Ever since she was a girl, McQueens CEO Kally Ellis has been a huge admirer of Tove Jansson’s Moomins. The iconic Finnish family of loveable white creatures are over 70 years old and just as captivating now as when Tove first began to draw them. With some major McQueens collaborations planned for 2019, it’s the perfect opportunity for Kally to discuss all things Moomin with Tove’s niece, Sophia Jansson, who now runs the family business.
Kally: I have to admit, Sophia, I am the biggest fan of the Moomins! Growing up, I had an uncle who lived in Sweden, and when he came over to the UK he used to bring Moomin books, so they’re such an important part of my childhood. Why do you think they’re so popular now, 70 years on?
Sophia: I think that the stories in themselves are good enough to stand the test of time. Part of the secret is that when you look at the stories, their themes are timeless; they’re not tied to any specific creed or race or era. It’s about being lonely or finding a friend, and we can all identify with that.
K: They still feel fresh and modern to me. I’ve always loved the clean, pure lines of Tove’s art, the strong colours, and the stories have a charm of their own.
S: I don’t know if Tove did it consciously but she did write about things that were very important to her, and always managed to touch a nerve with her readers. And of course, being a trained artist meant her illustrations were amazing.
K: You’re the niece of Tove Jansson – your father Lars was Tove’s brother. Is the Moomintroll family anything like your own family?
S: Tove was an artist so she looked around her for inspiration and then she created from that. It would be wrong to say it’s a copy of reality – it’s better because it’s her version of reality. The Moomin family is reminiscent of her family in many, many ways. Moomin Mama is the image of her mother. Tove wrote herself into everything and painted herself into her work. She’s in there, too.
Sophia Jansson, Creative Director of Moomins
K: What was Tove like?
S: Tove was very private about her work but within the family she was a very playful person. Especially in the summer time, she was always the first to suggest a picnic on a remote island, ready to go for a swim with me, she loved to dive into the clear blue sea, fly kites or go exploring. As a child I never had the feeling she considered me less important than any adult. In fact, she would always address me as if I were an equal.
K: Your father Lars took over the drawings later, didn’t he?
S: When Tove was doing the comic strips for the London Evening News, they began to take up all her time so she suggested that my father took them on. Tove was an artist, she needed space and support, and my father’s involvement allowed her that.
K: Your job now is to look after and protect the Moomins on behalf of your aunt. It sounds like quite a responsibility!
S: It is a huge responsibility and if I had to consider it today I’d probably be too scared to take it on! But I came into the company in 1997 – I was divorced with two children, back in Finland after time abroad, and I needed a job – and my Dad suggested, ‘why don’t you come and work for the Moomin company?’. But somehow, they have taken over my life…
Kally: So much of Tove’s stories reflect a respect for the world around us and the creatures in that world. I imagine she was in touch with the environment? Did she keep flowers in her home?
Sophia: Oh she loved flowers and she always had flowers in her home. It was very natural – she loved that ‘just picked from the meadow’ look. She always felt very close to nature and she loved to bring that into the house.
K: In Tove’s adult novel The Summer Book, which I also love, she writes about a trip to a small island in the Gulf of Finland one summer where a young girl, Sophia, spends time with her grandmother. Is that about you and your childhood?
S: You know, I like to think it’s really me, but it’s a work of fiction. I know for a fact that some of the things in the book are true and some are completely invented by Tove. But do the details really matter? What’s important is that she has been inspired by her family and her surroundings – they’re all in there somewhere.
K: Yes, and there’s this wonderful affinity with nature in the book – it’s an almost primitive existence…
S: Do you know, every year on the island we’d go and we’d plant potatoes. People thought it was strange, but really, that’s what we do. It’s about giving things back to the earth, about growing things. It’s a mutual respect for the land, and it’s important to us all.
K: Thank you so much for sharing that with us, Sophia. I’m so looking forward to working with you on these new Moomin projects.
S: Yes, I’m looking forward to it, too! It’s been lovely talking with you, Kally.
‘All Moomin images © Moomin Characters TM’
Photo of Sophia Jansson by Anna-Karin Sallander