Marimekko opens Australian stores

After a long wait for fans of the Finland brand, lauded textiles, fashion and homewares label Marimekko opens up shops in Sydney and Melbourne.

The name ‘Marimekko’ conjures forests in bright and unusual blue, zoo animals in graphic monochrome and bursts of poppies in fuchsia, orange and white – the fun, youthful and eye-pleasingly simple formula for an exotic empire of textiles, fashion and home decor. Synonymous with bold pattern and colour since its glory days as arguably Finland’s most famous export, alongside Iittala vases and much-loved Moomintroll children’s books, the label suffered through the rejection of ‘retro’ in the 1990s but is now undergoing a renaissance.

“We’ve reinvented ourselves,” says marketing manager Steve Raw, one of a stylish, energetic team behind the brand’s Australian expansion, part of a massive global relaunch and rebirth. “There are a lot of customers out there who love Marimekko, and a lot of memories.”

Irresistibly located in the CBD at 66 King Street, around the corner from Pitt Street Mall and the Apple megastore, and next door to luxurious Louis Vuitton, Marimekko’s new Sydney store is housed in a vast Art Deco heritage building built in 1936 by architects Hennessy, Hennessy & Co. Beyond the grand exterior, the red walls of what was formerly the Red Eye Records building have been repainted in trademark Marimekko black and white, a worthy platform for its bright prints and florals. 

On the lower level, customers mingle with polka-dotted clothing, vivid striped bags, the kids’ collection and textiles presented in a fabulous fabrics tower; up the marble-bannistered staircase are the homewares, with vivid glassware, cushions and accessories on show. Designed by Japanese firm IMA, who also created the brand’s Helsinki and New York flagships, the store reflects Marimekko’s move from retro to relevant and ties in with the launch of a Melbourne store and other openings around the world.

Marimekko’s history and breadth of appeal is far-reaching. Established in 1951 by entrepreneur Armi Ratia, the brand’s early designers included Maija Isola, creator of the 1964 ‘Unikko’ (poppy) print so instantly recognisable on innumerable textiles, tea towels, wallpapers, tablecloths and totes.

Isola’s daughter Kristina also works for the brand, designing the 2008 ‘Ginkgo’ print among other coveted botanicals. Famous fans include Hillary Clinton (who, by request, spent four hours of a 16-hour visit to Helsinki at the Marimekko factory), Sarah Jessica Parker and the late Jackie Kennedy, who wore no fewer than eight Marimekko dresses during her husband’s 1960 presidential campaign, including a now-iconic red shift on the cover of that year’s December Sports Illustrated

It’s the geometrically serendipitous textiles that still lie at the core of Marimekko. “Fabric really is the heartbeat of the brand and everything else emanates from that,” says Raw. “We’re one of the only brands which designs and makes its own fabrics.”

British, Japanese and Finnish designers work out of the Helsinki factory to produce a multitude of coloured prints and patterns that hark back to the brand’s high-street beginnings. One happy example is the humble plastic tablecloth, for so long relegated to the back of cupboards and now, suddenly, flying off the shelves. “Now that they’re in our own stores, people are seeing them again and going, ‘Oh, this is fun,’” says Raw, adding that the pocket-friendly prices add to the appeal of the four fashion and interiors collections released each year. “We’ll never be an exclusive brand. There is something for everyone.” In revisiting its roots and discovering a legion of lifetime fans, Marimekko has re-emerged with brighter foliage than ever in those flamboyant forests.

Marimekko – Sydney, 66 King Street Sydney NSW; Marimekko – Melbourne, 576 Chapel Street Prahran Vic.

This story was originally published in Vogue Living Nov/Dec 2012.

Text: Lisa Thomas
Photographs: Michael Bradfield and Marimekko

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