Not even a marketing guru could have come up with the viral moment that VAIN, a Finnish brand, achieved last November with a collection made from workwear collected from regional McDonald’s locations and presented at the global chain’s Helsinki branch. With their tightly edited Pitti Uomo debut, creative director Jimi Vain and CEO/photographer Roope Reinola prove they deserve more than a share of the Happy Meal-sized industry spotlight.
Pieces like a white button-down shirt with an extra-long pendant belt and full-length sleeves, or a deadstock leather trench coat with intricate lapels and embroidery have instant appeal, but for my money the inherent contradictions the founders struggle with executing VAIN- and outside the surface.
Being vain is not attractive, especially in Nordic cultures where modesty is a virtue. In Finnish, “in vain” is translated as “only” in the sense of only. The brand name plays with the ideas of peacock spirit and humility, which in turn introduces another binary, that of the brand’s aesthetic, which is “dark,” Vain said during the call, “because we have a Finnish melancholy in us, but at the same time sometimes there is a motive of the heart and with the brand, we share love on a global scale.”
Vain and Reinola grew up in Finland’s Bible Belt, where McDonald’s “was the only thing like it from abroad” and a popular hangout for teenagers. Now based in Helsinki, the business partners are part of a creative group closely connected to the music scene. (The black-and-white line-up shown at Pitti was an edgy take on a kind of emo/nü metal vibe.) But the work still nods to the brand’s founder’s small-town, scrappy DIY roots.
While graduates of Aalto University in the capital work in many luxury houses, the VAIN brand is an outgrowth 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 prioritization of “vision” and a disregard for convention.
Granted, it’s still early days for VAIN, but one of the reasons they’re getting attention is because they’re designing for a specific audience: themselves and their peer group, and you’re welcome to join the fun.
VAIN was able to create “its own viral moment without outside help,” says Chris Vidal Tenomaa, editor-in-chief of biennial fashion and culture magazine SSAW and photographer of this season’s lookbook. “They created a wave of excitement (especially with young children) that I don’t think has been seen in Helsinki before. A total phenomenon of our time from the land of darkness.”
Looking at the big picture, VAIN is a brand that looks to the future, but the theme of the autumn offer was nostalgic. Turns out Gen Xers aren’t the only ones who feel good about the pre-Internet world. In its press release, VAIN explained that the collection looks back “to rural Finland in the early 2000s, a time and place before the internet and social media ruled everything. A time when music, movies, posters, and video games—and your older siblings—were sources of inspiration and information. The world is filtered through your older siblings. Then it was something small, now everything is always at the same time.”