A crumbling infrastructure and a standard wash of dull, muddied colors announced a time of little joy.
Finland was recovering from a devastated economy and making war reparations. It was the early 1950’s, and one of the darkest and coldest places on earth was left a poor country after World War II. Armi Ratia had an idea that could save her husband’s textile company, and help put a smile on the faces of her fellow citizens.
In a daring move, Armi and Viljo Ratia hired artists to create bright and bold prints, and founded Marimekko. Armi used color to speak for the vitality and happiness experienced in everyday, small moments. She was a force to be reckoned with; conceiving prints that it’s been said, encourage conversation but are not ingratiating. Like the Marimekko woman, the designs stand on their own–not trying to win anyone over.
We want to free people.
Ripe for mod fashion of the ‘60’s, Marimekko built a strong base in the U.S. During the 1960 presidential campaign, Jacqueline Kennedy helped advance the Finnish brand when she bought several dresses for leisure and politicking. Marimekko Executive Chairman Mika Ihamuotila sees these timeless designs as speaking to women with the courage to be themselves—women who bare the spirit of their personality. “We want to free people.” It’s style that is beautiful for a very long time because there is some sort of “love relationship” to it. This effort for a longtime connection serves the company’s early-pioneering sustainability efforts too.
I remembered Marimekko with nostalgia, thinking about punches of groovy flowers and hot colors that decorated girls’ beds and windows. One day a couple years ago, I discovered the Marimekko store on Fifth Avenue. Walking in I felt lifted and happy—but I had no idea there was clothing too! When I saw strength of cut celebrated with bold pattern, not simplified and given to it, well, it sent me over the edge. Cool wide-leg pants, kimono sleeves, easy tunics that don’t hold a woman back. As if to say, “Come on in, and let your self out.”
I was taken with the most graphic, colorful dresses, with lines that were new to the eye. Maybe the cheerful prints work so well because they are exhibited on serious style. Silhouettes that stand out, even in black, like in the choicest pair of flared trousers called, the Karol. No tight minis or cleavage-baring tops here. The clothing keeps with Marimekko’s intention–“It’s not the dress that makes the woman sexy, it’s always the woman.” It’s also in what each woman styles into it. Marimekko’s pieces work together strongly, or they are jumping off points for a basic jacket or crisp white shirt. Like a big box of crayons set before me, the urge to play, and mix and match is heady.
A lead designer at Marimekko said that the circle is the friendliest and happiest shape in the world. Like Marimekko, it’s a line that has no end.
Cover & Top Image: From Cooper Hewitt Museum Presentation . Watercolor Cover Image by Aino-Maija Metsola, Marimekko Print Designer & Illustrator.
Fashion & Store Photos: Courtesy Marimekko.