A Little Bit Dramatic

Seeing spots (and dots and stripes and swirls) with Marimekko

“There must be a reason to dirt a fine white cloth with print.” – Armi Ratia

Its fitting that an exhibit on Marimekko should take place at a textile museum. While the Finnish clothing company wouldn’t be out of place on display in an art gallery or costume institute, Marimekko is really defined above all else by its fabric. After all, one doesn’t immediately recognize a Marimekko dress by its cut or even its label; it’s those eye-catching, popping prints that you can see from space that have been the label’s defining factor and constant for the past six decades.

“Marimekko, With Love,” curated by Shauna McCabe, will be on display until April 21st at Toronto’s Textile Museum. If you’re in Toronto, it provides an opportunity to truly immerse yourself in a kaleidoscope of prints. The show is a retrospective, technically, but trying to pick out the difference between a Marimekko dress from the early days and one from last week is an exercise in futility.

Marimekko opened in Finland post World War II. From its inception, it has always been about finding that fusion between fabric and art. Armi Ratia, whose husband had just purchased a small fabric company, began to curate designs from young contemporary artists. The dresses became literal canvases for young artists to develop prints and in 1951, a company was born.

The patterns might appear to be as uniform as a designer logo plastered all over a collection of handbags, but the company’s artists referenced everything—see a pattern in nature? Blow it up and set it against a contrasting colour. The consistency in patterns comes out of the similar treatment granted to unique motifs. Architecture, folk patterns, flora, and fauna are all fair game.

At the exhibit, many people showed up wearing Marimekko. We were able to spot from a distance even amongst the patterns on display, an unmistakable bat signal of pop art. I went to the show with former Wornette Katie. Unlike some of our coworkers, neither of us come to fashion from a textile background, and it was our first visit to the textile museum. We were Marimekko babies, wide eyed and ready to learn something new. In our excitement, we at one point stopped recording the exhibit and instead started recording the other attendees, regardless of what brands they were wearing.

The word “timeless” gets thrown around the fashion lexicon a lot. Ironically, it’s usually used to reference a very insular aesthetic—one with clean lines, muted colours, and anything that can blend into the background. the company is very much of its time, born out of a post-war hope and ready to align itself with the eager optimism of the upcoming sixties. But what’s most remarkable about it is that while it is such a specific look, it is one that is accessible and applicable across multiple continents, decades, and generations. In a room filled with Marimekko, each pattern still stands out.

For more about Marimekko, see issue 4 of WORN Fashion Journal.

photography // Katie Merchant