Best known for its bright, poppy prints, Finnish textile and fashion company Marimekko has a universal appeal. The designs are at once fresh and timeless—allowing them to transition seamlessly from Jackie O's 1960 presidential campaign dresses, to Sarah Jessica Parker's late-1990s Sex and the City wardrobe, to Target's Spring 2016 collab. And the brand's mid-1960s relationship with Crate & Barrel? It's still going strong today. So how did a company founded in 1951 become the master of enduring design? We asked someone who might know better than anyone: Petri Juslin, Marimekko's artwork studio manager, who's worked at the company for 30 years.
AT: Can you tell me a little bit about your role at Marimekko?
PJ: I have a rare position, because I'm not a designer myself, but I'm able to act as a bridge between creativity and know-how. I listen to what the designers have in mind and [help them make] what they want to create. I've been at the company for 30 years, the brand is 65 years old, and we have made about 3,000 prints. We have a huge archive, but we don't just want to be a museum; we want to continue the story. What you can see [at the Marimekko flagship store in NYC] is a mixture of old and new prints from our young designers. Sometimes, it's quite difficult to tell which are new and which are old.
AT: Our readers often say that Marimekko reminds them of their childhoods. It holds some nostalgia for them. Did you grow up in a Marimekko home yourself?
PJ: It wasn't totally a Marimekko home, but we had a couple of Marimekko prints, and I remember them well. They were very powerful for me as a child. I think that's part of the reason I started working there, because I wanted to find out how they were made and what was behind them. I remember that one of them was a print called "Night" by Maija Isola [the designer behind the brand's iconic flower design]. The other one was also by Maiji Isola, called "Tumma," which means dark (shown above). They're very meaningful to me. I find it interesting that a piece of fabric like that can also be a piece of art. You can use it in your home in a very functional way, or you can just frame it and put it on the wall.
AT: Many of Marimekko prints are graphic and organic at the same time. Were many of the designs drawn directly from nature?
PJ: Yes—this one [Putkinotko, above] is by Maija Isola, who designed around 500 different prints from the 1950s to the '80s. For this one, she used the actual plants from nature and exposed them directly to light on the screen. Then she used that same screen to print another color. It's actually directly from nature. And this was done in 1957!
It's very powerful, very noisy sometimes, people are shouting, and laughing, and crying. It's my life.
AT: It's so ahead of its time, yet also timeless.
PJ: We try to design things that are timeless. It's a sustainable development. You can use these things for your entire life. It doesn't go out of fashion, and that's important to us.
AT: When you're working with Marimekko designers to create new prints, is it difficult to balance what designers would like to create and what's trendy right now?
PJ: There are pressures; we have to do business and keep the people we love working. That's important, of course. But on the other hand, the heritage of our designs is continuing, so it's something to lean on. That makes it easier for us. We know we're doing the right thing and that people love us. It eases the mind a little bit.
AT: What is it really like to work in the Marimekko studio? Has it changed much over the past 30 years?
PJ: Some things haven't changed. I have changed, of course, I've grown older. But it's a very unique experience. It's like a big family. Sometimes they like each other, sometimes they hate each other. It's a little hard to compare because I've never worked anywhere else in my whole life. It's very powerful, very noisy sometimes, people are shouting, and laughing, and crying. It's my life.
Thank you, Petri! Don't miss Marimekko's fall home decor line.