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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

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    Dec 2, 2010, 12.46 PMby wzrdreams

    I also adore the Marimekko prints! That blue and red dress is really adorable, but I don’t think it would have nearly as much pizzaz in a more subdued fabric. I would love to try a Marimekko inspired project. Any thoughts on where to find their fabric today?

    1 Reply
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    Dec 2, 2010, 07.18 AMby kraftykatina

    These are great!!! I LOVE the umbrella and the dresses! And power to Armi Ratia for getting a business started when women weren’t as able to. Thanks for the great post!

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      Dec 2, 2010, 09.46 PMby eringilday

      You’re welcome, Katina! You’re right, Armi is definitely an inspiration to lady entrepreneurs everywhere! Where there is a will, there is a way.

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    Dec 2, 2010, 07.13 AMby mikmik

    I see the fabric ones at close look in one Exhibition and they are fab, the patterns itself from that time, they are joust gorgeous, fitted perfectly. I love Markimekko prints and I think they are fabulous if I could use them for the furniture, they are so rich and strong and joust gorgeous.

    1 Reply
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      Dec 2, 2010, 09.44 PMby eringilday

      OOoo Marimekko upholstery = genius!

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    Dec 2, 2010, 01.56 AMby girlofmanycolors

    I LOVE MARIMEKKO

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    Dec 1, 2010, 11.03 PMby darksapphire08

    wow, so pretty!

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    Dec 1, 2010, 10.57 PMby loyl8

    I made a set of scrubs with Marimekko fabric here I love any fabric that comes from there, all fun and fits me.

    1 Reply
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      Dec 2, 2010, 12.28 AMby eringilday

      O, how cool! I love the keyhole neckline and button closure…adorable!

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    Dec 1, 2010, 10.10 PMby jeager

    It makes you really long for the days when people wore colour! OK – new years resolution: no more buying black fabric.

    1 Reply
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      Dec 2, 2010, 12.32 AMby eringilday

      I agree, it’s shame that we are so afraid of color now!! Just look at the cars that are available these days…you can buy one in muted black/green, muted blue/black or muted grey! Wow! There was a time when you could buy a PINK-pink car or a BLUE-blue car. Imagine.

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    Dec 1, 2010, 09.10 PMby ravenztarot

    WOULDN’T THIS ROCK to have a pattern like the dresses above? in any of the fabric!

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    Dec 1, 2010, 08.51 PMby gwenelle

    If I were only forty years younger, I’d wear that long-sleeved dress in a heartbeat!

    1 Reply
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      Dec 2, 2010, 09.56 PMby eringilday

      You’re never too old for Marimekko, Gwenelle!!

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    Dec 1, 2010, 08.51 PMby carolinam

    This looks so happy! but i don’t know if i dare to wear such colorfull fabric

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    Dec 1, 2010, 08.43 PMby nehmah

    I would love to make that apron dress in dots fabric. Nehmah

    1 Reply
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    Dec 1, 2010, 07.06 PMby jodieth

    I love all of Marimekko large scale prints. I just wish I could afford them. The dresses from the 60’s and 70’s were fab!

    2 Replies
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      Dec 2, 2010, 12.33 AMby eringilday

      I know, funny to think that they were once considered “afforable” ~ now Marimekko prints are WAY upscale!

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      Dec 5, 2010, 12.55 PMby rizzo1

      If you live near an IKEA store, they often have cotton textiles in large bright couloured pattern a la marimekko. For example: http://www.ikea.com/dk/da/catalog/products/10185526

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    Dec 1, 2010, 06.57 PMby keylieghann

    OH! That red white and blue polka dot skirt is to DIE for. I want one but I’m afraid I may never take it off! While I wouldn’t mind my DH may not appreciate it ;)

    3 Replies
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      Dec 2, 2010, 12.36 AMby eringilday

      Forgive my internet stupidity but what’s a DH?? Darling husband? Designated hitter???

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      Dec 2, 2010, 04.59 PMby keylieghann

      DH/Darling Husband/Dear Hubby or any other variation you can think of for husband I would assume but I’ve always known it to be Darling or Dear Husband.

    • 35323_1550195117626_1317563306_1450393_3860676_n_large

      Dec 2, 2010, 09.43 PMby eringilday

      good to know!! Thanks Keyliegh! =)

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