MARIMEKKO - Fashion Designer Encyclopedia



Finnish textile and clothing design firm

Founded: by Armi Ratia (1912-79) and Viljo Ratia in Helsinki in 1951. Company History: Fabrics introduced in the U.S. by Design Research stores, from 1951; ventured into the U.S., early 1960s; signed licensing agreement with Dan River company for bed linens, 1976; wallpaper and home furnishing lines introduced, 1978; firm acquired by Amergroup, Finland, 1985, stopped selling directly to U.S., 1989; sold to Kristi Paakkanen, in 1991; new Helsinki flagship shop opened, 1993; opened store in Mexico City, 1994; signed new licenses for rugs and children's dinnerware, 1994; exclusive product placement with Mervyn's and Crate & Barrel, 1996; launched new bed linen collections exclusively with Crate & Barrel, 1998; signed with DelGreco Textiles for fabrics in U.S., 1999; new wallcovering and coordinating fabric agreement with Imperial Home Decor, 2000. Company Address: Marimekko Oy, Puusepankatu 4, Helsinki 00810, Finland.

Publications

By MARIMEKKO:

Books

Marimekko-Printex Oy, The Marimekko Story, Helsinki, 1964.

Marimekko, New York, 1980, 1989.

Marimekko Oy Architect Colleciton, Helsinki, 1982.

On MARIMEKKO:

Books

Beer, Eileene Harrison, Scandinavian Design: Objects of a Life Style, New York, 1975.

Lambert, Eleanor, World of Fashion: People, Places, Resources, New York & London, 1976.

Suomen Taideteollisuusyhdistys, Women Who Create, Helsinki, 1984.

Suhonen, Pekko, Phenomenon Marimekko, Helsinki, 1986.

Ainamo, Antti, Industrial Design and Business Performance: A Case Study of Design Management in a Finnish Fashion Firm, Helsinki, 1996.

Articles

Davies, David, "Fabrics by Marimekko," in Design (London), August 1968.

Lintman, Jaako, "Finland Marches Forward," in Design, No. 245,May 1969.

"Bright Spell Forecast," in Design, October 1973.

Tulberg, Diana, "That Old Marimekko Magic," in Designed in Finland 1975 (Helsinki), 1975.

Holm, Aase, "Marimekko," in Mobilia (Amsterdam), No. 284, 1979.

Apple, R.W., "Finland's Spirited Designer," in the New York Times, 2August 1979.

Slesin, Suzanne, "Finnish and Muted," in the New York Times, 16September 1979.

"Armi Ratia, Marimekko Founder and Innovator in Printed Fabrics,"[obituary] in the New York Times, 4 October 1979.

Furman, Phyllis, "Marimekko's Designs on a Turnaround," in Crain's New York Business, 5 September 1988.

Fraser, Mark, "Marimekko on the Move in America," in HFN (Weekly Home Furnishings Newspaper), 20 November 1989.

Boyle-Schwartz, Donna, "Thoroughly Modern Marimekko," in HFN (Weekly Home Furnishings Newspaper), 26 July 1993.

——, "Marimekko Inks Newmark, Selandia," in HFN (Weekly Home Furnishings Newspaper), 24 October 1994.

Orenstein, Alison F., "Marimekko Revs Up," in HFN (Weekly Home Furnishings Newspaper), 24 June 1996.

Boyle-Schwartz, Donna, "A Crate & Barrel Exclusive…for Bedding with Marimekko Designs," in HFN (Weekly Home Furnishings Newspaper), 26 January 1998.

Gilbert, Daniela, "Marimekko Back in Spotlight," in HFN (Weekly Home Furnishings Newspaper), 13 July 1998.

——, "Marimekko Set to Re-Cover North America in Fabric," in HFN (Weekly Home Furnishings Newspaper), 25 January 1999.

"The Finnish Line," in Interior Design, November 1999.

"Marimekko Ready for Spring," in HFN (Weekly Home Furnishings Newspaper), 17 January 2000.

Stevens, Kimberly, and William L. Hamilton, "Trying on Those Supergraphics Again," in the New York Times, 31 July 2001.

***

A strong Finnish design movement emerged after World War II and was given decisive impetus by the International Triennales of 1951 and 1954 which defined the concept of "Finish design." By formally integrating design into manufacturing, textiles from Marimekko acquired international attention through their identification of an exclusive market responsive to the strong Finnish design aesthetic.

Marimekko was founded by Armi and Viljo Ratia in 1951 and has since established a reputation for producing quality textiles for home furnishings and clothing. The Finland-based company actually began in 1949 by acquiring Printex Oy—an oilcloth factory in the suburbs of Helsinki. After a refit, the factory reintroduced the craft-based technique of hand silk-screen printing on cotton sheeting. The technique, which was recognized by resulting irregularities and repeat lines, evoked a human feel to each design. Although production techniques at Marimekko were mechanized long ago, the company maintains hand-crafted quality in its printing. Its use of decorative designs and natural fibers strengthened its commitment to the Scandinavian affinity to nature.

Under the design direction of Armi Ratia, the company broke ranks with conventional Finnish textile designers and implemented a range of nonfigurative patterns, using abstract graphic designs of art colleagues. The first collection of simply cut dresses, introduced in 1951 in Helsinki, originated as a promotional vehicle for the company's printed cotton fabrics. Wraparound and front-buttoned garments were included, accentuating the textiles rather than the styling of the garments. The collection was called Marimekko, combining the old-fashioned Finnish girl's name of Maria and the term mekko which described a tow shirt, open at the back and worn like a pinafore. Since then "Maria's little dress" expanded into home furnishing textiles, with overseas licensing agreements (initiated in 1968) for wall coverings, bedding, decorative fabrics, paper products, table linens, kitchenware, ceramics, glassware, rugs, and wallcoverings.

The textile patterns used by Marimekko have given the firm a unique identity throughout the world; inspired by elements, forms, and colors taken from Finland's landscape and national heritage. At the same time, however, Marimekko's textile designs embrace experimental ideas and contemporary graphic thinking, often resulting in bold patterns and saturated colors. Marimekko designs are based on an understanding of modernity, rather than concerns for contemporary fashion trends.

Marimekko's garments sought to incorporate functionalist ideas; comfort and timelessness were strikingly evident in the design of the fabrics themselves. Designs produced in the 1950s by Maiha Isola and Vuokko Nurmesniemi (founder of Vuokko in 1964) included small, simple stripes and nature-inspired graphic prints in black and white. By the 1960s there were oversized decorative graphics, flowers, and Op-Art-inspired prints, reflecting the playful and opulent mood of the period. By the end of the 1970s stripes were rendered primarily in bold primary colors as exemplified by the Peltomies series (1975-79). Similar designs continued to be produced through the next decade, with geometric patterns scaled for furniture in shades including mauve, opal, and midnight.

Marimekko's designs came full circle in the 1990s collections— Fujiwo Ishimoto (prints in celebration of the 75th anniversary of Finnish Independence), Jukka Rintala (womenswear), and Elina Helenius and Jatta Salonen (prints and patterns) returned to the natural patterns and colored world of Finland's seasons and landscape, which inspired original designs of the 1950s. By 1994 there were two dozen Marimekko stores worldwide, with 22 in Finland, one in Germany, and its first shop outside Europe opening in Mexico. The company, which had stopped direct selling to the U.S. at the end of the 1980s, staged comeback with two new licensing agreements with Selandia Designs and the Newmark Rug Company.

Selandia signed on to produce children's dinnerware, snack trays, and lunchbags coordinated to Marimekko's textile designs, while Newmark created rugs or all sized and shapes matching Marimekko kitchen and bath collections. Further U.S. exposure came from product placements with Mervyn's and Crate & Barrel in bed linens through its American distributor, Revman. Mervyn's began displaying Marimekko bed linens in its 297 stores in 1996; Crate & Barrel used simple leaf-designed collections of sheets, pillow cases, and comforters to showcase their beds. "Marimekko is what we use to decorate," Betty Kahn, a spokesperson for Crate & Barrel told HFN (Weekly Home Furnishings Network Newspaper) (24 June 1996). The popular ensemble, Kahn explained, became the "basic design element in our stores, so it's more than just selling [Marimekko's] sheets; we have a symbiotic relationship."

Marimekko and Crate & Barrel continued their association and in 1998 five new bedding ensembles and accessories debuted exclusively at Crate & Barrel stores. "Marimekko represents something unique and special," Carole Newton, product manager and textiles buyer for Crate & Barrel stated to HFN (26 January 1998). "Marimekko and Crate & Barrel go together very well; we have a similar philosophy…. There's a real synergy between our classic contemporary points of view."

By the end of the 20th century, Marimekko had engineered a major comeback in the U.S., with fabric (for both indoor and outdoor use), wallcoverings, bed linens, rugs and much more available to American buyers through a series of licenses. Though not as well known in America as many other textiles firms, Marimekko's bold, simple, classic print designs and characteristic use of color have established a permanently recognizable and highly individualistic identity that remains to this day.

—Teal Triggs;

updated by Owen James



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