Interview by Marie-Pauline Cesari

Liisa Kessler has been appointed Creative Director of the Swedish fashion House Filippa K in January 2022. This was a turning point for the label, as this position was previously held by its founder Filippa Knutsson, who left in 2019. With her remarkable creative talent and an instinctive understanding of craftsmanship, Liisa Kessler has taken the brand’s heritage and given it a unique and bold new direction.

Swedish fashion house Filippa K has appointed you as its new creative director in January 2022. This was an important decision for the label, as this position was previously held by its founder Filippa Knutsson, who left in 2019. Wasn’t it a lot of pressure, to take the lead of a House right after its founder?

I’ve always loved Filippa K – the spirit of the brand, what it stands for. I have fond memories of the early to mid 2000s campaigns, and when I was first approached for the position I saw what a special opportunity it would be to work for such an iconic Swedish house. When I met with Filippa Knutsson, her realness and warmth, and also her coolness and free spirit, inspired me a lot. She was one of the pioneers in establishing the now iconic look of Scandinavian minimalism and I see it as a privilege to carry on this heritage. 

You started your career at Chloé with Clare Waight Keller, then you worked for Y/Project and Lanvin and you spent five years at Saint Laurent under Anthony Vaccarello as a senior designer for the show collections. You’ve been working almost your entire career in Paris, how does it feel to be more connected to your northern roots?

I love connecting with and exploring my own northern roots for the first time in my career through my work. The Scandinavian nature and way of living have always been an escape for me – my space to disconnect and recharge. I really enjoy the calmness and the permanent closeness to the sea. 

What made you want to be a designer, and what was your first relationship with sewing and drawing?

From a very young age I knew I wanted to create something – to build something with my hands, work in 3D. I was always fascinated by the possibilities of expression through clothing and dressing yourself. As I got older, I felt that fashion was a space where I could combine my passion for handcraft and my curiosity to dive into new worlds, exploring different themes every season. That’s why I wanted to do an apprenticeship in tailoring and dressmaking before studying fashion design at the Berlin University of the Arts.

The Spring/Summer 2023 collection of Filippa K revisits the spirit and sensuality of 90s-era. It was your first full collection for the Swedish label. You said that you mixed the archives of the brand with your own childhood memories to make this collection. Can you tell us more about this creation process?

I’m a very analogue person, I love to go to libraries and go through books and old magazines for days. I started by going through the archives of the brand, looking through boxes filled with old Filippa K campaigns, lookbooks, images from parties the brand used to throw back in the day and so much more. There was a sensuality and warm minimalism in the pieces Filippa designed when she founded the brand, and this collection aims to reconnect with that feeling and that aesthetic.

As much as it was a process of rediscovering and exploring the universe of Filippa K, it was also a time of reconnecting with my own northern roots. The result has been a collection that reflects on the brand’s history as well as including nostalgic references to my own memories of summers spent in Scandinavia. 

Your inspiration for your Fall/Winter 23 collection comes from the documentary The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, by Werner Herzog, in 1974. The film, about the famous ski jumper Walter Steiner, explores the feeling of solitude and the lightness of being able to escape the daily grind of life by jumping into the air. Why did you choose this documentary in particular for the feeling of freedom?

I remembered seeing this documentary maybe fifteen years ago. I have always loved it, but it feels especially relevant and inspiring to me now. In times when the world feels heavy and complicated, I suppose we want to be able to take off to a lighter state of mind. We’re longing for a feeling of being able to breathe again, and feel carefree. Taking off, literally flying and escaping as Walter Steiner does, feels so beautiful and fascinating to me.

What is the place of cinema in your work?

Movies, and especially documentaries, are a constant source of inspiration. I have always been the most interested in and touched by portraits of real people, be it in moving images or still photography. I am fascinated by how different people approach life, and how they express themselves and their passions.

Since your first collection, you have focused on eco-responsibility by using recycled textiles. For your spring-summer 2024 collection, you collaborated with Södra, Lenzing and Riopele to develop a new recycled and renewable material. Is this a commitment you wish to pursue in your future collections?

It’s incredibly important to me to carry on the sustainability work and legacy that Filippa K has developed over the years. Filippa’s original vision for the house was creating long-lasting, timeless wardrobe staples, and has consistently been a pioneer in the sustainable fashion space. We see it as a foundation for every season, and the best way to do this is to start the design process from the beginning with a sustainable mindset. The material choices make a big difference and this starts with the concept phase, so we aim to work with low-impact and long-lasting materials while also collaborating with like-minded industry partners to push the boundaries of what types of materials are available to work with. We’re absolutely committed to continuing these efforts, and finding new and creative paths to sustainable innovation. 

Filippa K has reopened its flagship store in Helsinki with a new store concept, which embodies the fashion house’s unique vision of Scandinavian identity. For this project, you worked with Swedish architects. On March 23, we will celebrate the opening of the Amsterdam store. Can you tell us more about the art direction?

We’re so excited to have opened the Amsterdam store, as it’s the second space to reflect the updated Filippa K visual concept. We’ve worked with the Swedish architecture firm Profan for both stores, and it’s been an exciting process of evolving our identity further – carrying on the legacy of the brand, while reinterpreting its values for today. While the Helsinki flagship featured a bold orange carpet, the Amsterdam space is designed with an ice blue hue that references our first image campaign shot in the north of Sweden. The store explores the dualities of rawness and refinement, and we worked with a range of collaborators to achieve our signature warm minimalistic aesthetic. There are custom-made features that are inspired by nature, and we’ve also procured a selection of vintage 70s and 80s postmodern pieces. 

Is architecture as important as fashion in your life as a designer?

In my position as Creative Director at Filippa K, architecture has definitely taken on a whole new relevance in my work. I love to work on the holistic vision for the brand and to create physical spaces in which the collection starts to live and breathe and communicate with our customer. It’s an exciting process and something that is super important to me.