I have known about the Finnish design brand Marimekko since I was a child in the 1960’s. But it has been through my work with my clients, and their Pettit and Sevitt homes of the 1960’s and 1970’s, as well as the contributions of the members of the “Pettit and Sevitt Owners and Friends Club”, that I have had more exposure to this vibrant design company.
The opportunity to see more was too great to resist as I recently made the day trip to the Marimekko exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery (3 March 2018 to 11 June 2018), where I learnt more about the company, it’s history and it’s design aesthetic.
Marimekko was established in the post war-years in Helsinki, by the wife of the owner of a textile printing company, Armi Ratia. She started by engaging some promising young artists to design some bold, colourful and dramatic patterns. She then used the services of local fashion designer, Ritta Immomen, to design a range of dresses that were presented in a fashion show in May 1951. This show was well received by the buying public and was the first step towards Marimekko’s success. During the 1950’s the company was primarily a small business focussing on clothes made with the fabrics containing their bold designs, with the first dressmaking shop opening in 1959. The clothing designs were very simple and clean, almost sparse, so as not to interrupt the printed patterns in the fabric. “Marimekko” is a combination of two words: “Mari” for Mary, and “mekko” meaning dress. Their clothing was intended for every woman.
While they had been exporting to Sweden in the 1950’s, their big international break came exporting to Design Research, a business with a chain of stores in America in 1959. In 1960 Marimekko became a household name when Jacqueline Kennedy bought seven Marimekko dresses. She was photographed with her husband for the cover of Sports Illustrated wearing one of the soon to be iconic Marimekko styles.
In the 1960’s, Australia’s society interior designer, Marion Hall Best, started to import Marimekko materials, which were displayed in her Woollahra showroom. She introduced these fabrics to the Australian public by specifying them in her commissions which were very colourful and widely published.
Shortly afterwards, Pettit and Sevitt, the modernist inspired, project home builder, started to use Marimekko fabrics in their popular display homes as they were a very complementary fit with their modernist origins. During the 1960’s Marimekko rapidly expanded by bringing international designers into the Marimekko stable, growing the number of retail outlets, and expanding into homewares.
The Bendigo Art Gallery’s exhibition was spectacular, thoughtfully curated and featured everything you would want to know about Marimekko. This ranged from designers’ hand sketches, to artists’ bold paints, and homewares. The exhibition’s focal point was a broad range of their clothes from the various decades displayed on mannequins, with many large samples of their fabric designs as backdrops. There were some interesting videos showing the design and production techniques, as well as Marimekko souveniers at the art gallery shop. If that wasn’t enough there was also a pop-up Marimekko shop almost opposite the gallery.
Some of the fabrics I recognised, such as the classic “Unikko” poppy print, but most I didn’t know, but they were easily recognisable as belonging to the Marimekko stable with their colour confidence and form. The whole exhibition was one of the most joyous and colourful exhibitions I have ever seen. It made me think about the current fashion in interior design for the endless variations of greys, beiges and “greiges” that seem to populate all of our design magazines. Perhaps a good dose of Marimekko fabrics and home décor could be the antidote to the current fashion for greige houses?
For information on the opening dates and times for the Marimekko exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery (closes 11th June 2018), here is a link:
To join the “Pettit and Sevitt Owners and Friends Club” on Facebook here is a link:
To learn more about Marimekko in Australia here is a link to their Australian website:
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