The story of Finnish design brand Marimekko
Marimekko was one of the first Scandinavian brands I came across when I was younger and I’ve been in love with it ever since. So I wanted to tell you its story.
Founded in Finland, Marimekko is famous for its bold textiles and vibrant use of colour. Its products are sold in 40 countries, employs over 500 people and sells everything from tea towels to teapots.
It was originally founded in 1951 in Helsinki by Armi and Viljo Ratia. They set up an oil-cloth business which unfortunately failed, but let them to turn their factory into a garment plant instead. Armi asked artist friends to apply their designs to textiles, and to show how the fabric they were making could be used. They then designed and sold a small collection of simple dresses (Marimekko means ‘Mary dress’). Armi and Viljo’s love of colour and contrasting prints was inspired by Finland's stark climate - there a huge differences between the seasons - no sunlight in the winter and 24 hours of sunshine in the summer.
In the 60s, bold prints and boxy styles were in fashion, helping Marimekko grow in popularity. Its fame was helped in the US by Jackie Kennedy, who bought eight Marimekko dresses to wear for the 1960 United States presidential campaign. By 1965, the company employed over 400 people. There were two main designers for Marimekko: Vuokko Nurmesniemi in the 1950s, and Maija Isola in the 1960s.
In 1985, the company was sold to Amer-yhtymä and in the beginning of the 1990s, Marimekko had deteriorated and was considered ready for bankruptcy. It was then bought from Amer by Kirsti Paakkanen, who introduced new business methods in the company and is seen as having saved Marimekko.
Marimekko has a number of signature prints. The most recognisable one is Unikko, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The Unikko story began in 1964, shortly after the company’s founder Armi Ratia had announced that Marimekko would never print a floral pattern. She said that flowers should only bloom in nature. Designer Maija Isola refused to obey Armi’s orders and, in protest, created an entire collection of floral patterns. The Unikko poppy has been in production ever since. The design is adapted every year according to fashions – for example, bold colours in the 60s and earthy, muted colours in the 70s.
The weather diary collection
In December 2011, a group of Marimekko’s designers were intrigued about what they could do with the 'painterly' effects of weather. They commissioned Aino-Maija Metsola to develop the concept, who spent several months gathering photographs, sketches and paintings. The end result was a bold range of fabrics, tableware, home textiles and posters inspired by weather phenomena. They are really beautiful.
Sanna is one of my favourite designers - she has designed a number of ranges for Marimekko (including Marimekko’s calendar). Born in Brighton to a Finnish mother and a British father, she takes inspiration from Scandinavian design from the 50s and 60s and traditional folk costumes from around the world, from the decorated leather and embroidered outfits of the Inuit and Saami people to the decorative costumes and jewellery of the Kenyan Maasai. She spent many childhood summers in her mother's home village of Paltaniemi in Finland and would head into Lapland with her relatives to camp in the wilderness, pick berries and fish for wild salmon.
After studying illustration at the University of Brighton and selling her screen prints in a London shop, her work was noticed by the British band Keane and featured on the group's album cover. This gave her career a huge boost - Annukka joined the Marimekko team of designers in 2008. Her first collection for the brand was inspired by the Kalevala, a famous piece of Finnish literature that originated where her grandmother was born.
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