Following on from his My Personal Style interview from last year, Fiacha Harrington talks denim and more with Helsinki's leading menswear store proprietor, Mikko Sorvala of Pinkomo.
Helsinki may not be as well known for its menswear stores as it is for its design stores . A new year is upon us and with that comes a new season. When it’s double-digits below zero outside, it’s time to leave winter behind and remember that the spring/summer season is soon upon us. I wanted to search out the best menswear Helsinki has to offer. So even if you are a local or just visiting you may not necessarily be familiar with what the city has to offer.
A street sign that says SHOES, DENIM & BAGS is all that a person walking by will see of Pinkomo. Pinkomo is located at the basement level of Albertinkatu 17, even though it is only a ten minute walk from the very centre of downtown Helsinki, it is still a world away. Originally Pinkomo was located on the relatively busy pedestrian street, Iso Roobertinkatu, where it had a much smaller retail space. The location was well thought out as it had been the previous venue of one of Helsinki’s best known record stores (Stupido). Pinkomo is now a subterranean hideout for men seeking a very particular style. The sign lives up to what it says and inside you will find a carefully selected selection of shoes from brands like Red Wings and Loake among a few others. For those of you who are familiar with these brands they appear not to be that dissimilar. But when you cast your eye around the rest of the store you will see wall to wall of blue – and not just any blue but indigo blue. Not washed, not distressed, no holes, no blemishes just deep dark blue indigo, the colour jeans were intended to be. To the untrained eye these jeans hanging from hooks and piled high on shelves may appear to all be the same, but they are not. Welcome to the world of hardcore denim.
For lovers of denim, Pinkomo is the place to visit in Helsinki. Some of the other stores in town have a relatively respectful selection of denim, but this is where you need to go if you are looking for the real thing. The real thing may mean different things to different people but you have to start with the original, that is with Levi’s 501. The 501 is the most iconic pair of jeans of all time and the silhouette has changed over the past 100+ years. The Levi’s Vintage Clothing (LVC) at Pinkomo can take you back in time to the different versions that have been made, starting with 1890 and working its way through the decades to 1983 – sometimes the fit was loose and at other times tight but it was always the 501. The most iconic of the 501s is from 1947 – this is the one jean that can well be described as the prototype for what we consider to be jeans, often imitated but never surpassed. If there is such a specific fit, then must it require a very particular customer? No, this jean will fit just about any body type once you choose the correct size. Which brings us to the next question; which jean is for me? Please direct your questions to your expert Mikko Sorvala . I sat down to talk with Mikko, Pinkomo’s proprietor, to discuss the store and what it has to offer.
Some of the other stores in town have a relatively respectful selection of denim, but this is where you need to go if you are looking for the real thing.
Fiacha: What is the philosophy of Pinkomo?
Mikko: Quality, Timeless and Long lasting Clothing.
Fiacha: Can you tell us a little bit about the brands that you carry here?
Mikko: Red Wing Shoes which are probably our primary product as well as Loake Shoes. Red Wing is an old American company which has made shoes since 1905, in the town Red Wing from MInnesota. Originally made as work boots from which they have expanded into street wear. On the other hand Loake Shoes are more tidy, you could call them business man shoes from the UK. Both brands of shoes are constructed with goodyear welt and not glued together. Then we have a large variety of denim, primarily raw denim, about 99%, from such brands as Iron Heart from Japan, Indigofera from Sweden, Edwin also from Japan and Levi’s Vintage Clothing from the USA as well as Lee 101, which is the Lee brand’s premium collection.
Fiacha: What are your thought on men’s fashion in 2016?
Mikko: I don’t feel that I am the right person to talk about men’s fashion, but more on men’s style. Primarily the brands that we carry are based on old tried and tested models, the classic models.
I don’t feel that I am the right person to talk about men’s fashion, but more on men’s style
Fiacha: Have you seen any particular direction in style from menswear in the past 12 months regarding your heritage brands?
Mikko: In particular there has been a strong demand for raw denim and there has been consistent growth in the amount of raw denim that we are selling.
Fiacha: Recently you’ve expanded into carrying some clothes and shoes for women. Can you please tell us a little bit about that?
Mikko: This autumn I decided that we would also carry a small selection of products specifically for women. From Red Wings we have the women’s collection and even a few shoes from Loake. From Edwin we have our first selection of women’s denim, jeans, jean jackets and similar products. In the spring I intend to considerably expand that.
Fiacha: Who are your female clientele?
Mikko: I would say our average female customer is aged between thirty and forty, that seems to be the focus point so far, but it is early days yet, but there is a consistent growth.
Fiacha: How do women find their way into a menswear shop?
Mikko: It started with women coming along to the store with their male partners. I find that our regulars who have Red Wing shoes and raw denim are inclined to bring their wives or girlfriends, that has been the main case so far. That is definitely how the majority have found us.There are some who have found it out as a new thing on their own.
Fiacha: What do you see happening for Pinkomo over the next twelve months?
Mikko: Overall our selection of brands will continue to expand to meet the growing demand for both men and women. So I see us bringing in a couple of new brands, but also to grow on the ones that we already have, as they too take on new models. Even though we are dealing primarily with heritage brands, they still adopt the policy of two collections a year, spring/summer and autumn/winter. Even though they are classics and models that already exist, they still tend to adhere to seasonal changes. Even brands like Red Wing have ten to fifteen models that they bring to a season and they take other seasonal models away. There is a seasonal emphasis on brands’ collections, with changes in colors and materials.
Fiacha: Taking the conversation back to your clientele, what is your average male customer like?
Mikko: Our male clientele is more diverse from 25 to 50 and above in age, it’s quite broad.
Fiacha: Is your Loake customer very different to your Red Wing customer?
Mikko: Yes, primarily they are quite different. That was one of the main reasons why I took on Loake shoes as a brand. We have some customers who might wear Red Wings in their free time but would wear Loake at work, so i wanted to cater to that demand but at the same time it opened the doors for new clientele that would specifically come to buy Loake, and some of them have also found other products to their interest, like some shirts and basic jeans. Other things that have a wide appeal is our large selection of shoe care products.
Fiacha: What is the balance between in-store sales and online sales?
Mikko: We definitely sell a lot more in-store. I would say that our in-store sales account for 80% of all sales. Our online sales are primarily to customers in Finland, outside of Helsinki. Our only international sales come from the demand to get limited edition items when they can no longer be gotten elsewhere. Other than that international sales are small.
Fiacha: What is your advice for first time customers?
Mikko: Firstly we want to see in what direction that customer might be going in and does he have something particular in mind. Is he looking for Red Wings or Loake, or perhaps something in between, like Clarks Originals, which we also carry. If the customer is unfamiliar with our brands we try to give them some information on each brand that they might be interested in and for what kind of use they are looking at those items for. If the customer is totally unfamiliar with the concept of ‘quality shoes’, we need to give them more information and to explain that a new pair of shoes may appear to be stiff to begin with and that they require some wear to be broken in as the leather shapes the foot. But at the same time the shoe will retain its shape for many years to come, which is much better than a ‘soft’ shoe. When it comes to raw denim we try to ascertain what are the customer’s preferences – do they already have a brand in mind? Then we start to look for models, the type of denim and the weight of the denim. Of course there is sometimes a budget that needs to be considered, because there is such a variety in price, starting at 119€ and going all the way up to around 400€. Different people are willing to invest different amounts of money on a pair of jeans.
Helsinki does not have many dedicated menswear stores, but Pinkomo is one of the finest around. So, if you are a first timer seeking a pair of classic jeans and quality shoes or a dedicated denim-head, Pinkomo is the place for you.
For those of you interested in menswear in Helsinki in general, here are a few other stores that you should check out:
Sauma at Bulevardi 14, where you can get a bespoke suit as well as off the rack quality men’s clothing for that sharp office look.
Looking for something different visit My O My: The Men on Erottajankatu 9. Here you can find a nice mix of Scandinavian, British and American brands which mainly focus on a more business casual look.
For those of you who prefer a more leisurely style of clothing there is Beam at 15-17 Erottajankatu.
Read More at OQM, Personal Style: Mikko Sorvala