I spent the last year working on a book about Marimekko and its founder Armi Ratia who, 70 years ago, set out to change the world with textiles.
This wasn’t premeditated; her husband bought an oil-cloth firm, and Ratia, who had been planning to leave advertising to write a novel, joined in the new venture. She had some experience working with fabrics, but more importantly, the strong-willed Ratia had a vision. Inspired by the Bauhaus, she aimed to uplift daily life through quality design.
1941 Helsinki, though war-torn, was home to many idealistic and creative Finns who were energized to build a new society. Ratia soon had a team of creatives working for her and designing bold, graphically dynamic, and expressive prints that broke with tradition.
They were, in fact, ahead of their time. In 1951, Ratia hired a designer to make them up into dresses presented on models at a hotel in Helsinki and a collective light bulb seemed to switch on—demand grew, and not only in Finland.
In 1960, Jacqueline Kennedy appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated wearing one of the A-line Marimekkos she bought in the Design Research store in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Marimekko dresses had few seams or tucks in order to best respect the textile design. They also liberated the body, allowing women freedom and motion, which was not the prevailing trend in the 1950s. Ratia always said she had no time for fashion and saw the dresses, the famous striped Jokapoika shirts, etc. as an extension of an idea for living,
Many of Marimekko’s most recognizable patterns were created by the artist and textile designer Maija Isola, who, like Ratia, was an iconoclast. In 1964 Isola introduced Unikko, the vibrant poppy print that serves as the company’s de facto, in defiance of floral patterns. Almost every collection since then has had one.
Originally published by Vogue