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How Marimekko's New Creative Director Is Making the Brand More Relevant

With a Target collaboration launching this weekend, we spoke with Marimekko's Anna Teurnell, who was poached from & Other Stories two years ago.

This Sunday, Target launches its latest designer collaboration with Marimekko: a 200-piece summer line that encompasses beachwear, outdoor furniture and whimsical lifestyle items, from paddleboards to inflatables. Anyone familiar with Marimekko can probably visualize the collection before they've even seen it: it revolves around the Finnish brand’s colorful prints, so recognizable that, arguably, they've earned the term "iconic."

Founded in 1951 by the textile designer Armi Ratia, Marimekko launched bold and bright fabrics into a country that was still living in the long shadow of the Second World War. From the earliest days of the company, Ratia hired young artists to create prints, some of which are still in circulation today; Jackie Kennedy was an early fan, buying seven dresses and wearing one of them on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Since the 1960s, Marimekko has straddled the worlds of fashion and homeware, embedding the same design signatures into both; the company showed its fall 2016 ready-to-wear collection at Paris Fashion Week in March, and is exhibiting its latest home collection at Milan Design Week this month. It is a worldwide business, with a particularly large following in Japan.

In April 2014, Swedish designer Anna Teurnell was poached from & Other Stories to be the brand's new creative director. Teurnell had gained recognition as a cool creative force at & Other Stories' parent company, H&M Group, where she was firmly ensconced: she had previously spent eight years designing for H&M. Her move, in some ways, was surprising: where those brands are unfailingly commercial, Marimekko instead has an emphasis on heritage and offbeat design. It may not have produced paddleboards in the 1950s, but there's still a direct visual link between the designs first sold by Ratia and the products you can buy today.

Back in 2012, CEO Mika Ihamuotila told Fashionista, "When we inspire our designers, we always say to them, 'Never try to please the market. Don't do something you think is trendy today.' ... This is a contrast to the fashion industry, which is so pressured by the seasons and things like, what is the hot yellow for the season. We want to be far away from that."

Two years into Teurnell's role, we spoke to her via Skype about making that move, exploring the brand's history and moving on from fast fashion.

A look from Marimekko for Target. Photo: Target

A look from Marimekko for Target. Photo: Target

Your previous positions were at brands that were quite commercial and more seasonal, I would say, than Marimekko. Is that fair?

Wherever you work, you want to do something that lasts as long as it can – but of course Marimekko is not about wanting the latest trends. When I started here, I wanted to update the materials and silhouettes so the brand looked relevant for here and now. But for example, we create clothes and home products that I often don't want to swap from one season to the next – I want to keep them. The mentality is 'last long,' and for that you need really good quality, you need craftsmanship, you need to take extra care over the details. That is something that I myself appreciate.

What was the transition like from & Other Stories to Marimekko?

It was new to me to work with the home category, but as for the rest — working with a creative team, having an idea, making it into a nice product and deciding how to present it in the store and online — this is a very familiar process. But we have very few heritage brands up here in the north, and I was so drawn to working with something that has such strong trademarks and roots in something that I appreciate and believe in. Marimekko has a strong signature, the colors and prints. You can see there is a craftsmanship within the product. On top of that, since Marimekko started, it has also had a very relaxed, and sometimes functionalistic attitude – it’s very much about everyday life products.

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So the history of the brand is part of the appeal for you.

You know, Marimekko was started in 1951 by a woman, who post-war, having a textile business, understood the importance of working with interesting artists and designers to create interesting clothes. I think her gut instinct drew her not to the corset kind of clothing, but to a liberated, strong style that was often a bit unisex. To me, those are still such important assets.

What do you feel has been achieved since you joined the company?

The goal was to lift and make the assortment more clear and more inspiring, more relevant. It's hard to measure, but I looked at old brochures the other day, and I saw that we have done quite a bit, because it was very different. But the goal was never to change Marimekko into something that you don't recognize as Marimekko. It was the opposite – how can we focus even more on our most important, favorite prints?

A look from Marimekko's fall 2016 collection. Photo: Marimekko

A look from Marimekko's fall 2016 collection. Photo: Marimekko

Am I right in thinking that Marimekko is still using archive prints that were designed many years ago?

Yeah. I try to have a mix. When I started, I felt that we should use the archive prints more, because they were the ones that once made the difference for Marimekko. They made the brand so unique, and they have this craft. I use many prints that were made by Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi [a designer who worked at the company from 1953 to 1960]. I meet her and show her our ideas, and what we want to do with her ideas. Isn't that lovely, that there are good creative people from our history who are still going strong? They are still working and they have opinions of how you treat their work. I think that when it's possible, working like that has a really good vibe. Of course we work with new people as well, because that is also very Marimekko – to surprise and do new things.

Your printing factory is in the same building as your headquarters. Does the design team work closely with the manufacturing side of the business?

Yeah, we go to them and talk. There are now rules and regulations about how you can work with chemicals, for example, so we discuss how we can print in the old way, but also manage without certain chemicals that make the colors behave slightly differently. How can you get the result you want? Working so closely with part of your production is not so usual any more, especially in big companies. I really appreciate that tight connection to the craft.

There's a lot of buzz around the Target collaboration. As a Finnish brand, what's your relationship like with America?

It's been very interesting to see how open America has been to the expression of the brand created by a strong woman, full of strong women – there are some strong men as well, I must say!

If you have seen a couple of Marimekko prints and you are interested in design, I would think that you'd be able to recognize a Marimekko print in the future. There aren't many brands that have that visual power.