Bridging the design divide between Helsinki and Barcelona Väska pairs Nordic minimalism with Spanish cool. It appears designer Ann-Sofi Storbacka is living the dream, taking inspiration from all things natural, amplifying the ancient Japanese tradition of origami and generally designing unique handcrafted decadence. Wolf sits down with Ann-Sofi to hear more....
Where are you from originally? Do you think your upbringing has influenced your style and your design aesthetic? If so, how?
I was born in Sweden and raised on the western coast of Finland. I think my upbringing near the sea and nature has naturally shaped the way I design - I appreciate natural materials, quality and traditional handcrafting. I strive for simple and functional design that will last for a long time, without forgetting the beauty of the shape and the beauty of the details. I take pride in my heritage and hope to create Nordic design with an innovative twist.
When did you first take an interest in fashion, handbags and designing? Was this something you were interested in from a young age? Why/why not?
Creating things with my hands and expressing myself visually has always been important to me. When I was a child, I was not really into fashion - I preferred painting and drawing. I like to be more artistic rather than a fashion oriented person who just follows the trends.
When did you decide to start designing and producing your own bags? How did you get started? Were there any big challenges early on?
I started to learn about leather and different techniques as a hobby about 3 years ago. During these workshops, there was something about the leather that spoke to me. Later, I started studying accessory design and this is when I realized what I was capable of, and that I could convert this into a business idea. It was not easy (it never is), keeping in mind that I did not have any previous experience. I guess I got through this by being consistent, self-disciplined and passionate and not wanting to give up.
I noticed that a lot of your work is influenced by origami. What is it that your find inspiring about origami?
I like the challenge of using a single piece of leather and folding a unique but functional structure from it without any stitching. At the same time, origami is related to architecture and nature, and that’s what Väska is about, the clean lines and natural shapes that emerge from geometry.
What other things in life inspire your work? Are there any particular labels, designers or styles that you find consistently inspiring?
Apart from nature, Nordic design and architecture, details and the materials also inspire me. Sometimes I might get inspired by seeing an old product and think about how to improve on its aesthetic or function. It can also be a certain manufacturing process, a visit to a factory or simply a chat with a craftsman.
What is your design process? How do you get a piece from the idea, to the sketches, to the finished product? How long does it generally take to produce one Väska bag?
The design process always starts with time for reflection and research. I choose the materials, hang up inspiring images and make mood boards and sketches. Before starting with the leather, I usually experiment with paper in order to see the real 3D shape of the product.
All the designs including the sketches, prototypes, etc. and final products, from the beginning process of cutting and trimming the leather to the folding, are 100% made by hand. I believe that what takes time, passion and effort makes for a better product in the end, and it takes about 3-4 days to produce one Väska bag.
How would you describe your own design aesthetic?
Minimalistic, functional and long lasting. I consider my work to be timeless but modern, comfortable yet sophisticated. I try to give each of my bags a personality with natural beauty, enabling the wearer to experience and enjoy an emotional connection. My aim is to combine Nordic aesthetic with Mediterranean passion and strong craftsmanship.
You come from an area of the world that is well known for art and design. Do you think your Scandinavian origins have influenced your pieces?
Minimalism and simplicity, durability and careful craftsmanship are very Scandinavian. Coming from the North has made me especially appreciate humbleness, honesty and good quality, which I also think is reflected in my products which combine form and function with a high sense of effortless elegance and quality.
You are now living in Barcelona, is that right? How does life in Spain compare to life in Finland? What are the main differences/similarities?
I think the main difference between Finland and Spain is the climate, how it affects people and the way they express themselves. Life in Spain in general is more relaxed and easy-going, the pace is slower... Barcelona also has a more cosmopolitan feel, a rich cultural and artistic life, it’s more vibrant and crowded. There are so many things to see and do, you do not easily get bored...I would say I am more creative here.
Which bag is your personal favourite from the AURA collection? Why?
I would say the ADA bag - the size and design is perfect for all day use. It’s comfortable yet elegant, fits your everyday essentials, any outfit and can be worn for many years to come.
Finally, what are your plans for the future of Väska? Are you working on a new collection? What can our readers expect to see from you over the years?
I have just finished presenting the SS15 collection at Who’s Next Trade Show in Paris. In addition there are new materials and development of existing designs are also waiting for their turn, so stay tuned :)
Photography courtesy of Ann-Sofi Storbacka.