Even a marketing guru couldn’t handle the viral moment Finnish brand VAIN achieved last November with a collection created from workwear collected from regional McDonald’s locations and presented at the global chain’s Helsinki location. With their carefully edited Pitti Uomo debut, creative director Jimi Vain and CEO/photographer Roope Reinola prove they deserve more than a Happy Meal-sized portion of the industry’s spotlight.
Pieces like a white button-down shirt with an extra-long placket with a pendant and sleeves that zip up the length of the arm, or a leather trench made with intricate lapels and embroidery details are downright appealing, but for my money, they’re the inherent contradictions the founders struggle with VAIN off the surface.
It is not attractive to be vain, especially in Nordic cultures where modesty is a virtue. In Finnish, “vain” translates as “only” meaning only. The brand name plays with the ideas of peacocks and humility, which in turn represents another binary element, a brand aesthetic that “is dark,” Vain said on the call, “because we have Finnish melancholy in us, but we also have a heart motif behind it and share the love globally with a brand.”
Vain and Reinola grew up in Finland’s Bible Belt, where McDonald’s “was the only thing like it from overseas” and a popular place for teenagers. Now based in Helsinki, the business partners are part of a creative group with close ties to the music scene. (The black-and-white lineup shown at Pitti was a sharp take on a kind of emo/nü metal vibe.) But the work still references the small-town, trashy DIY roots of the brand’s founders.
While Aalto University graduates work in many luxury houses in the capital, the VAIN brand is the result of Vain’s personal experimentation outside of school and corporations. It seems significant that he describes himself as an artist rather than a designer, as it suggests a preference for “vision” and a disregard for convention.
Granted, VAIN is still in its early days, but one of the reasons it’s gaining attention is because it designs for a specific audience: yourself and your peer group, and you’re welcome to join the group.
VAIN managed to create “its own viral moment without outside help,” says Chris Vidal Tenomaa, editor-in-chief of the biennial fashion and culture magazine SSAW and photographer of this season’s lookbook. “They created a wave of excitement (especially among young children) that I don’t think has been seen in Helsinki before. A total phenomenon of our time from the land of darkness.”
Overall, VAIN is a promising brand, but the theme of the autumn offer was nostalgic. It turns out Gen Xers aren’t the only ones who like the pre-internet world. In a press statement, VAIN explained that the collection looked “into the Finnish countryside at the beginning of the 21st century, a time and place where everything was ruled by the internet and social media. A time when music, movies, posters and video games – and your older siblings were a source of inspiration and information. The world has been filtered through your older siblings. It was a small thing then, now it’s always everything at the same time.’