Marimekko conquered the world of design with powerful colours and innovative forms
The Finnish textile company Marimekko was founded by Armi and Viljo Ratia in Helsinki in 1951. The name, which means approximately “Mari’s dress,” represents “simple cloches for every day.” Marimekko however, is not known for its simplicity. The bold designs, strong colours, and innovative shapes of the textile products were responsible for the international breakthrough of the company in the 1960s. Some more milestones in Marimekko's history include the Unikko Collection, created by Maija Isola, and the Siirtolapuutarha Collection by Maija Louekari and Sami Ruotsalainen.
Marimekko and its origins
The origins of the company Marimekko date back to the textile company Printex, which has been founded by Viljo Ratia in 1949 in reaction to the large clothes demand of the post-war period. Armi Ratia also designed some patterns that were sold, but she did not consider herself a designer. Then came Maija Isola as the young and ambitionous chief designer to Printex.
Founding years of Marimekko
Marimekko was founded in 1951 with the aim of selling furniture and clothes from Printex. When Marimekko presented its first collection – with unusually happy and colourful fashion for that time – in 1953, the response was big. In 1953, Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi joined the design team and introduced design politics known as “anti-fashion.” With bold cuts, basic materials, and a progressive brand image, Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi set trends, rather than following them. That’s how the company Marimekko managed financially until 1955, becoming more popular internationally before being presented at the world exposition in Brussels in 1958.
The Brussels world exposition encouraged contracts from all over the world, bringing Marimekko clothes to America, where the president’s wife, Jaqueline Kennedy, bought seven dresses, ensuring strong, international media attention.
Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi left the company Marimekko at the end of the 1950s, founding his company Vuokko Oy. Subsequently, the artistic director at Marimekko became Annika Rimala.
The use of pure cotton instead of the then newish “wonder material” nylon also meant a difference for Marimekko, effectively ignoring the trends. It also reinforced its image as unconventional company. Precisely because that image was reflected in the simple, chic, and casual style of dress and the bold and colorful fabrics by Annika Rimala, Marimekko in the sixties was very popular with the women in creative occupations.
Marimekko in the 1970s until today
While the 1960s were inspired by Space Age design and psychedelic colours, the 1970s went back to serious and conformist designs. The collection Tasaraita from Annika Rimala from 1969 represents that: The equally striped clothes series included t-shirts, nightgowns, underwear, and shirts and it was meant to compliment the popular jeans trend. But despite (or maybe because of) the sober simplicity, the collection with the blue-white and red-white stripes became a real bestseller.
Armi Ratia passed away in October 1979 which led to Marimekko being sold to the Amer Group in 1985. The philosophy of the company’s founders was upheld; it was still about “being different,” but the promise of large-scale commercial success was not fulfilled. This urgency called Kirsti Paakkanen to take over the company in 1991 and Marimekko was guided out of the loss-zone into a brighter future.
Marimekko does not only design and produce high-class fashion, textiles, and bags, but it also offers a large assortment of ceramics, glass, and many other furnishing elements for the bathroom, bedroom, and living room. In addition to the legendary patterns by Maija Isola, Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi, or Annika Rimala, Marimekko also presents numerous designs by Finnish newcomers and design masters such as Ikka Suppanen, Nina Pirhonen, or Harri Koskinen.
Website of Marimekko