Bud Up, Mert Otsamo?
Ready to dive into deepsies of life and design? Mert Otsamo is a self-taught Finnish fashion designer, who’s received praise for his original, distinguished and dramatic style. We were happy to meet this gorgeous guy right after his 30th birthday – to design a “Mert Bouquet” and have a chat about life ‘n’ all.
Hello, Mert – how are you?
Good! Always a difficult question though, but yea, good. I’ve been working and celebrating my birthday. I feel my life is going to lovely direction just now, I feel nice and productive. I’ve made some conscious choices that have been good for me – selfish choices. Selfish sounds always somewhat negative, but with that I mean choices that are good for yourself. Kinda – to be good for others, you first need to be good for yourself. The past few years I’ve been sort of cleaning my inner space and its had a really good effect to my mental state, work and everything. You can’t be happy every day, but you don’t have to carry any extra drama or overload of negativity around you either.
You just turned 30. What’s your favourite hit from the 90s?
Haha, there’s many. Might not be my favourite one, but the strongest memories are linked to Spice Girls’ “Spice up your life”. (We went to hit play for this one right on, and listened to 90s hits for the rest of the interview.) I’ve been listening to this and Aqua songs when just a kiddo, and also did some 90s concerts to the kids from the neighbourhood around the time.
Cool. Now, let’s jump to something else. When looking back, have you had any moments in your life, when you’ve clearly made a choice that eventually brought you right to this moment?
Yes, I’ve had.In 2017, I noticed that certain people and relationships – people I really loved and had grown with – didn’t feed me in a positive way anymore. There was a whole lot of misunderstandings and I started to wonder if I was just a really bad communicator, when I was always the one to blame. At some point, I decided that even though I loved them, I do have a certain direction I want to be headed – certain values and ways of working. I want to be surrounded with people who share my values. It was a moment of realizing I need to make decisions for myself, for me. Even if it meant walking away from friendships. You just need to be honest about your own inner voice, and start listening to what feels good and what doesn’t. You need to be ready to face negative stuff on the way, too.
What inspires you, where do you get your inspiration?
Well – that’s a big one. Inspiration… It reflects time for me, in some way. I might get inspired about certain moment in the past or in the future. It might also come from a song, an emotion, art, or from an architectural thing. It can be wherever, whenever. It’s always the moment when something moves you so much, that a single moment transforms into a whole world of its own, and then starts growing bit by bit. A small seed that’s sown and then starts growing. I might just think about a scenario or a situation, and then the world is there, created in my head in a blink of an eye. I’m also trying to see beauty and inspiration in places where they’re not so obvious. In shapes and forms, that are not so classical.
How do you keep your creativity flowing in challenging situations?
I feel it’s a choice. You can make yourself a victim or somehow make a conscious choice, somehow cut yourself off from a situation. It’s always been easy for me to cut myself off from reality. It makes me feel better, so I’m not just somehow floating around in negativity – things can always be either good or bad. You need to seek for the positive, not always the negative.When thinking about Covid-19, for me it was an important moment. I had to stop, zero out my schedules and re-rhythm myself. It was nice to notice I’d do this work also without salary or deadlines. But yea, first, I slept for a few weeks and watched Netflix. Then I went back to my studio to design my new collection – it felt great, my work just fulfils me so much.
Any tips for “cutting yourself off”?
Well, I don’t say that it’s easy or that I wouldn’t have to get better at it. For a long time, I wanted to make my own collections, but just kept on prioritizing my normal jobs. That’s why it was important to stop and challenge myself in going away from the comfort zone. You need to go towards things that are new and maybe even scary. When I started my career, people told me that in Finland, after finally landing into your happy zone, it’s easy to get your creativity sort of killed. It’s good to notice that “now it’s really nice – but have I’ve been here for a bit too long”? Then, you gotta ask if you want to change it up. If yes, you have all the possibilities to do so – and maybe wonder, why you didn’t change it up even earlier.
Your career jump-started from Muodin huipulle TV show. If you now had to choose one reality-show to attend, what would it be? Or would you go?
Yea, I would! Hmmm… I watch very little TV. I’d still do some fashion reality, I think. Maybe Muodin huipulle All Stars edition, or something? I want a money prize. (laughs) Finland doesn’t offer that, so maybe abroad then. I’m of course interested in international career.In all seriousness, many designers got nice visibility through different TV programs, but the value comes from how you use it – and that’s up to you. Being a designer isn’t easy, and using the momentum is extremely important, as well as understanding what publicity actually is. You can use your publicity in a good or bad way. It’s important to understand the people and culture – where to be when, with who are you doing things, how to profile yourself. Try to step outside of yourself and see yourself through the eyes of others, think what you could be for others. Make things happen.
You have given some criticism about the way media talks about women and their appearance, e.g. during Independence Day celebrations. Who has more pressures, designer or the one wearing the dress?
The one wearing it. I don’t care what people say about my dresses. It’s already out, it’s not me physically. People go to these events and want to dress their best. Of course, you can have opinions, but to publicly go and talk bad about people in magazines and online… It’s different than just rolling our eyes – which is something we all do. I wouldn’t want to go printing that kind of bad-talking.I’ve been bullied at school my whole childhood and I know what it does to a person. Who’s really the one that can do that? In the end, these parties are there for people to have fun, not to grade them. I love the best dressed -listings, but why do you need to list those who didn’t do so well?
Which is more important in life – saying yes or no?
I think saying no. I find it harder. It’s again about the same thing – being able to see what’s good for you, and say no for the things that aren’t. Some people say no all the time, of course then you might need to practice saying yes every now and then. But… Well, as you can see, I’m always quite analytical and think there’s not one without the other. So yea, both are important, depending on situation.
True, well put. Okay… So, you get to choose one gala, wherever in the world – and one person, to design a dress for. Who would that be, and to which occasion?
Omg… Oscars, or MTV Music Awards. Can I pick two? (Yes!) To Oscars, I’d design an evening dress. To MTV Music Awards, show costume. I’m generally inspired by strong women figures. I don’t necessarily mean Amazon women, but the ones that are sort of career women or have made other difficult choices in their life – which have brought them certain independence and self-ownership.So, I would design a show costume to Grace Jones. She’s done so much to change and transform things – to challenge norms and bring about real change. I like her music a lot, but I also have respect for her values and what she’s done. And, she looks amazing.About actresses… Hmm. The one who acted Queen Elizabeth. Cate Blanchett! She has certain kind of dignity and this wonderful mysterious vibe in her. Something really interesting.
Mert 2009 – what would you say to him?
Haha! This is a Rupaul-question. Well, don’t try every single one of those hair colours. And just maybe those fake Dolce & Gabbana ego glasses were not that cool either. But well, I don’t want to go on ranting anything super deep here. I feel that everything I’ve ever done has made me who I am today.
Amen. Well. Mert 2029 – where are you, how are you?
It’s going well. I hope I’ve travelled and seen a lot. And that I still have a good face doctor. (Laughs)
In Helsingin Sanomat, you said that enjoying life is a biggie when it comes to unleashing your creativity. Give us your top 3 tips for enjoying life?
Yea. One thing is that you do those selfish choices. You have to listen to your own unique voice. I believe that deep down, we all know what’s good for us. In every situation you should be a bit aware of that. If your friends are saying “hey, let’s go there” and you feel like not – listen to your own voice. Or if you feel you should have a certain kind of a home to feel safe – listen. Everything starts from here.Another thing to remember. Fighting takes two. Don’t go there. Of course you can talk for your cause, but don’t go into fighting over it. Learn to recognize your own ego and how to keep it under control.Lastly: surround yourself with people that make you feel good. I feel we mirror the people around us. Like they say: You are the average of the 5 closest people to you. I fully believe that. Keep the real friends closest to you.
Well, big thank you, Mert! And good luck for everything coming your way.