Finnish designer Achilles Ion Gabriel is in the fast line. After making waves for years at the footwear helm of Camper and Camper Lab, the trailblazer has recently unveiled his very own namesake gender-neutral brand to acclaim. We chat to the designer in Mallorca about building his own fashion house out of Paris, and building a new home in Finland
Achilles Ion Gabriel's silver braces flash as he smiles warmly at me from his home in Mallorca on a Friday evening Zoom call. He wears them as a nonchalant statement, making me regret begging my dentist to remove my own braces as soon as possible. Bleached, medium-length hair falls into his pale face, fiery red eyeliner framing his slightly tired eyes – it's been an exhausting few weeks for the 36-year-old Finn.
After the successful unveiling of his recently founded namesake brand at Pitti Uomo, Ion Gabriel went directly home to Paris – where his studio is based – to continue on with showroom presentations. Plenty of positive press coverage ensued. And more recently, Hyères announced the designer will head up the jury for the renowned festival's Accessories award, alongside Courrège's Nicolas DiFelice and photographer Coco Capitan.
“Every project in January has been a success – I can barely believe it”, Ion Gabriel says, with a tone both grateful and overwhelmed. He's still yet to unpack his luggage after landing in Mallorca in the middle of the night. He had been abroad shooting with the Financial Times, followed by a visit to the dentist after his distinctive braces snapped. “I have probably eaten something that I shouldn't have”, he cackles. Despite the designer's packed schedule, he's calm, taking his time during the conversation as casually leans on his brown sofa, matching curtains behind him.
15 years ago, Ion Gabriel moved to Paris seeking a job within the fashion industry. “At that time, I did not speak French and I had only recently graduated, so I had little experience,” he says. “Logically, I started my own shoe brand and it went surprisingly well from the beginning.” A series of consulting jobs for brands such as Marimekko, Marni and Sunnei followed – always with a focus on shoe design. “I love designing shoes, but I also liked the idea of creating full silhouettes for a long time. I would always think of what pants or coat could go along with the shoes”, he explains. Launching a ready-to-wear brand was on Ion Gabriel's mind, but a desire to get the timing right held him back for a long time. At the same time, headhunters were approaching Ion Gabriel to fill in the position as creative director at numerous fashion houses – not making the decision to launch his own brand any easier.
I love designing shoes, but I also liked the idea of creating full silhouettes for a long time. I would always think of what pants or coat could go along with the shoes.
Achilles Ion Gabriel
Eventually, it wasn't the prospect of a bigger fashion house that sparked him into action. Ion Gabriel successfully proved that he can evolve things while still sticking to a brand's DNA delivering a recognisable product as creative director of established shoe brand Camper. It was rather the creative freedom and overall control of a brand that excited him to start his very own label.
Ion Gabriel has no interest in trends and refuses any trend-forecasting tools. “Everything feels so homogenous in fashion, the trends are seasonal and everyone is doing the same thing”, he reflects. Instead, the designer wants his eponymous brand to be led by his pure intuition creating pieces that he wants to wear right now. “Since the brand carries my name, I really want to be true to what I am interested in personally. I am not going to let myself get pressured into doing yellow shirts simply because they are selling like crazy for other brands”, he says resolutely. But one thing the brand is embracing is sustainability. “To me, emphasis should be on the durability of a product. It does not matter if something is made out of sustainable materials if it eventually breaks after wearing it a couple of times. For this collection, we chose materials that have a long life span and that age nicely”, he says. Luckily, he found the right partners and investors in London to support him in the immense task of building a brand from scratch.
It does not matter if something is made out of sustainable materials if it eventually breaks after wearing it a couple of times. For this collection, we chose materials that have a long life span and that age nicely.
Achilles Ion Gabriel
At first glance, Ion Gabriel's use of the colour blue ( “the Achilles Blue” as his friends and industry peers call it) is striking to the eye. “The reference comes from a sweater in that colour that I had from a second hand store when I was seven. I felt like the colour suited me so well and since then it stuck with me”, he reminisces almost nostalgically.
It's not only this signature icy colour of his brand that nods to Ion Gabriel's Nordic heritage, but also a certain brutality that he indicates as particularly Finnish. “It is not very decorated and it's rather harsh and tough – I find this brutal aesthetic romantic almost poetic”, he tells us. Brutal are surely his boot designs with sharp metal tips stating ‘Move bitch’ as well as his generous use of highest quality leather referencing the BDSM scene.
“I wish I was visiting Finland more often since my best friends still live there and I love the country so much,” Ion Gabriel says. “Unfortunately, with my busy schedule and the fact that it is so far away, it doesn't allow me to get there that often. It takes longer to get to the small town that I come from than taking a flight to Tokyo, in comparison”, he explains.
This is set to change though, as Ion Gabriel reveals that he has recently bought some land in the Finnish countryside to build a house there. “I find it very exciting, I have never designed a house before”, he says. Funnily enough, Ion Gabriel signed up for architecture school before taking on his degree in shoe design. A piece of land in the middle of nowhere seems like the perfect canvas for the designer to pursuing his original passion for structures. We watch with anticipation to see what the Finn with his singular vision will make of the space, but it's with keen excitement that we await the future development of his own brand. What we have seen so far is more than convincing.