The tradition of ice bathing inspired the campaign- Photo: Timothy Schaumburg / Courtesy of Filippa K
If you had clicked over to Filippa K’s Instagram page earlier this year, you’d have found a rather minimal page, one wiped clean in fact, except for the logo featuring a new typeface. For some, the name will similarly draw a blank, but the brand has been popular in Europe and the Nordics for nearly 30 years, a dependable source for good jeans and polished casual pieces, often in neutral tones. (A sort of Chloé-ied Cos, if you will.) Prepare to hear, and see a lot more about Filippa K; June marks the debut of the Swedish brand’s new creative director, Liisa Kessler, who was appointed in January.
Today, prior to the release of those resort and spring 2023 collections, the brand is dropping a teaser, in the form of a capsule swimwear collection campaign, shot in the wintery north of Sweden, near Skellefteå. It’s made entirely out of materials already in-house, intriguingly including black velvet, and shows a gaggle of models ice bathing—brrrr—in bikinis and maillots, trunks and board shorts. The bikinis have a bit of a ’90s vibe, hinting that Kessler has visited the archives (she has), but there’s not enough information here to be able to visualize a full brand aesthetic. What the photos do reveal are a sense of community and a connection to nature. More importantly, they are taken from the perspective of someone outside looking in and observing local customs.
For Kessler, a multilingual German/Finn, the idea of home has been a preoccupation since school days. Raised in a small village in Germany, the designer spent idyllic summers with her mother’s family in the woods up north—which gave her a strong connection with Nordic, if not Swedish culture—as well as a sense of displacement. “What does home actually mean?” “Where do I actually feel at home?” Those are questions she’s been asking from her youth, and have resurfaced now that she’s relocated to Scandinavia. So far, her time at Filippa K has been one of discovery and rediscovery on personal and professional levels.
Kessler came to fashion by way of craft: “Growing up in a small German village is not like growing up in Paris, London, or New York; fashion was not really on our plate, but I was always really into doing things with my hands.” Taught by her mother to sew, she started customizing things as a teenager. When she told her parents she wanted to study fashion design, they suggested she apprentice with a local dressmaker, which she did for three years. “It gives you so much satisfaction, sewing a dress,” she says. Then it was off to Berlin where, Kessler explains, “a whole new world opened up for me, like the whole conceptual part behind fashion, the possibility to dive into new worlds and new themes every season.”
In 2011 Kessler’s exploration of the great big world of fashion took her to London, to intern with Mary Katrantzou (“which I thought was super-interesting, what Mary did at the time with construction felt really new and fresh.”) Three years later Kessler moved to Paris, where she spent a year working with Clare Waight Keller at Chloé, a brand she had a strong personal affinity for, followed by brief stints at Glenn Martens’s Y/Project and on a transition team at Lanvin. She joined Saint Laurent with Anthony Vaccarello in 2016, and was working on the shows as a senior designer of flou when she left to become the first successor to Filippa Knuttson as creative director of Filippa K.
Founded in 1993, the brand answered the needs of its active cofounder, Knuttson, who was her own muse. Mostly immune to trends, Filippa K didn’t move much beyond minimalism (though it did segue into the wellness/activewear categories). When Nina Bogstedt, who led the design studio for 20 years, left in 2017, Knuttson made a blink-and-you-missed-it return, but it soon became clear that the brand was operating on automatic; the “personal” aspect that had made it relevant was missing, as was a clear forward vision. Enter Kessler, the first successor to the co-founder, whose personal memories of the brand date to the 2000s. One of her inspirations for spring 2023 is a 2006 ad campaign (see below).
The more time Kessler spends studying the label, the cooler she discovers the brand’s woman to be. “For me, it’s so important to share and tell what there actually is in the archive, because we have a proper heritage. This is a brand with a real DNA, with real storytelling,” the designer says. She’s particularly drawn to the brand’s popular stretch denim, but she’s also been focused on jerseys and knits. “I think something that makes us unique is the feeling of the garment when you wear it, and the comfort that it gives you.”
Kessler’s Nordic memories are of wood houses and deep forests, quite rustic, in other words. How will that translate into this citified brand? “We’ve been looking into the Swedish version of broderie anglaise—but this is now really like a preview of the spring collection— [and] let’s say nostalgic-feeling blouses….I think this is one example of how the summer cottage approach comes in, but of course there are a lot of super-chic, timeless wardrobe staples like leather jackets, trench coats, the tailoring—all of these that I love.”
In addition to their focus on specific garments and collections, Kessler and her international team have set themselves a larger mission, which is to try to define Scandinavian minimalism and understand what it means today, and in so doing they hope to make the reach of the brand, which is popular in Europe, global. The designer is adamant that the one thing it isn’t, is boring. “I feel like sometimes people nowadays associate Scandinavian fashion a bit with being too basic, and I think this is not at all the case,” she says. “It’s really about finding the essence, and the beauty of the essence.”