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.
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.
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.
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.
The paper archive arranged in these vitrines is fascinating and well worth studying.
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.
I love this “Shoemaker’s Apron” from c. 1978 made from several different scraps of Marimekko fabric.
I can think of many dark and dreary days when wearing this pink ‘bog bilberry’ dress would just make the day that much brighter.
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.
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.
Here is the original fabric, from my own collection of Marimekko fabrics.
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.