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Aalto uni students unveiled as designers of Jenni Haukio’s Independence Gala 'eco dress'

Two student designers have been named as creators of the environmentally-themed garment, but details of the dress itself will stay under wraps until 6 December.

Emma Saarnio and Helmi Liikanen
Young designers Emma Saarnio and Helmi Liikanen of Aalto University. Image: Eeva Suorlahti

Two Aalto University students have been revealed as the designers behind the Independence Day Gala gown to be worn on Thursday by first lady Jenni Haukio, wife of President Sauli Niinistö.

In November, the office of the president announced that the theme of this year's Independence Day celebrations would be the "shared environment", and would be reflected in the invited guests, food, music and décor of the Presidential Palace.

Fashion design student Emma Saarnio and textile design student Helmi Liikanen told Yle News it was a "big honour" to work on the project, saying it’s the first time an evening gown has been produced from birch wood.

"This is the first evening gown that I have designed and the first fabric that Helmi [Liikanen] has designed for an evening gown. So, of course that brings an extra nervousness to it," Saarnio said.

"In the design I’ve combined Finnish traditions while at the same time looking to the future. I took inspiration from strong Finnish women, who are represented in the dress' minimalist features and clear lines. The dress is a promise of a cleaner, brighter future."

Jenni Haukio’s dress has been the subject of intense speculation this year since it was reported that it would be made from a sustainable wood-based fabric using an Ioncell process developed by Aalto University and the University of Helsinki.

From research project to gala gown

The universities say Ioncell is an environmentally friendly process that allows for the production of textile fibres from sources like wood and waste paper, without the use of harmful chemicals.

The process itself involves dissolving cellulose from wood pulp or even newspapers in an ionic liquid; fibres are then extracted from the cellulose using a specialised spinning process.

"I wanted to use Ioncell material in an elegant and festive way. I designed the weave to have a structural, living surface, which highlights the unique material. This project really brings tradition and innovation together," Liikanen explained.

Story continues after photo.

Kangaspuilla koivusellusta valmistetusta Ioncell-kuidusta kehrättyä lankaa.
The fibres for Jenni Haukio's dress were created using the Ioncell process. The fabric for the dress was woven by Päivi Kokko-Vuori. Image: Mikko Raskinen / Aalto-yliopisto

The Ioncell process is not currently used for commercial fabric production, and materials used in Haukio’s dress were produced on "a laboratory scale," according to Aalto University, where the dress was made.

Aalto University Professor Pirjo Hirvonen oversaw the design and production of the dress. "As a result of lots of development on the materials end, we will soon have beautiful, sustainable material for everyday use. It opens the door to a more responsible era."

The design of the dress itself has been kept a tightly-guarded secret, with even some members of the Aalto University production team in the dark about what the finished product will look like.

Yle News discovered that the evening gown will be made of 100% Ioncell fabric derived from Finnish birch wood, with silk organza accents.

The gown won’t be revealed until Haukio joins President Sauli Niinistö to greet guests at the start of the annual Independence Day Gala on Thursday.

Saarnio and Liikanen said they weren’t invited to the event - which is also Finland’s most-watched TV programme of the year - but that they would be watching from home.

"We’ll really be looking at how the dress looks," said Liikanen, "But of course it's exciting."

Edit: Updated at 10.32 am on 3 December to include a photo of the fibres produced from the Ioncell process.

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