Top Finnish fashion designer inspires 2015 FORM collection

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02 Jul 2015

One heck of a ride: That's how CPIT Diploma of Technology and Design student Kieran Whelan describes the build-up to his third year project for the annual FORM exhibition, which opens this Friday July 3 at The Tannery.

Weary but elated, Whelan reflects on his six-month long journey to design and create a collection that showcases third-year student talent at a CPIT signature event, FORM.  The exhibition, which features images by leading Christchurch fashion photographers Dave Richards, as well actual garments, is a student's calling-card for exposure to and critique by the fashion industry for future employment.

Work placement in Helsinki

His work placement earlier this year with top Finnish designer Sasu Kauppi proved to be a turning point in his training as well as providing inspiration for the upcoming exhibition, where students create garments by working to their mentor's brief.

"Sasu works incredibly fast and he's pretty much a one-man band. He does everything that he had me doing; cutting, pattern tracing and sampling. It was definitely a great experience and I'm a better person for it just because of Sasu's work ethic. This whole experience has been one heck of a ride," Whelan said.

Helsinki-based Kauppi is a graduate of a world-leading centre for art and design, Central Saint Martins in London, which boasts alumni including Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen. Seeing him create his high-end fashion sport and street-wear, worn by celebrities such as American rapper Kanye West, provided Whelan with a rare window into a high-paced and demanding industry.

CPIT student impresses top Finnish designer

Kauppi was impressed with his protégé's skill-level and urged the conscientious Whelan to experiment and not be afraid of making mistakes.  

"Kieran was the first student from Australia or New Zealand I had actually worked with. I think he has a developed eye for detail and construction.  I studied under Louise Wilson of Central Saint Martins. She was the best mentor, but also made everyone learn through their mistakes, and I urged Kieran to do the same," Kauppi said.

Kauppi describes his style as spontaneous and raw with a twist of immaturity, and it is this look that appeals to Whelan, who is also attracted to materials that fray, such as denim.

Student and mentor: CPIT Diploma of Technology and Design student Kieran Whelan, nearest camera, working under the watchful eye of his mentor, fashion designer to the stars, Sasu Kauppi of Finland. Photo: Teemu Silvan

Calling all radical fashionistas

"I like people who dress in an unintentionally radical way in raw, awkward clothes that fall together in a strange way. I'm into a real eclectic mash of things," Whelan said.

Fashion industry leaders who provided work placement also set the creative brief for FORM, and his mentor's deconstructed yet tailored style came through strongly in Whelan's work.

"My brief from Sasu was to include tailored elements, like diagonal pockets and vents, but to still be baggy and comfortable, so the garments are a whole mashup of my time there really."

Taking the long path to fashion school

Like many would-be fashion designers, Whelan's journey began from childhood, by watching his mum sew. He didn't realise at the time that he was taking in some of the techniques she used.

"I never actually sewed myself. I learned at CPIT, and anything I did know before that was self-taught. But mum really influenced me because she sewed and was really into fashion, and she was always supportive of anything I tried," Whelan said.

The former St Andrews College boy tried a few different career-paths, including garden maintenance before he started his course at CPIT.

"I went from weed-whacking to fashion. My old job was kind of inspiring in a way because my thoughts would just wander in all sorts of directions."

His CPIT course gave technical focus to the natural skills he already had as a designer, which have come together in his FORM effort.

There are no shortcuts says programme leader

CPIT Fashion Art and Design programme leader Niki Chrisp said projects like FORM, and the school's other key end-of-year fashion event PITCH, were important milestones in a student's development. 

 "We're incredibly proud of our students. We are such a small place that we know each other inside out. They're like our kids."

Her advice to students is to do what Whelan and his classmates did in the build-up to FORM and simply work hard to get it right.

Whelan will now start working on his collection for PITCH, CPIT's signature fashion catwalk show in November.


FORM Exhibition:


What: FORM is back for 2015, showcasing CPIT Diploma of Technology and Design third-year students' work to industry and the public. The FORM exhibition is sponsoredby The Tannery and Tiki Wines.

When: Open to public July 4- 9, 10am – 5pm.

Where: The Tannery, 3 Garlands Road, Woolston, Christchurch 8023