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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The timeless beauty of Marimekko

In 1949, Armi Ratia’s company Printex became Marimekko, and she already knew she wanted to stand out from the crowd. The year 1951 saw the first Marimekko fashion show in Helsinki, and the first Marimekko shop opened the next year. In 1954, Ratia wanted a  distinctive symbol for the company, so a graphic designer put paper into an Olivetti, typed the lower case letter “m” and the simple logo was born.

Young designer Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi, who had joined the company in 1953, created the iconic Marimekko Jokapoika shirt in 1956. Interestingly, master designer Tapio Wirkkala was one of the first to wear the shirt. It was an instant hit and remains popular today.

Marimekko went to the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958, and interest started to grow in the United States. A couple of years later, Jacqueline Kennedy posed for the cover of Sports Illustrated in a red sleeveless Marimekko dress, and instantly Elle, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Women’s World Daily and the New York Times spread the word like wildfire.

In 1964 Maija Isola defied Armi Ratia’s ban on florals and created another iconic design, the Inikko pattern. Other great fabric designs would come from Isola, such as Kaivo, Seireeni, Kivet and Lokki. Eventually, Maija Isola's daughter Kristina would join her at Marimekko, and they would form a design team.

By the mid-60s, Marimekko was firmly established as one of the foremost companies in design and fashion and has continued to be innovative and exciting.

The young Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi

The Jokapoika shirt, worn by Armi Ratia (r)

A typical Marimekko geometric design

The famous Marimekko logo

Jackie Kennedy and Marimekko

Maija Isola and daughter Kristina

Inikko pattern

Kaivo pattern

Kivet pattern

Take a look at this video about the company’s current venture with Converse, as well as some of the company history.


  1. The geometric design gown? kaftan? is quite eye popping. I'm always drawn to Marimekko fabrics. Thanks for posting.

  2. I love Marimekko. Swoon. I have a few tea towels, oven mitts - small stuff. My mom just sewed the cutest mini table cloth from Marimekko fabric for me. I should post some pictures . . .

    It is hard to find Marimekko clothes & jewellery. The concept store in Boston had some clothes but no jewellery. A store in Thunder Bay (Canada) has an awesome selection of textiles; no clothes but lots of bolts of fabric and housewares.

  3. @Tanya: I read that Crate and Barrel is opening a Marimekko shop at their Soho location in New York. The blurb said they will have textiles, accessories, bags, bed and bath, kitchen dining and "more." What the "more" is, and whether or not the accessories will just be for the home, I don't know.

  4. What prompted this post was the YouTube video I included. Till I watched it, I had never thought of Marimekko as a mid-century company. Since I was a teenager in the mid-60s, which is when the company gained widespread recognition in the US, in my mind it was part of the Mod Era of the late 60s and early 70s. Boy, was I wrong! It was founded the year after I was born.

  5. Love seeing women in business back in the day too. I think there was this idea that all women were housewives, and that wasn't true.

  6. I love Marimekko! I have to say I'm not as jazzed about the Converse patterns as I thought I would be. I guess I was hoping for an Inikko pair to match my Marimekko umbrella.
    I would love to have more Marimekko housewares.

  7. @monogirl: I'm kinda a geometric gal myself, so I love the lowtops in the Kirppu pattern. But the purple and orange Tarha is pretty sweet. I have to admit, I was a little surprised at the patterns they chose, but I guess a lot of their huge prints don't translate well to shoes.

  8. @1950sarh: Yes, there were a few powerful businesswomen back then. Hooray for their courage! Unfortunately, though, a lot of women back then were led to believe that going to college was just for finding a suitable husband.