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November 25, 2017
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From Mert Otsamo's Metropolis collection. Source: mertotsamo.com.

I saw him sitting alone in a cafe in Paris. Drawn to his bleached fauxhawk, leather shorts and array of punky, spiky accessories, I asked if I could take his photo for a friend's fashion blog. He kindly accepted. As I snapped away, I noticed the sketchbook on the young man's table. "I like to design clothes," he told me modestly. "I have a website. Take a look if you like." I did, and immediately knew: Mert Otsamo is clearly a name to be watching. 

Mert Otsamo Design
Mert Otsamo's second collection, "Strong After"
features soft beige and rose pink hues.  
Source: Mertotsamo.com.

At the tender age of 23, the rising Finnish designer already demonstrates an awesome skill for cutting and draping, and his chic, gothic-meets-punk aesthetic seems to reflect that of Gareth Pugh or Alexander McQueen. After chatting casually about his bracelets, which he crafted himself from nails and leather, and peeking at his sketchbook, full of spiky drawings of gothic goddesses, he showed me some stunning pictures of his creations on his iPhone. I needed to know more about this young man.

While Otsamo describes himself as "self taught" on his website, I discovered he did in fact attend design school, where he learned pattern-making and "how to have an appreciation for finer technical details." This is important for his creations, which he describes as having "three-dimensional shapes that come alive on the person wearing them."

The kind of person that can pull off a typical Otsamo creation is not your average shopper. His enthusiasm for cartoons and video games seems to have translated into his work, and it's easy to imagine Barbarella, Wonder Woman or, more realistically, drama queens like Daphne Guinness, Nicki Minaj or Lady Gaga as the typical muses for his savagely cut, sexily draped, futuristic lines. He confirms this by stating that his clients are usually "individual, strong, women who appreciate quality in fabric and a skillfully cut pattern and shape."

With so much talent, it's surprising Otsamo wasn't busy selling gowns during this past Paris Fashion Week, where we first met. However, fashion is a tough industry and it's often more about who you know than about what you can do. The designer is fully aware of the obstacles that may lie ahead of him: "delivery times, material quantity minimums and organising production are a lot of work," he admits.

But there are further potential difficulties that Otsamo lists, such as "finding sales channels that are both right in terms of finance and brand image...being well networked...[being] able to channel stress, and create a budget." While he has found one outlet for selling selected styles from his collections (Helsinki 10 in Finland), he has not been able to distribute beyond Finland quite yet. 

[Metropolis features]...black and gold lamé fabrics folded and crumpled to resemble metal details, juxtaposed on soft chiffons...there is something angry and painful in this line, but it is as beautiful as an operatic tragedy.

His dream is to show and sell in Paris, but he hasn't yet made the connections that would allow him to do so. After participating as a finalist in Finland's first ever season of Project Runway when he was only 18, he learned that "one must know how to share a workload, and often working as part of a team is essential for the best outcome...also, the seemingly ever faster, seasonal approach can be exhausting for designers."

Whilst most teens would have cracked under the kind of stress he went through on the design show, Otsamo claims he actually thrives on it to some extent; in fact, he started making garments at 15 when the stress and tension of some "difficult experiences in his personal life" became a "driving force" in his work.

This force has led him to recently present two collections in his native Finland: "Metropolis" was first, featuring black and gold lamé fabrics folded and crumpled to resemble metal details, juxtaposed on soft chiffons. The contrast almost feels like a violation; there is something angry and painful in this line, but it is as beautiful as an operatic tragedy.

"Strong After" was his second collection, and with its more consumer-friendly beige and blush fabrics softly slung around the neck and hips, Otsamo has confirmed his cutting and draping skills.

It's easy to speculate that he has passed through a tough period into a happier place, as reflected not only by the look, but also by the title of the latter collection. On this point, Otsamo remains somewhat elusive: "I myself as a person am a little bit shy," he confesses. "But I do know how to make myself heard," he adds. With talent like his, there's no doubt we'll be hearing much more from Mert Otsamo in the future. 


To view Mert Otsamo's latest collections, visit www.mertotsamo.com.

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