In 2008, Finnish fashion and textile brand Marimekko won a legal case against Dolce & Gabbana for trademark infringement on its enduring poppy print, Unikko. While it certainly wasn’t the first time a fashion house had ‘borrowed’ a print, the lawsuit signalled a new era for the iconic, 60-year-old company.
With some 3500 iconic prints in the Marimekko archive, the brand had kindly turned a blind eye to countless copycat designers in the past. The Dolce & Gabbana case said firmly: no more mister nice guy.
This more assertive front arrives thanks to Marimekko’s president and CEO of four years, Mika Ihamuotila. With a finance background tempered by a beating artistic heart, Ihamuotila took over the company with not only a vision to restore the ideals and philosophies of its founder, but also to build on an economically viable future.
The famous brand was founded by Armi Ratia in 1951, under what Ihamuotila refers to as “extraordinary circumstances”. “We had just had a war with Russia, Finland was more or less ruined and in what is a very cold and dark country, it's almost paradoxical that out of this darkness came maybe the world’s most colourful and brightest company.”
Made famous by the bold artistic and graphic prints of the 60s and 70s, Marimekko has had its fair share of highs and lows, including near ruin in the early 90s. Some have credited HBO’s Sex and the City for restoring interest in the brand, after Carrie wore a Marimekko dress. But Ihamuotila believes it’s deeper than that. To his mind, it’s the original philosophy of the brand that continues to resonate with old and young.
“The brand’s core essence was to democratise fashion and approach design in a new way. The founder’s ideology was to help people see that beauty is in our everyday lives.”
At the heart of this is the notion that fashion should not be disposable – we should cherish our possessions and choose items (be they clothes or homewares) that enhance our personality and form part of our character. As people become more concerned about sustainability and the environment, the true DNA of Marimekko is ever more relevant.
So how does the design and manufacture in 2012 reflect this philosophy? Well, for one, Ihamuotila has a unique and democratic take on how he wants his designers to work.
“I tell my designers, ‘Don’t think what the market wants, don’t think in trends and never try to please the market’. Instead, ‘Go with your own sensibility, your own heart and try to find something that you feel is important’.”
As well as this, Marimekko is almost solely European. Three factories in Finland and others across the continent allow for 90 per cent of production to remain in Europe. A passionate believer in not separating design from manufacture, as most fashion houses do, Ihamuotila has worked hard to ensure the two arms of the business work together at Marimekko headquarters. “We have 40 designers who work very closely with production and this helps us because the designers can give us ideas of whether certain materials will work.”
Sustainability is at the core of Marimekko’s vision. By eschewing trends and not advocating disposable fashion, the brand’s eco-credibility feels a lot stronger than other ‘green’ brands.
Marimekko today feels more vibrant than ever. While happy to draw on the brand’s rich heritage and endless lineage of archival prints, Ihamuotila is committed to driving the company forward.
Central to his plans has been an aggressive store roll-out, with Marimekko now housing more than 100 retail spaces world-wide. Sydney (which marks the brand’s 100th store) and Melbourne have been long in the planning, with Ihamuotila more than confident that Australia understands Marimekko’s sunniness. “[As a country] you are authentic and positive, like Marimekko, and you are relaxed and non-conservative, like Marimekko.”
Both stores will house the latest collections in textile and clothing design, as well as interior decoration items such as tableware, bags and other accessories.
576 Chapel Street, South Yarra