Pattern forever

Anna Filippova, January 15, 2014

The brand legend says that the Finnish company Marimekko became famous in 1960 when Jacqueline Kennedy appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated wearing an unpretentious,but  expressive Marimekko dress. Jackie bought 7 dresses then. Following the style icon, many American women started wearing Marimekko, and it soon became famous worldwide. According to a survey, there is at least one thing with a red poppy on it in every house in Finland. Such popularity is a sort of a paradox as soon as Marimekko has become an essence of what we call Scandinavian design due to the bright patterns which are quite alien to it.


Marimekko takes its rise in 1949, when Vilio Ratia bought Printex, a tiny factory that produced oil-clothes for kitchens and printed fabric. His wife Armi was responsible for the design of the production, and the first thing that she did was tabooing the flowery patterns and all the design of this sort. Firstly, it was the design that all the textile companies used, and the new brand had to be different in order to be successful. Secondly, flowery patterns were too trite, and Armi’s ambitions were to avoid banality. Perfection is always a result of limitations, and Maija Isola, one of the artists, created the collection of patterns “Unikko” in response to the flowery ban.

The pattern of red poppies on white background was so distinctive that Marimekko bought all the outlines from Isola immediately. This pattern has become a bestseller, an absolute pattern not in the company, but all over the world. It has been copied and reproduced hundreds of times on all kinds of surfaces. One could see the poppies on the production of Manolo Blahnik, IKEA, Converse, Nissan, Dolce&Gabbana and many other companies. This is how it works, when you need an exception, you need to derive a rule.


Fujiwo Ishimoto

There were, however, some more artists who played an important part in the making of Marimekko. Fujiwo Ishimoto is a Japanese man with a Finnish soul. His professional motto is “The tension between simplicity and excitement”, and heightening this tension is what Fijiwo actually does in Marimekko.

He first saw the famous poppy print in Tokio in the 1960s. Later when travelling around the world he came across it in New York, Montreal, Copenhagen. He became interested in Marimekko patterns and finally became one of the designers of the company. When he was creative, he drew outlines, when he wasn’t – he assembled exhibition stands. As Ishimoto writes in his book “In patterns”, it was his decision to stay and work for the company that could bring aesthetics into everyday life.

Illustrations by Fujiwo Ishimoto


The inner revolution of Ishimoto is another interesting thing. He started as a true Japanese, with laconic and even scanty patterns were worked out in details, as if drawn with a skilful pen on rice paper. The main color of his early works was white. But the life in a different country and culture transformed Ishimoto’s patterns. Green meadows with bluets and wild strawberry, haystacks in the morning fog, phantasmagoric apple trees with almost blue leaves, fantastic birds and pink tulips – all these you can find in his late works. The delightful combination of simplicity, however, remains his main principle. So he changed everything, but nothing really changed. 


Aino-Maija Metsola

Metsola’s fantastic world begins where the most audacious experiments of Ishimoto stop. Her works are hundredfold crazier and brighter – with no rules or common graphic. Aino-Maija Metsola comes from Finland and she is now the major textile graphic designer in the company.

Aino-Maija Metsola works for Marimekko


Metsola was fond of patterns even as a child, she liked not just to draw them, but give them some meaning. And now every of her works is not a pattern, but a narration. “I avoid drawing patterns for the patterns. There shouldn’t be a picture that couldn’t awake the viewer’s feelings.

And you won’t be mistaking if some of her works remind you of the Soviet cartoons, which is an unusual inspiration source.


Sanna Annukka

Sanna Annukka is another illustrator from Marimekko who is bewitched by the out-of-the-way places of Finland. She hasn’t worked for the company for a long time, she created her first collection of patterns in 2008. Annukka was born and raised in Great Britain, but as a girl, she use to spend every summer at her grandmother’s place, in a town called Paltaniemi. Her love of the northern nature later transformed into professional interest in the local folklore. 

Sanna Annukka works for Marimekko

The Finnish fairy tale genre is very successful in England. Annukka has become a famous illustrator, she works for Vogue and Wallpaper magazines. Sanna has created two collections for Marimekko so far, and her patterns are very similar to Finnish embroidery.


And there are more artists and patterns from many countries that took part in the history of Marimekko. This is the story of patterns, and a company that has inculcated in everyone a taste for them.