work. Early on, I was fortunate to have won the Masters of Linen prize, which launched my career. Today, I have a showroom in both countries, one in Helsinki and one here in Paris. I am lucky because I can benefit from both of these cities.
How much does your Finnish background influence your creativity and how does living in Paris inspire you?
My designs are minimalistic and architectural. This definitely comes from Finland. The material is the foundation for every single design; this is very Finnish as well. The touch of femininity and sensuality come from France. In Finland people say that my collections are very French and here they say that they are very Finnish!
Your workspace and store in Paris are just as beautiful as your clothing design. How do explain your creative approach to your work and environment?
The building Petite Maison de Couture is designed for me, and therefore it reflects and supports my design concept. This is why the architecture and the style of the building are similar to my clothing: minimalistic and simple. I chose the colors for the interior. I wanted to keep them neutral so that my collections will stand out and the color palette will change every season when my new collection comes out.
Your fashion is guided by strong ethics. How do your made-to-measure garments reflect sustainable and ethical fashion?
From an ecological aspect, my collections represent sustainable fashion because everything, except my ready-to-wear collection AR by Anna Ruohonen, is made-to-measure. It is produced on demand; there is no surplus of unsold garments. This is beneficial for the environment and it is one of our core values.
My garments are produced in-house in Paris. Having everything done under the same roof, from designing to producing to selling, promotes sustainability as well.
The knitwear is produced in Belgium and the ready-to-wear collection AR by Anna Ruohonen is produced in Finland. Both represent small-scale and local production and there are no huge transportation costs.
I want people to make better purchases, buy better quality, not quantity. If we consider our purchases more and not buy fast fashion, we represent a different kind of mindset and we pay more attention to our consumption habits. This is the first step in becoming a more ecologically aware consumer.
From an ethical aspect, ethical business values are important for me as well. Even though Paris is not the most cost-effective choice for an atelier, because the cost of labor is one of the highest in Europe, it is important for me to keep the production here. Making clothes in-house ensures fair labor practices in terms of working hours, conditions and wages. This is my way of addressing the ethical issues in my business.
What makes your clothing timeless?
I design for women who respect the beauty of everyday clothing and whose wardrobes reflect their values as well.
I consider my clothes timeless because they are a combination of classic and contemporary. My designs represent typical Nordic design; they are minimalistic and the cuts are simple. This brings them the classic aspect. I love to use natural fabrics: wool, linen, silk, mohair and cashmere, because they look and feel great. High-quality natural fabrics combined with simple cuts give the garments a sophisticated contemporary look. It is this combination that makes my designs timeless. Because my designs are timeless, they are also sustainable.
The seasonal trends are not my driving force. My clothes are neither in nor out of fashion.
Is there a vibrant Scandinavian community living in Paris? Is that important to you?
We have lots of Scandinavians here in Paris. It is important linguistically to have Finnish friends, but my network here is very international and my clientele is mostly French. I consider myself very lucky because I am able to live in a cosmopolitan setting.
When you’re not working, what brings you the most pleasure living in the city of light?
I love the beauty and aesthetics of Paris. Also, I love the savoir vivre of this country!
One of my favourite places to brunch is Restaurant L’ Entrepot in my local neighborhood, the 14th arrondissment. The place is more like a cultural center and I love the atmosphere there as well. Whenever I can, I like to take my family there.
We also have good food shopping in the 14th and I enjoy going to the outdoor market on Rue Daguerre. And one of my favourite museums and an inspirational place to visit is the Musée Bourdelle, a fine art museum.