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How did a brand like Marimekko make it in streetwear?

WORDS BY MAEVE KERR-CROWLEY

An investigation.

Marimekko has been around since the 1950s. 

In those almost 70s years, its designs have been defined by a use of restrained silhouettes and dynamic textiles, all dripping in bold and playful prints. With an extensive heritage, these prints are the brand’s bread and butter, and are reinvented collection after collection.

In fact, ready-to-wear head designer, Satu Maaranen, tells me there are over 3,500 prints in the Marimekko archive. Some of these are from recent collections, while others stretch right back to the label’s debut.

“Our founder, Armi Ratia, wanted to invite young Finnish designers to create patterns for the company’s printing factory back in the 1950s,” Satu explains. “And that is still how we operate today. We gather young creatives around us and they design new patterns for Marimekko.”

Because these prints are the core of the label – and undeniably how most of us recognise Marimekko – it wasn’t as hard as you might think to translate the brand’s aesthetic into a new type of fashion. Marimekko’s foray into streetwear last year was the definition of pleasantly surprising.

The line, Kioski, interprets iconic Marimekko prints into more relaxed shapes and fabrics. It was a smart move, moving with the broader industry as it increasingly caters to younger, streetwear-loving audiences. 

“Marimekko’s spirit is all about creative courage and living, not pretending. It’s about authenticity,” Satu says. “So we think this new direction actually embodies those values, as anyone can wear these clothes. It really goes hand in hand with our style of thinking.”

Kioski has delivered two releases already, featuring T-shirts, sweatshirts, bags and accessories. Both collections heavily feature the brand’s most iconic print to date: Unikko.

Named after the Finnish word for poppy, the print features a bold, repeated poppy design. Some incarnation of Unikko has appeared in essentially every Marimekko collection since the print’s inception in 1964.

Until that point, the label had been producing only abstract prints, without a floral in sight. Wanting to make something memorable out of a more organic theme, designer Maija Isola created an entire range of florals. But it was Unikko that stuck.

“That pattern stood out, because it was something different from all the other flower patterns in those times,” says Satu. “Others were making very cute and petite flower patterns, and Maija wanted to create this flower with quite a bold, big surface. I think it’s a very recognisable flower.”

Throughout Kioski, you’ll find the Unikko print in varying sizes and shades, with a current palette of black, white, orange and baby blue.

While these textiles are what Marimekko is most notorious for, Satu tells me it’s not the only thing that sets the label apart.

“Our company’s heart and soul is our own printing factory here in Helsinki,” she explains. “That is quite rare here in Scandinavia, especially – that you have your own printing factory next to the headquarters, so designers can work closely with the factory.”

This spirit of collaboration is how Marimekko was founded, how Kioski was born, and also how Satu and her team created this season’s incredible collection campaign.

Of the shoot, Satu says, “I had been talking with our art director, and we felt strongly that Marimekko’s take on streetwear is all about visual storytelling.

“We tried to avoid any stereotypes that might be tied to streetwear. We wanted to bring authenticity into the campaign, so we focused on strong friendships and the joy of doing things together.”

She lists photo board sessions, Hype Williams music videos and parents filming their kids’ school graduation as points of inspiration, giving the shoot and accompanying video a raw, retro feel.

And because the collection is all about creativity and authenticity, everyone involved in the shoot was a young creative local to Helsinki. That includes the photographer, Emma Sarpaniemi, and her playful cast of local influencers and models. 

The first two Kioski drops are available to shop online

marimekko.com

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