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Text by Markus Kuokkanen.
Photos by Nora Krevneva and OHMY.
What’s the story behind the anonymous bear with a black censor bar over its eyes?
The printed photo of the bear appears on leggings by Qooqoo, a Latvian brand known for its quirky patterns and crazy prints.
These are among the zany surprises offered by the Paviljons concept store in the centre of Riga, which also sells eccentric unisex jeans by One Wolf and bow ties made of wood.
There are unique fashion treasures to be found all over the Baltic capitals – provided you know where to look. Many small local fashion labels are virtually unknown abroad, but have a growing fanbase among the trendsetter crowd.
In Latvia, “the big bang moment” was 2009, according to visual journalist Agnese Kleina. That’s when the first concept store opened and fashion bloggers swung the spotlight on up-and-coming designers.
“A new generation took over the scene, among fashion design teachers, students, buyers in the stores, everywhere,” she explains.
Colourful, crazy stuff
When local hipsters discovered those Qooqoo leggings, suddenly the Riga streets seemed to be bursting with colour.
“They are quite non-Latvian in the way they use colour. Qooqoo is loved in places like Hong Kong or Taiwan, where people wear bright, colourful, crazy stuff,” Kleina says.
Talk to anyone who knows anything about Latvian fashion, and One Wolf is a brand that comes up every time. Kleina describes the brand enthusiastically: “It has a Scandinavian kind of style, this unisex unsexiness.”
And she means that as a compliment.
“Lately One Wolf has really taken off creatively,” says Kaisa Kahu, an Estonian art and fashion manager living in Latvia.
Kahu works for the Latvian fashion designer Keta Gutmane, whose style she describes as “urban avant-garde.”
“The clothes are like wearable architecture, wearable art,” says Kahu.
“I have some coats by her and I feel like a big black armoured tank when I’m walking down the street,” she adds with a grin.
Kahu is also impressed by what’s happening south of the border, in Lithuania.
“Many brands there have a very modern exciting visual vocabulary,” she says.
The best place to see new Lithuanian fashion is the Mados Infekcija fashion festival – that’s Lithuanian for ‘fashion infection’. The festival, organised every spring, casts the spotlight on new local talent like OHMY, creators of offbeat street fashion.
The OHMY look is both familiar and strange: it oozes street credibility, but seems to represent some fictional subculture from the future.
In Tallinn, too, you can find some exciting local fashion design. A must-see is the Estonian Design House in the Kalasadama district, which offers a selection of everything cool and Estonian. You’d never guess, but the earthy coats by Kairi Lentsius are made of old military tents and uniforms.
In the old town, Liina Viira is a boutique offering a fresh take on knitwear. They sell delightfully quirky pullovers and other colourful things to keep you warm in winter.
Another little fashion oasis is Zero, a concept store hidden in Tallinn’s start-up incubator outside of the city centre. There you will find Uschanka, a design brand that connects two worlds in a fascinating way, taking the magical flower patterns of old Russian scarfs and smuggling them into contemporary women’s fashion.
On the men’s side, browse through the racks of Swärk shirts and you’ll find a smile tickling the corners of your mouth.
Swärk produces classic shirts with deliciously outrageous details. Who wouldn’t want a shirt adorned with a collage of naked ladies from 18th-century paintings!
Kaisa Kahu says that the local fashion scene in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is still small and only just getting off the ground. It’s a struggle to survive for small brands, she says, because people don’t necessarily appreciate edgy local design.
But the culture is changing.
“Now new brands are springing up all over the place. People are starting to understand that commercial success is possible, but it just takes a lot of work,” says Kahu.
Estonian Design House, Kalasadama 8
Zero, Veerenni 24
Liina Viira, Muurivahe 36
Nu Nordik, Vabaduse Väljak 8
Les Petites, Telliskivi 60A
Paviljons store, Terbatas iela 55
8 Rooms and OskaR, Dzirnavu iela 67, in Galerija Riga shopping mall
Elina Dobele shoe store, Valnu iela 12
Taste Latvia, Audeju iela 16, in Galerija Centrs shopping mall
Moustache Boutique, L. Stuokos-Guceviciaus gatve 3
Decolte, Stikliu gatve 6
V2 concept store, Dominikonu gatve
Lilija Larionova fashion studio, Klaipedos gatve 4
Baltic fashion design online
The Estonian menswear brand produces button-up shirts with a playful twist.
Estonian luxury clothing for women inspired by Siberian traditions.
This Estonian fashion brand ‘upcycles’ leftover materials from the textile industry.
The Estonian designer’s new collection uses vintage Soviet wool blankets.
This Latvian unisex label does magic with denim. Their new collection includes bow ties that look like real butterflies.
This Latvian designer creates “urban avant-garde” fashion for women in white, grey and black, black, black.
The Swedish-born designer with Estonian roots designs quirky, colourful knits.
Malvine Mennika is a Latvian designer who started out making beaded jewellery, but later added clothing to her range.
Latvian brand known for its bold and witty prints.
Dobele has a shoe store in Riga. She describes her style as “laconic.”
Lithuanan fashion inspired by futuristic subcultures.
Eye-catching clothes and leather accessories for men and women from Lithuania.
Lithuanian luxury clothes for women.
Men’s wool coats are the highlight of the latest collection by this Lithuanian designer.
This article was first published in the November 2015 issue of Finnair's monthly in-flight magazine Blue Wings.