She felt like lightning struck her when aged 15, she realized she could make a living designing shoes. Less than two decades later and with a brand to her own name, Minna Parikka, the shoe queen of Finland, has never looked back. Today, her shoes dress the likes of Lady Gaga, Fergie, Paloma Faith and Beth Ditto. I meet Minna on “the kissing corner” of her new flagship store on Aleksanterinkatu, a prime retail spot of Helsinki.
Are shoes the ultimate aphrodisiac?
The right pair of shoes can be the ultimate aphrodisiac for sure! High heels make your femininity shine. You stand taller and the female form becomes more visible.
What attracts you to designing shoes as opposed to clothes?
Since I was a teenager, fashion overall and specially shoes have obsessed me. I never get that kind of kick – that amazing feeling of excitement – from anything else, like I do when I buy shoes.
Manolo, Jimmy, Laboutin… are all men. We call our shoes with their names. Is it an advantage or disadvantage to be a female designer?
Some shoes designed by men are overtly sexy, the way a man would like to see a woman. My shoes are more about how women would like to be seen by themselves and others. Shoes designed by men can be very sleek and slender and have very beautiful form, but they are that kind of shoe that you use when you take a taxi and sit at a table. They are not for an active life. My shoes have a lot of girlie details. When you wear them you may feel a woman has designed them, because she knows what it is to wear them. Some people feel high heel shoes put women down. But if the shoes are comfortable and you feel great, you can be your own boss in them.
Between your “lightning experience” and today, less than two decades have passed. In 2005, you established your own brand. You are selling in 20 countries and celebrities are wearing your shoes. Tell me about your dream and how it became a reality.
I went to the UK to study shoe design when I was 19, directly after school. I studied for 3 years and then worked for other brands in London and Milan. I also lived in Spain where my shoes are actually made today. I thought I would never come back to Helsinki, there were no jobs as a shoe designer back then and I felt fashion was not happening here either. But then I got really homesick and I decided to come back.
When I came back seven years ago, I started to do styling jobs for commercials and magazines. But that was not my thing. I knew I had to follow my calling. I was 25 at the time and I was really honest with myself. Beyond the design part, I knew I did not have experience in how to launch a brand of my own. But, around that time I used to work for a small men’s footwear label, close to the brand manager. So I learnt quite a lot then about marketing, trade shows, sales and distribution, which I put to good use.
Well, you certainly had a good sense of where to start. Right from the beginning you have had a solid design language and positioned your work as a premium design craft.
Well, it would have been impossible to go mass market anyway on my own! So, I went to the bank and got a loan to begin my business. I put my flat up as collateral and felt that the only thing I could lose would be money – so it was worth giving it my best try.
I guess being in Helsinki when you started has its good sides, right?
Definitely! In the beginning, I thought that my main market would be outside Finland – I felt my shoes were too girly. Fashion here at the time was very androgynous. My shoes were already then very colorful whereas fashion was very monochromatic. I thought: No one with Finnish a heart will ever buy my pink shoes ! Luckily, I was wrong. Finns are very proud of domestic brands. There is this sense of “you are one of us!” and that is very nice. I would not have had a flagship shop like this without their support.
How do you work with companies outside Finland?
We mainly operate in multi-label boutiques. We work through direct contacts and make some more in trade shows. The web is also very important, in Europe and USA. I travel a lot and I always have appointments wherever I go.
How do you define your design language?
Playful, feminine, I love to use color and texture combined with details. There are a lot of cartoon details like the rabbit ears, the dripping paint and the wings… anything a super heroine could wear!
I like to think of my shoes as elegant and fun but with a certain naivety to them.
Can you remember how the idea for the Angora collection – stilettos with “rabbit ears” – came about?
I have always had nature-related things like flowers and wings. I wanted to do animals this time as well. In general, I want to create something that brings out positive feelings, things that unleash emotions. Of course, something like this is not for everyone, but it is great if my shoes touch some people.
I guess brands like this also allow us to redefine and add texture to what being a Finn is all about…
In the past, the only reference to Finnish fashion was Marimekko, which is a quirky brand. It is really good to have a colorful and bold company and to add new brands and new ways of looking at things. There is space for different things. There is no big heritage in shoe design, so it’s nice for me that there is no restriction, no stated paths of how things should be done.
You are right. In England, Spain and Italy there is a strong heritage, which may weigh on shoe designers that want to break the mold. You don’t have that restriction.
Exactly. When I go to the trade shows, I can see buyers can’t categorize me because I am a Finn.
How do you start a collection and where do you seek your inspiration…
Because of my work, I travel so much, see so many things and meet so many people. Wherever I travel, I go to shops and see so much. The best inspiration there can be is to absorb as much from as many places as possible. I can hand pick the things from the world that I think can belong to me. Anything can inspire me. I am bad at taking notes or pictures, so what happens is that things get internalized and when I sit down I can design the collection very fast. My designs are stored in my head. They don’t accidentally happen on paper.
In my business, there is a lot to do. I am the CEO and the designer of my business, so I actually have little time to design, which I have to use very efficiently.
So tell me about these other tasks you do…
I was probably not born a CEO, I am more of a dreamer. But I really do love the business challenge and I guess for a designer I am quite business-oriented. I don’t want to be successful just as a designer. I want to be successful as a businesswoman.
This also means that if I concentrated only on the design, my designs could be more extravagant. I need to keep my feet on the ground.
A girl who wears Minna Parikkas is…
Adventurous. She is someone who does not take her style so seriously; someone who dares to break a little from the mold, even if just for a special occasion. She loves playfulness, fun and color. It’s really an attitude. We have very different types of women coming to the shop, and all ages, from 15 to 70.
How many pairs of shoes do you own?
I can’t even count! That is one of the advantages of having your own shoe brand. Being a female designer means I can also design some of the shoes of the collection thinking of what I would like to wear.
How do you stay so grounded?
By being so involved in the business. There are always a lot of setbacks, things that are not flowing so well. This keeps me humble because everything is not given to me on a silver platter. When I see a stuck-up person in this business, it makes me wonder if they are really going so well as they let others believe.
How were you like as a kid?
I was the day dreaming type. I was thinking about other things than school! It is good in this business to be able to dream, to create atmospheres.
When you look at a man for the first time you look at…
When you look at a woman for the first time you look at…
Not their shoes?
Unless they are really amazing, I don’t really look at shoes!
If you were a song you would be….
I like Arabic music because it is really decorative and detailed. I would be an upbeat song, which would nonetheless have ups and downs and would be dreamy.
If you were food, you would taste like…
A cake with a cherry on top!
The most overrated virtue is…
In fashion, there are a lot of overrated virtues. People are expected to be arrogant to be successful. People have a sense of respect for someone who is scary and a little terrible. And some people feel if you don’t have that arrogance, then you are not worth it.
The most underrated virtue is…
Willingness to commit. It seems to me we are all used to getting things very fast and since everything seems to be possible, everyone is waiting to see if something better is waiting around the corner. We are not committing to relationships, work or products. We are restless and feel like nothing is enough.
Your own motto is…..
I would like to feel my life is open to very many varied things, so there will never be a boring moment! My brand motto is: May these shoes lead you to new adventures.
Image: Osma Harvilahti