Hellocon Labyrinth of Dreams event report and roundup
I attended my first international lolita event recently and want to talk about it! This is a long read, so buckle up.
Why this event?
I have wanted to go to a lolita event in Europe ever since seeing lots of Instagram posts about Träumerei in 2019 in Germany. I had heard of Hellocon's events before and how well organized they are, I'd wanted to visit Finland someday anyway, and had the money to go on a trip so I decided now was a good time to make it happen! My partner traveled with me because he was also interested in visiting Finland, and though at first he wasn't planning to attend the event with me he ended up coming to the pre-event dinner, main event, and evening party.
This was an optional event offered to attendees. I wanted to participate since it might be a good chance to meet some people before the event started in a more casual, quiet setting. It was in the same hotel that I was staying in. My partner came to the dinner with me because it was our wedding anniversary that day, the menu looked quite good (lots of buffet options as well as a main course of fish), and he was curious to step into my world for a little while since I do it so often for him. The dinner required RSVP and payment in advance.
I was one of the only people not dressed up and sort of wish that I had brought another fancy outfit for it as a way to start conversation. Curse practical concerns (like limited luggage space). The Japanese guests were even in attendance but I was too chicken to say hi while not dressed up. An internet friend still recognized me though (@sahakiel) and it was so wonderful to finally meet her in person! Her travel companions ended up sitting at the same table with us, as well as a couple of people from the UK and someone who had traveled from far northern Finland by himself to attend the event. I ended up chatting a lot with the dinner organizer Tuulia, who is one of Hellocon's main event organizers as well as the owner of indie brand Cloudberry Lady. The table talked a lot about fashion shows (the ones she helped organize that were happening the next day, Japanese brands they'd hosted in previous years, modeling), what to expect the next couple of days, and lots more.
Toward the end of the dinner, Tuulia handed out sticks of salmiakki (salted licorice) to everyone as a gift and this was my first taste of the infamous candy. While I liked it more than I thought I would, and this particular version of it had a nice texture and almost molasses-like flavor to it, I still would not buy it for myself on purpose. But I'm glad I tried it!
Day 1: Labyrinth of Dreams
Fashion shows and modeling
I applied and was accepted to model in the vendors' fashion show for Vanadis Atelier, an indie brand from Sweden that specializes in accessories and brand clothing alterations. I was a little sad that I didn't get to walk for either of the Japanese brands but I understand because there was a really limited number of spots, and upon thinking about it more I was relieved because indie brand shows are usually more relaxed compared to major brand shows, and my obligations were fullfilled after the first fashion show of the day, which was right after the opening ceremony. After that I could change into my personal outfit and be free to enjoy the event for the rest of the day.
|Vanadis Atelier models! (source | photo credit: minapamina)
I received my assignment a few weeks before the event, and the designer and I communicated over Instagram to work out details. She initially asked me if I had any dress I would like to have a bustle added to, and she would alter it as thanks for modeling for her. I unfortunately didn't have anything I wanted altered but I thought this was an incredibly thoughtful and generous gesture. She instead altered a Metamorphose Kitten and Tulip Tulle JSK in mint to be larger, and with her guidance I chose coordinating items from my collection to wear with it.
Models were asked to arrive several hours before the event start time for rehearsal. Attendance was taken and we were given general tips on how to walk while on stage (try to stand/walk tall; look forward rather than down; if wearing a dress, take steps in a single line rather than how you'd normally walk; walk slower than you think you need to because we have a tendency to hurry, and walking slower allows people to get a more thorough look at your outfit). Next, we were lined up in the order we were to appear on stage. The model manager then demonstrated for us the routine for where to walk and where to stop on the stage to pose; the poses were decided by the models unless the designer wanted something specific. Then we walked through the entire show 2 times to practice and have any questions answered. After rehearsal, we were shown the backstage areas to get ready and told what time to be back for the show (12:30 PM). We were allowed to leave the backstage area for VIP shopping time (for VIP ticket holders, which I was not) and to get our event badges in the meantime, but I opted to stay backstage the whole time to make sure I was not late because I knew I'd get distracted, and I did not feel like putting on my personal outfit just to have to change out of it again. It turns out staying backstage was a good thing because I got to spend some time with the other two models for Vanadis Atelier (@matischafrills and @the_frilly_ribbon) and also because something happened where the designer could not meet us backstage until a few minutes before the show to instruct us, we ended up helping one another put on the pieces of our outfits. Matischa apparently knows the designer personally so she was somewhat familiar with her vision. @the_frilly_ribbon's outfit was an apron and skirt type set and I was not entirely sure how to tie everything on as intended, but thankfully I got it mostly right so the designer didn't have to fix much.
One of my favorite parts of getting dressed is giving myself a quick look in the mirror right after putting on the finishing touches, because without fail I get excited about how I look. This time was just as special despite being in colors I don't normally wear (mint green and yellow). I was really happy with how it all came together and I hope the designer was too.
When the time came, we all headed toward the doors, lined up in order to go on stage. This was a particularly fun moment for me seeing all 45 or so of us fully dressed for the parade. It was like that moment of looking at myself in the mirror, times 45. Hell yes. We all look SO GOOD. I didn't feel nervous at all really. I was appearing toward the end so I just watched everyone else through the curtain as I waited my turn.
|source video credit: thefreakyangel
My partner attended Day 1 with me because he wanted to support me and see me walk in the fashion show. I saw comments online from some attendees upset that "normies" were allowed into the event in any capacity, which seems extreme to me. I understand the concern but he was there with me, an active community member, so he's not just some random guy. The entry fee (60 EUR) also seemed high enough to deter creeps and curious strangers. I unfortunately did not have time to put together a proper outfit for him by the time he knew he wanted to go but he didn't need to have one since there was no dress code for the first day. I confirmed this with the Hellocon staff beforehand to be absolutely sure since I know most lolita fashion events require showing up in lolita or formal clothing to be allowed inside. Personally I was thankful that he was welcome, though he did get a lot of "can I help you"s which implies a sense of "you don't look like you belong here" but he showed his badge and all was well. He wore a pastel colored shirt with cats on it to match my runway look, which I thought was sweet.
There are videos of all three of the Hellocon fashion shows on Youtube (links open in new tab):
- Vendors' Fashion Show
(in order: Naddine Atelier, R. R. Memorandum, Summer Tales Boutique, Tabikauppa, Enchanted Dream Couture, AmaStacia, Lumria, Issis Starlust, Cloudberry Lady, Eat Me Ink Me, Illves, Fluffy Tori, Vanadis Atelier, Lady Sloth)
- Atelier Pierrot
Vendor hall and artist alley
After the vendors' fashion show, I changed into my personal outfit for the day: Metamorphose's Gardening Teddy Tiered JSK and the long sleeve blouse made of matching fabric. I picked it because I claim it is my favorite dress but I had not yet worn it anywhere. Time to fix that. I thought long sleeves would be a good choice because I was told it would likely be sort of cold in Helsinki but it ended up being warm and humid so it ended up being a little too much. I was just thankful it was made of cotton and was breathable!
|blessedly managed to avoid rain the whole day.
Then I headed straight to the vendor hall and artist alley. This is where I spent most of my time because I love examining all the pretty things for sale in person.
|the vendor hall all set up, just before opening for VIP ticket holders
I also knew a bunch of internet friends and other people in my social media orbit would be here and I wanted to meet them (a major motivation for attending the event). It was pretty surreal. As a friend in my community said about a different jfashion event we both
attended: "Wait, I put these people in 'egl legend' category in my brain
and here they are walking around? Saying hi to me?!" Even though I am always kind of worried about making someone feel weird by going up to them and being like "HEY I know you from the internet" I could not be timid here because this was a rare opportunity. Turns out most people are actually fine with that at an event like this and are even incredibly nice to you about it.
Of course I also bought my share of goodies too. It was really nice to be able to shop such a variety of European indie brands and artists' work in person. I did take a peek at the Atelier Pierrot and Metamorphose booths too but I got there late and all of the things I would have been interested to take a closer look at were already gone.
Admittedly I missed a lot of these because I was busy shopping and socializing but I did manage to attend most of the Atelier Pierrot and Metamorphose Q&A sessions. I was really impressed with the live interpreting that went on since there were three languages involved (Japanese, Finnish, English). They asked more or less the same set of questions to both the Japanese designers, Atelier Pierrot CEO Yuko Ashizawa and Metamorphose head designer Chinatsu Taira. I was really surprised to find out that Atelier Pierrot's entire company, including shop staff, is only about 20 people!
I also joined for the last 10 minutes or so of Erikari's "Doodling Lolita Elements with Erika" panel and @frillyalamode went with me! I got a quick crash course in learning to draw lace and parasols, and I got a cute sticker of one of Erika's doodles that I promptly put on my new phone case.
|(source | photo credit: minapamina)
Though I don't recall if I was in the room when it happened, @nefaliakei presented the Atelier Pierrot and Metamorphose designers with special photo books from the international plus size community to thank them for their brands' efforts to offer larger sizes. She and another person (@mach2kudou) organized this effort about 2 months before the convention to collect photos and messages from community members who wear the two brands, and designed and printed the books in time for the event. I submitted photos to both of these books and was happy to be part of this project, and am grateful to the organizers for their efforts.
|the scrapbook pages (and back cover!) that my photos ended up on
Evening party: The Hall of the Goblin King
Day 2: Thé a la Titania
Day 2 of the event was a fairy and magical creature themed tea party. It was held in the same venue as the previous day, which was convenient.
I wore a floral print Triple Fortune dress (Victorian Rose Babydoll OP) with lots of handmade flower accessories and white accents. I wore the same shoes that I brought for the fashion show and tied flowers to them for a different look. I was delighted to see SO many people wearing their Metamorphose gobelins and florals. There were also lots and lots of people wearing butterfly and fairy wings.
|view of the venue from the upstairs balcony
I ended up sitting at a table with people from many different countries and it made for really interesting conversation. Topics included the fun and frustrations of planning and hosting meetups (there seem to be a lot of the same challenges regardless of country) and our impressions of Finland. I love that the Finnish people I met always seem to like hearing these especially when they are positive.
The food at the tea was quite nice, and there was plenty to go around, enough for people to have seconds! I appreciated that there was a good amount of both protein and salad/vegetables in addition to bread items. The cheesecake dessert (next to the thing in the glass on the plate in the above picture) was my very favorite, exceptionally good. The only thing I tried and didn't enjoy was the blue tea, but I think maybe because I served myself when it was almost completely gone and it might have been scorched from heating so long. Others said it tasted like cotton candy or fruit to them, and that was decidedly not what mine tasted like. The juice drink was nice though. I think it was raspberry or cranberry flavored.
There was a short play performed about an hour after food was served. It was a reimagination of the Oberon and Titania story (the king and queen of fairies) with some historical Nordic flair. I saw big painted wooden shields backstage while I was getting ready for the fashion show on Day 1, and I finally learned what they were for. There was a battle between a troll and several of the other characters in the play, and the shields were used to defend against real axes and a spear! The actors appeared to be trained in fighting with these weapons but there was still an element of danger so it was exciting to watch, and I loved the costumes. You can see footage of it in some other attendees' video recaps (linked at the end of my post).
There was also a raffle with lots of good prizes! I didn't win anything but it was nice to see everyone get so excited when they won. (And to get really excited with @nefaliakei when they got to the Metamorphose prizes because we're both huge Meta fans, and then scowling together when neither of our numbers were called for any of them, haha.) Someone else at our table won one of these skirts though and it was cool to see it up close. My favorite was the one where they were about to draw another number because no one was claiming the prize, and then one of the event staff popped out of one of the upper windows of the staff room and was like "wait, did you say x number?? That's me! I've never won anything before in my entire life! I'm so happy!" The most unusual prizes were two pink plastic buckets with "Hellocon" printed on the side in holographic foil text. The buckets are apparently a tradition in the Finnish community.
The designers of Metamorphose and Atelier Pierrot additionally gave 1 prize each for their personal favorite coordinate at the tea. Atelier Pierrot chose @itscakejumper and Metamorphose chose @frillypotato (click links to see Instagram reels of their winning outfits!) I remarked later to Cake that her outfit looked a LOT like the Fazer salmiakki packaging and I like to think she was amused.
We had to clear out of the building pretty quickly after the end of the party but people did stand outside for a while and chat and take photos. I spent a little more time socializing before heading back to the hotel to change and continue vacationing with my partner.
Impressions of Helsinki and Finland
I stayed in Helsinki for my entire visit. I would absolutely go back, lolita event or no, because I loved it. It felt a little like Japan with its nice public transportation and people generally leaving you alone in public (but being really friendly when we did interact!) but less crowded, and more chill, relaxed vibes. For a big city there were lots of trees and little parks and green spaces. Bike lanes everywhere. We stayed around the city center and it was very walkable, and we used scooters (my partner finally convinced me to try them) or trams when we got tired. I was surprised that lots of public transportation services ran on the honor system. For example, there were no ticket gates to get in and out of the train. You just buy your ticket and walk on, and get out without checking the ticket at a gate somewhere to leave. I know there is someone occasionally checking and if you are caught without a valid ticket there's a large fine, but I personally did not encounter anyone checking tickets the entire time I was there. Another thing I really love about hotels in Europe is that you can open the room windows and I took full advantage of that since the weather was decent. I unfortunately didn't get to see any other cities in Finland but would love to try going outside Helsinki next time.
|looking back at the Helsinki shoreline on the ferry to Suomenlinna
We were there for about 6 days total, so my partner and I had some time to do sightseeing and go shopping and wander around and have fun. A long time friend has been living in Helsinki since early 2022 so we got to catch up with her and her family (and meet their child for the first time!) when I wasn't doing Hellocon things, and she gave us LOTS of good recommendations for things to do and see and eat. Food and drink was expensive but very good. The quality of food in Europe just generally feels higher than in the US, and I don't know if that's real or imagined but I enjoyed it while I could. The salmon certainly tastes better than at home so I made a point of eating it every day, even at breakfast.
|The hotel breakfast was a m a z i n g. Lots of variety and all very tasty.
If you like gin, Finland makes really nice stuff. We fell in love with Kyrö gin (especially the fancy gin-and-tonics at the evening party that we later recreated for our friends) and had our share of a variety of flavors of long drink. I grew fond of Karelian pies too, and even made them at home after I got back because I missed them. I wish I'd brought home more chocolate. Finland also has REALLY GOOD ice cream treats, which I could not bring back to the US for obvious reasons but please try them if you go.
|You are welcome to send me a pile of these Julia candies from Karlfazer at any time. (source)
We also went to a fancy sauna and it was SO nice. I got to experience a wood-fired sauna for the first time (apparently the steam is a bit more soft and gentle than from an electric heater with stones) and we got to plunge into the Baltic Sea between sessions (it was COLD but refreshing). We even bumped into someone from the event there, which was quite the coincidence considering reservations are so limited! My partner used to have a barrel sauna at home when he was a child and has always kind of wanted to build one, and after this trip he has now committed to building one at our house. You will hear no complaint from me.
|this is my sauna happy dance
Further event coverage and photos
Thanks for reading to the end! My experience is only one perspective of many. Here are public event recap blogs and videos I found from other people who attended. All links will open in a new tab/window.
- Hellocon 2023 event vlog (by Erikari; you might see me pop in a couple of times!)
- Labyrinth of Dreams event report Part 1 and Part 2 (by Yuki of Czech indie brand Sleeping Doll; we sat at the same tea party table)
- Hellocon 2023 event vlog (by FluffyKawaiiJo)
- Labyrinth of Dreams event vlog (by Lou Graves)
- Labyrinth of Dreams Day 1 (by TheFreakyAngel)
- Labyrinth of Dreams Day 2 (by TheFreakyAngel)
- Hellocon 2023 recap (by LavenderWonderCloud)
- Hellocon 2023 recap post (by ventovir/Will of the Forsaken)
- Hellocon 2023 (by Laventeli, one of the panel presenters)
- Official event photos