Minni Havas: “I want to create a world of my own”

Mimmi Pentikäinen interviewed the designer Minni Havas about her new collections, her sources of inspiration and living in Berlin.

How would you describe yourself? 

I am 32 years old. I’ve graduated from clothing design, and I work as an illustrator and print designer. I constantly think about and ponder things. I am efficient when I work, but I get very frustrated if there is not enough time to be creative. In addition to actual work, I often work on my own project in order to discharge my inspiration. I aim to achieve the targets I’ve set, and I may get upset if things do not proceed as planned.

My home consists of my loved ones: my son Elo, our new soon-to-be-born baby, and my spouse. In this moment we have just come back to Finland after living in Berlin and New York.

What does your mindscape look like right now? Do you feel that you are “on the way, at crossroads, or in your destination”?

Ha ha – I’m inclined to say that I am all of the above throughout my life; on my way to my forever home. I have reached my destination in the sense that I don’t feel like I need to constantly look for myself. On some days I am at the crossroads, and on others, lost. I can see that each day is an opportunity to grasp an issue, to forgive, to be forgiven, and to move forward.

What kind of prints fascinate you? And why?

The world of prints mostly involves a practical aspect, the possibility to see the pattern applied to a product. This ‘concreteness’ has always interested me and challenged me to become inspired. As prints often consist of repeated elements, creating them is a fun way to experiment. The end result provides many alternative layouts, and if you change one thing, usually the whole atmosphere changes. Print design also involves managing the dimensions and colours, which adds to variation. It is handy to manage the design on the computer screen once you have manually drawn the elements to reiterate.

Who is your style icon?

My sisters are the number ones on that list. However, I do not want to identify with anyone else’s visual world but to create a world of my own. I am inspired and encouraged by other people. My sisters both have relaxed styles, and they each look like their own persons. We borrow each others’ clothes sometimes.

You have achieved many things in your life. What is the most special occasion on your mind?

The birth of my son. As a mom, I am being myself with all my weaknesses and strengths. I think that what has happened and what is to happen is not only in my own hands. I always do my best, and I trust the the right doors will open and the wrong ones will close.

I remember certain projects because they are connected with a certain life phase or place. For example, I remember the prints I designed for Vimma two years ago while living in New York. I had no real space to work, not even a proper desk. I was officially on maternity leave and had a toddler clinging to my feet. I made a little space in the living room to build a nest for my creativity.

My “very own” projects have also been important – such as my latest rug collection. It is a great feeling to see the actual object after a long and tenacious design process. I saw the rugs with my design “live” for the first time in our home in Berlin.

You also have your own clothing brand with your friend Anne Törnroos – Minni f. Ronya – and you impressively closed it in an exhibition called Konkurssi (Bankruptcy) that also functioned as a forum to discuss the challenges of Finnish fashion. What kind of a mark did Minni f. Ronya leave on you? 

I often make jokes with my colleague Anne about the journey of Minni f. Ronya. It felt like doing your master’s degree abroad – it was as time-consuming and expensive. But it demanded much more from our minds and hearts. It taught us loads of independence and how to manage things. We were able to do lovely things together: to create, laugh, travel, and meet interesting personalities! Some of our best memories. We will always have warm and amused memories of our first studio. We found it through a post that advertised storage space in the centre of Helsinki. We asked if we could make the space into a studio, and they let us. It was just that we first needed to scrape off five centimetres of dirt all around the floor, the walls, and the ceiling. The door next to our studio led to the sauna of the residence, which caused some awkward moments. In the winter, we would sometimes climb in through the window because the door was frozen.

What would you do differently now?

The heart-breaking thing about Minni f. Ronya was that we were probably ahead of our time and the business did not support us economically. We were able to carry on and finance it for three years, but this was not enough. When we finally decided to quit the brand, we felt good about the decision. Relieved and free and no drama. We had seen the end of that road but our lives continued. However, I think it was the reason why I needed to move to NYC and later to Berlin so that I got some perspective on what had happened. I would not do anything differently, though.

When have you felt the most challenges with your design work? 

After taking my maternity leave, commercial illustration did not interest me at all. I may have unconsciously burned out and gotten tired of the subjects and the pressure at work. There were all kinds of alternatives running through my head. Eventually I decided to forget about everything for a while and concentrate on caring for my child. I stopped worrying, and suddenly I found myself yearning to illustrate again. The prints of that time provided a soft landing into illustration. Best of all – I was able to design ideas that are part of the child’s world.

It took a long time before I felt ready to accept a large project. I concentrated on lighter assignments, and succeeding in scheduling those encouraged me to tackle new challenges. During the break I found more motives and new techniques for my own work.

After returning to work full-time, I was able to pursue my career with a whole new enthusiasm and attitude. The last two years have been the best work period of my life.

Why did you end up living in Berlin of all places? 

We decided to move to Berlin after coming back from NYC and because of not feeling good about staying in Finland. My sister lived in Berlin at the time so it felt natural to go there. Berlin was also an affordable place in which to live.

I made it my objective to get to know new people. It worked; I met wonderful characters right from the start. I took up modern dance, and the group became an important form of self-expression to me. Another important base was the local congregation where we met people from many different cultures and learned about their lives. For the first time I was the one who had come from somewhere else and needed others.

The spring and summer were lovely and long that year in Berlin. I spent a lot of time outside with my son. It was a luxury to eat out as often as we wanted to. We had a really nice and cozy apartment. Practical matters all fell into place without the need to speak German fluently.

At some point, I would like to live for a longer period in New York and to travel to Tokyo.

What are the favourite places of a hipster mom in Berlin and Helsinki?

Berlin offers lovely playgrounds where the mom can have a beer while the toddler splashes around in a fountain naked (Helmholzplatz). The ice cream cafe by the Weinbergsweg park is a good place to have a sweet bite. On Zionskirchstrasse, there is a nice little bar.

We also enjoyed the antique market of Arkonaplatz and the food market of Kollwitzplatz. Another thing to remember about Berlin are the bike rides together with my son. Biking is the way to move in Berlin and much easier and safer there compared to Finland.

In Helsinki, I like to visit Putte’s – with my child in the daytime and with my friends in the evening. The swimming pool on Yrjönkatu is one of the treasures of Helsinki. Its second floor cafe has witnessed several of our special moments.

During Minni f. Ronya, you created “showcase illusions”. Later you have continued this with, for example, Minna Parikka. How did this project get started? 

Minna has used some of my illustrations in her displays. Perhaps we share a certain playfulness in what we do. I created an illustrated series for Minna Parikka’s AW15 collection. Minna contacted me and asked if we could do something fun together, and that’s how it started.

The collection included many fun ideas with which I was able to identify. Previously, I had saved similar themes in my desk drawer, so this was a great opportunity to develop them into illustrations over sufficient time. The whole project was inspiring as I was able to rather freely − within the limits of the collection themes − create what I wanted. Later, I designed the look of Minna’s stand in Paris following the same themes.

You have designed your own rug collection that is now available to purchase. What gave you the idea to create your own rug collection? 

I got the spark to design rugs when I was designing interior decoration textiles. I wanted to apply my illustration skills to another area. The whole process of design was interesting and educational because I worked together with the crafts people. As an illustrator, I often work with print media and electronic publications, so with the rugs, it was more of a challenge to make the 2D design work.

I ended up having the rugs made in Jaipur, India, where they have used the same traditional methods for hundreds of years. I used two different production plants in order to spot possible differences. The rugs have been made by hand by tufting and weaving Indian wool.

The inspiration for the visual world sprouted from abstract drawings and paintings. I liked the depicted tension between geometrical and organic shapes. The colours are the ones that felt naturally pleasing at that moment. My idea was that the rug does not need to blend in with the decoration but it can stand out on the floor like a painting.

The rugs were presented in Hasselt, Belgium, in the spring 2015 as part of the Beyonderground festival.

You also have your own throw-blanket collection that is being hyped all over. What made you tackle this project?

I am a safety-seeking person, and I like to wrap myself in a blanket. I thought that the Finnish rather black-and-white geometrical interior design world could use a different, more colourfully playful and organic idiom.

I have always been interested in seeing the concrete applications of my prints, so this was one of my dreams come true. I nurture a long list of inspiring objects, characters, and places. In my mind, I grasped a few of them that I thought could work as knits. I experimented with colours a lot. I was intuitively sure about the layouts and the motives so I did not calculate them further.

You have recently designed several prints for a kids’ brand called Vimma, among other things. Are you more of an illustrator or a print designer?

I think it’s a win-win situation there. This varies seasonally depending on which kind of work is more available. I do consider myself more of an illustrator, but then again, I don’t like to be boxed in.

Which one of your prints has been the most meaningful to you?

The first clothing print I designed for Minni f. Ronya; it was a turquoise animal theme. With that, for the first time, I became inspired – perhaps a bit infatuated – about print design. It was great to see the print in the clothes that I had designed myself and on sale in nice boutiques all over. I could feel it here (in my heart).

How does the practical process of print design go?

The idea often comes from the customer, or alternatively, I directly suggest my idea, in which case I usually have a sketch to show. If we start with the customer’s wish, I first create an intuitive sketch of the structure and create a moodboard that lists the story, feeling, and elements that I want to approach in more detail. I look for suitable sample images or draw them from scratch depending on the content. In this phase, I aim to express the first vision of colours and the look. I fill in the details along the process. I draw the elements by hand and scan them on the computer.

The biggest challenge is to consider the harmony of the layout and the repeating pattern, and to find the best colours. It is often hard to exclude so many options. The final print is born through many experiments.

What are you working on/designing right now?

Kids’ clothing prints. I am also working on some look-book illustrations. And I’m considering my own art projects, such as painting.

What are the trend colours and materials of spring 2016?

SS16 colours include light beige and light blue combined with rust, and bright blue. Green tones are also interesting, and so is denim, continuously. Right now I prefer natural materials and blended fabrics that mainly consist of wool, cotton and silk. My favourite outfit for the spring is a pilot/bomber jacket, preferably in a light colour. Good shoes are part of every outfit; right now they are glossy or white-soled runners. Underneath I’d wear a denim shirt and wide printed trousers.

What would you like to say to a fledgling print designer/illustrator?

Experiment abundantly and find the limits of your own style. Decide which genre to focus on and approach your target relentlessly. You can do it! Customers always appreciate a coherent portfolio that helps them anticipate what they will get when they hire you. Side by side with your own familiar genre, try out and archive different, experimental stuff – you may find it handy in a commercial project later.

A peak to the future. What do you wish to have in your life in five years?

I don’t usually plan that far. I wish for pleasant surprises and to grow as a person. Of course it would be nice to participate in big projects where I could influence a whole product family. I would also love to illustrate a book; in a style that is not so classical.

What is Minni’s motto?

Do to others as you would have them do to you.