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Hope, democracy, equality. No, it’s not Obama’s new re-election slogan. Those three words are commonly used in descriptions of this week’s vintage fabric: Marimekko.

It takes one heck of a fabric to express such weighty concepts, but Markimekko – a woman-owned, woman-operated Finnish fabric design house that dominated fashions of the 60’s and 70’s – is no ordinary fabric company. Marimekko was founded in 1951 by Armi Ratia, the wife of a failed oilcloth factory owner. Because women typically could not secure business loans at that time, Armi recruited her husband to secure the loan for her new venture and talked her artist friends into designing graphic prints for her new line of textiles. Soon, she converted the failed oilcloth factory into one of the main hubs of Scandinavian design.

From the beginning, Marimekko prints were large scale, screaming with color and utterly unlike anything else on the market at the time. Marimekko produced a line of simple, a-line skirts and dresses to demonstrate what could be done with these bold, new fabric prints. The dresses were loose fitting and asexual in comparison with the tight-fitting, hour-glass fashions popular at the time. The designs were liberating, functional and egalitarian – anyone, old, young, thick or thin, could rock a Marimekko dress and look good doing it. After all, Marimekko means “a dress for Mary” – i.e. the woman on the street.

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Equality by design is a pretty neat idea but it took a style icon like Jackie O to catapult Marimekko into fashion history. Kennedy’s PR people were concerned that Jackie O’s predilection for Parisian haute couture would alienate the “average voter.” It was important for Jackie O to look average but extraordinary at the same time, a more attractive, more intelligent version of “everywoman”. So, in a highly calculated move, Jacqueline Kennedy bought 8 Marimekko dresses to wear on the 1960 campaign trail. The dresses she chose were refreshingly simple – honest yet interesting, unusual but affordable, the prints brimming with optimism and youth. Marimekko’s unconventional, informal tone set the stage for Jackie O’s legacy as an accessible style icon.

So, let’s see, equality – check, style icon creation – check, promotion of optimism – check. All that with prints of poppies and a couple of well placed squiggles? Hey, that’s vintage fabric for you…

48 Comments

  • Missing

    Jan 18, 2011, 02.42 PMby trumbelina

    I have been looking for that poppy print for YEARS. I just couldn’t remember the name. THANK YOU!

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    Dec 6, 2010, 01.25 PMby carolyn-s

    Oh my, how beautiful!! That red, blue and white outfit on the right is just to die for!! Those sleeves! Thankyou for this wonderful article. I never knew the company name meant a dress for Mary. What a great name!

    1 Reply
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      Dec 6, 2010, 04.19 PMby eringilday

      You’re welcome, Carolyn! Glad you liked it.

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    Dec 5, 2010, 10.10 AMby sewlikeabee6

    Thanks( eringilday) for the web sites that is very nice of you to take your time to post them for everyone. I found old fashion patterns in the McCalls Costumes and the Simplicity Costumes also. burdastyle did not have them yet.

    1 Reply
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      Dec 5, 2010, 06.15 PMby eringilday

      You’re welcome, Bee! Thanks for the info on vintage inspired patterns. I LOVE your old time photo avatar! Makes me want to run down to Seaside and get another old time photo taken of my famly ASAP. =)

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    Dec 5, 2010, 09.53 AMby sewlikeabee6

    (See a bit of history) that is what I like, woman have come a long way voting, a woman demanded that we as woman should be able to vote.And as fashion we could not get a loan to do our own fashion company, now we can that is really great as a whole as woman and man have come a long way.

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    Dec 3, 2010, 09.15 PMby crocka

    Love!

    It is also great that these women showed the world they could do it!!

    1 Reply
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      Dec 5, 2010, 06.16 PMby eringilday

      Yay! Glad you enjoyed the post, Crocka!

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    Dec 3, 2010, 06.52 PMby Juliet Drennan

    Marimekko is the first designer who I knew by name. Well, I fell in love with their prints first and then my mom told me who made them. I was fascinated. I had never made the connection between real people and mass-produced fabric before. I must say that I’m a little perturbed that these are considered vintage. I mean, I’m not THAT old.

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      Dec 4, 2010, 09.01 PMby eringilday

      No offense meant, Juliet!! I agree that Marimekko is definitely on the contemporary side of “vintage,” whatever that means. =) Thanks for sharing your Marimekko memories!

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    Dec 3, 2010, 12.31 PMby jenni-kaija

    Additional memory — I also made a wonderful dress from one of the black and white prints for the show. It is still in my closet waiting to be worn by someone who it would fit (I’ve spread a bit!)

    1 Reply
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      Dec 3, 2010, 06.22 PMby eringilday

      Sounds gorgeous, Jenni!

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    Dec 3, 2010, 12.30 PMby jenni-kaija

    Memories — In 1968 I conducted the first Marimekko style show in the US at the Iowa Architect’s Convention. Of course, it was for the wives (no registered architects in the state at that time) and I had them model the clothing for each other. For many years I used the fabrics as banners in commercial installations such as one of the bank chains.

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      Dec 3, 2010, 06.22 PMby eringilday

      O wow!! It would be wonderful to see pictures from the style show if you have them! I can only imagine how cool that must have been!

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    Dec 3, 2010, 03.39 AMby gerrietutty

    Telling my age here but I REMEMBER the things Jackie wore during that era. Awwwwwwwwww, memories of my youth. Gerrie gerrietutty@yahoo.com

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    Dec 2, 2010, 11.35 PMby fashionfreek

    Wow!!!! Look at that lovely fabric print. Sometimes I prefer to wear clothes in plain style but them prints are nice.One time I would shun myself away from them bold prints thinking they would be better off as curtains or sofa covers but I guess being adventurous with all sorts of fabric can be a plus.

    Nice read Erin:O)

    1 Reply
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      Dec 3, 2010, 01.35 AMby eringilday

      Thanks! Don’t be afraid of prints, prints are your friend! =)

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    Dec 2, 2010, 11.18 PMby sewinl0ve

    How fun! Love the ginormous chevron stripes!

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    Dec 2, 2010, 04.16 PMby sambot

    Inspires me to use my Marimekko fabric from the 1970s.

    1 Reply
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      Dec 2, 2010, 09.53 PMby eringilday

      Glad you liked the post, sambot! =)

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    Dec 2, 2010, 03.17 PMby Louise Player

    I love how marimekko is so bold and graphic- the colour and composition of the prints are so invigorating! As a textile design student, Marimekko is so inspiring!

    1 Reply
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      Dec 2, 2010, 09.53 PMby eringilday

      Invigorating is a great word to describe them! Darn it, should have used that word in my post…you’re better than a thesaurus!

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