Love Marimekko

Yesterday it was incredibly warm in Toronto –  14 degrees C – therefore,  in spite of the rain, I decided to go down to the Textile Museum of Canada to view their new exhibit “Marimekko, with Love” curated by Shauna McCabe.

The Textile Museum of Canada

The Textile Museum of Canada

Marimekko Oy of Finland has a large place in my own history: in my late teens/early twenties I worked for a Finnish Design Company here in Toronto that imported and retailed Marimekko textiles, clothing, and homewares.    I  absorbed the Marimekko design aesthetic – geometric pattern, bold and bright colours, and spontaneous expression.    I’ve noticed recently that Marimekko is trending once again – hopefully this will continue.

Marimekko Fabrics, screen printed cotton.  The first two from the left were designed by Maija Isola, on of the company's chief designers, in the early 1960s.

Marimekko Fabrics, screen printed cotton. The first two from the left were designed in the early 1960s by Maija Isola, one of the company’s chief designers.

A largely agrarian nation historically, Finland was a latecomer to industrialization.  The Finns had more than their share of unwelcome visitors over the centuries as well: first the Swedish, then the Soviets followed closely by the Nazi Germans.    By 1945,   their economy was in dire straits.  The 1950s witnessed a period of rapid industrialization and today Finland is one of the wealthiest per capita of the developed nations.   Marimekko Oy was founded by Armi and Viljo Ratia in 1951.

An image of Armi Ratia in 1975 from the exhibition.

An image of Marimekko founder Armi Ratia in 1975 –  from the exhibition.  She is wearing a “Jokopoika” (every boy) shirt designed by Vuokko Nurmesniemi in the early 1950s.  These  distinctive colourful shirts are still made today and are commonly referred to as the ‘architect’s shirt’.

The collection on display at the Textile Museum draws largely from that of Janis and Helga Kravis, the founders of  Karelia Studio ( est.1959) –  the first Canadian importer  and retailer of Marimekko products.   There are several vitrines throughout the exhibition that display early fabric samples, marketing brochures, and magazine articles, as well as   Christmas cards, photographs, and personal letters.  The latter are a testament to the friendship that developed between the two companies.

vitrine

The paper archive arranged in these vitrines  is fascinating and well worth studying.

vitrine 1

The clothing Marimekko manufactured was designed to be worked in – sturdy cotton fabrication with a loose and comfortable fit.   The big innovation was that this ‘uniform’ was not grey and ‘institutional’  but bright and bold and invigorating.

Samples of clothing beginning with the Juolukko (bilberry) dress on the left (1962) and ending with a dress in the 'Oasis' pattern from 1967 by Annika Rimala.  The jokopoika shirt is second from the left.

Samples of clothing manufactured by Marimekko beginning with the Juolukko (bilberry) dress on the left (1962) and ending with a dress in the ‘Oasis’ pattern from 1967 by Annika Rimala. The jokopoika shirt is second from the left.

I love this “Shoemaker’s Apron” from c. 1978 made from several different scraps of Marimekko fabric.

'Suutarin Essu'  or Shoemaker's Apron, designer unknown, screen printed cotton. Helsinki, Finland.

‘Suutarin Essu’ or Shoemaker’s Apron, designer unknown, screen printed cotton. Helsinki, Finland.

I can think of many dark and dreary days when wearing this pink ‘bog bilberry’ dress would just make the day that much brighter.

dress

Without doubt it is  the Marimekko textiles that are the real stars of this show.  I’ve noticed many Canadian design magazines recommending that an effective way to add a professional  flair to your room is to mount a big piece of bright fabric on the wall.  Well, in the the modern era, it was Marimekko Oy who  re- invented this concept.

Helsinki pattern 1952/2012 - originally designed by Per-Olaf Nystrom in 1952, this fabric was brought back into production in 2012 to commemorate  the designation of Helsinki as a World Design Capital.

Helsinki pattern 1952/2012 – originally designed by Per-Olaf Nystrom in 1952, this fabric was brought back into production in 2012 to commemorate the designation of Helsinki as a World Design Capital. (Collection Marimekko)

Pippurikera pattern, 1963, designed by Annika Rimala, screen printed cotton.

Resla pattern,1972 , designed by Maija Isola, screen printed cotton. (Collection of Gunter Kravis)

Fabric swatches (on walls) and bolts of various Marimekko Oy fabrics.

Fabric swatches (on walls) and bolts of various Marimekko Oy fabrics.

Possibly my favourite image from the exhibit is this promotional brochure photo from the early 1970s.  In the foreground is a comforter made of ‘Pepe’ fabric designed by Maija Isola in 1972.  It captures the essence of Marimekko – a fearless dedication to mixing the traditional (familiar) with the unconventional (bold)  in the belief that their design complement will force us to re-value and treasure both anew.

Promotional photograph showing 'Pepe' comforter in the foreground.

Promotional photograph showing ‘Pepe’ comforter in the foreground.

Here is the original fabric, from my own collection of Marimekko fabrics.

"Pepe" by Maija Isola for Marimekko Oy, 1972 (my own collection)

“Pepe” by Maija Isola for Marimekko Oy, 1972 (my personal collection)

The title of the show, “Marimekko, with love” comes from Armi Ratia herself.  This is how she ended much of her business correspondence.   She was a fiercely patriotic visionary who believed in the global community.   The success of Marimekko Oy is due in part to  the expressive freedom she gave to her designers – something she believed was her greatest legacy.  In so doing, she invigorated and united the design community of Finland, and paved the way for its current success.

The exhibit “Marimekko, with Love”  is on until April 21st, 2013, and  I  strongly encourage you to take a couple of hours and visit it.  If you are currently enduring the Canadian winter, you could definitely benefit from this wonderful injection of ‘colour’ and design passion.  Shauna McCabe has sensitively curated this restropective, effectively capturing the spirit of  Marimekko Oy and its early connection to Canada.

The Textile Museum of Canada is located at 55 Centre Avenue, Toronto (at University and Dundas/the St. Patrick subway station).  Visit their website http://www.textilemuseum.ca for more details as well as the related upcoming programs and events associated with this show.

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9 Comments

Filed under Fabric, Favourites, Textiles, Uncategorized

9 responses to “Love Marimekko

  1. turtlemapper

    I love those stripped shirts and miss the Marimekko sheets I used to have ; (

  2. Thanks for sharing all this info with us! It is like a mini textile course.

  3. ixony

    What a superb article. Your photos are great to see. It all makes me want to go on a design tour of Finland. I miss Karelia on Front Street.

  4. Goodmorning!
    I so enjoyed your blogpost about Marimekko! I have been doing some research into a dress I have found secondhand. I am writing a blogpost on my (non profit) quilting blog about this great find. My yellow dress looks very similar to the bright pink shirt-dress in your pictures. I would like to use your photograph to show my readers the wonderful Marimekko designs. Is it allright if I use your photographs (the close-up of the pink shirt-dress and the hanging shirts and dresses) and (of course) link back to your blog?
    Thank you very much!
    Esther
    esthersipatchandquilt at yahoo dot com
    ipatchandquilt dot wordpress dot com

    • Hello! Thank you for your comments about my post on Marimekko – I’m so happy to learn that you enjoyed reading it…I really enjoyed writing it and hope to do more posts of that type. You may certainly use my photos with credit and a link would be great. All the best, and I will start following your blog.
      Susan

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