Irene Kostas (b. 1985) is a designer of Finnish and Greek origin. She has inherited her love for natural materials and craftsmanship from her artisan father. Besides contemporary art, Irene is influenced by music. The soundtrack of her studio ranges from ambient techno and experimental world music to obscure italo disco, synth and wave. On weekends, you can spot her playing records in Helsinki night clubs. Before launching her own label, she worked in fashion marketing and brand management.
What inspired you to start ONAR?
I’ve always had quite a strong own universe that was built by my own distinguish style and music – that was my safety shell, the place where I kind of escaped as we used to move a lot. I grew up in Northern Finland and in Greece, so there were always strong contrasts both aesthetically and culturally. In my design, the mystical East and functional North are met. I wanted to express this world through by design and brand. I utilize natural materials from an ethical & sustainable value basis – this was something that hadn’t existed. Also, I wanted to present the traditional elitist materials in a contemporary, futuristic context.
Why this name?
ONAR is ancient Greek and means “a dream”. I used to have my own club night with this name, combining obscure world music with electro and techno. The name is also a kind of an unlikely match. A softer word referring to the East, presented in a powerful graphic form.
What was the most difficult part of launching the label, and the most rewarding?
There are many difficulties with launching your own label, so you need to have a strong angle and identity. It is hard work and you need to sacrifice some things but it is incredibly rewarding to do what you love the most. It feels fantastic to see your creations worn by people. Also, creating the a collection, after months of prototyping, choosing colours, sampling etc and seeing the end result, is incredible.
“My designs are for women who don’t lose their curiosity for life over time.”
What is “ethical fur”?
Ethical fur means that I do not use any farmed fur – neither do I use faux fur. I utilize already existing natural materials, and for that I have 3 material resources: such as shearling which is byproduct from Italian sheep farms. I also use old vintage fur coats which are recrafted (recut an redyed) into new accessories. Also, in Finland there are skins of wild animals such as Finn raccoon and fox, and currently 80 % of those already existing skins are simply wasted. I utilize those skins too. Besides of these fur and shearling materials, I use vegetable tanned nappa leather. Also, all colours used in the tanning process, are chrome-free. The collections are handmade in Finland and in Greece, in areas that have long traditions in the craft of leather and fur.
Who do you design for?
My designs are for women who don’t lose their curiosity for life over time. They have an active role in society and are conscious about their choices. The ONAR woman is an “ageless” person who loves art, music, life. She is sophisticated but doesn’t take herself or life too seriously.
As Vivienne Westwood put it
“buy less, choose well, make it last”
You said you draw inspiration from abstract art. What is your favorite artist?
Currently I have been very inspired by the art of James Turrell. I also draw inspiration from electronic music, geometry, analogue electronic games..
Tell us about your latest collection…
The collection for autumn-winter 2015-2016 introduces Kazimir Malevich to Commodore 64. The minimalist shearling accessories, the bags, the knitwear and the luxurious bombers and coats are soaked in soft yellow and pure red hues borrowed from the suprematist artist. The colour block patterns are inspired by the pixelated shapes of early Tetris video games. The ever-Scandinavian palette of black and white set a backdrop for the collection.
What is that makes ONAR unique?
ONAR is a fusion of unlikely matches. Craftsmanship and natural materials in plastic colours and futuristic forms, rich textures in minimal forms, sustainable materials and all hand-crafted in Europe. ONAR has been internationally acknowledged as pioneer work.
If you had 3 wishes, what would they be?
I have one wish: to see people choosing better when buying fashion – supporting sustainable values and independent brands that produce in ethical circumstances. As Vivienne Westwood put it – “buy less, choose well, make it last”