Share This Page

Marimekko's classic flowers stay fresh for 50 years

| Sunday, June 8, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

In 1964, when Marimekko's red-and-white poppy pattern Unikko was introduced, America was poised to embrace flower power.

Since them, hundreds of items including tableware, sheets and sneakers have been produced in this bold print, whose name means “poppy” in Finnish. The pattern became an icon for Marimekko, the Finnish company founded in 1951 by Armi Ratia that brought energy and innovation to the field of textile design. The 50th anniversary of Unikko, designed by Maija Isola, is being celebrated with a recently opened exhibition at the Finnish Embassy in Washington and a new product launch.

The exhibit highlights a collection of Unikko ceramics, household products and dresses, and shows various color schemes it has manufactured since 1964. A limited-edition 50th anniversary collection of trays, pitchers, pillows, bags and other Unikko items debuted this month online and in the six American Marimekko stores.

“Marimekko is close to our soul,” said Ritva Koukku-Ronde, Finnish ambassador to the United States, at the opening of the exhibit last week. The embassy used tablecloths of several Unikko color schemes for the reception, and a number of guests wore Marimekko dresses. “The bright colors and the courageous designs all speak to our lifestyle.”

We spoke by phone last week with Isabelle Cadieux-Fabian, president of Marimekko North America, about the history of the popular brand and the company's future. Here is an edited transcript:

Question: Why has this particular pattern had such staying power for Marimekko?

Answer: The pattern came out after Armi Ratia, the owner and founder of Marimekko, declared that Marimekko could never do floral prints. That was when designer Maija Isola, who was a bit of a rebel, created a collection of florals, one of which was Unikko. The pattern was produced, and it's very graphic and very in tune with the DNA of the company. Over the years, it has been done and redone in more than 100 colorways. Through new colorations, it evolved and has always remained popular.

Q: What are some of the future plans for the company?

A: We want to increase our footprint in the retail industry. We are planning to open new stores. We have a partnership with Banana Republic for a collection of limited-edition clothing and accessories. We want to find ways to bring the brand to customers in new ways.

Q: Do you own anything in the Unikko print?

A: I'm working at home this morning, so I can tell you that on my dining room table is a large Unikko tablecloth of pink and orange flowers on a dark brown background. I have orange leather chairs around it. It brings so much energy to the room. I thoroughly enjoy it. Everyone always comments on it.

Q: Why is Marimekko timeless?

A: Its essence resonates with real values. It's about happiness and being oneself, not pretending. Once you are connected with those values, they become part of your life — like my tablecloth. This is something that represents who I am, and when I have people over, they see brightness and happiness.

The “50 Years of Unikko” exhibition at the Embassy of Finland, 3301 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C., is open Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. through June 29, with the exception of June 21 and 22. Admission is free. For additional information, call 202 298-5800 or go to www.finland.org.

Jura Koncius is a staff writer for The Washington Post.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.