Maija Isola: Legendary Marimekko designer — with 28 vintage patterns still in production today

Maija-Isola_38

The talented Maija Isola, designer for Marimekko 
Image copyright Marimekko Corporation, used here with permission

To say, “We adore vintage Marimekko,” is to say, “We adore Maija Isola.” Isola (1927-2001) was a prolific, longtime designer for Marimekko. Over the course of her career with the company — from 1951 (Marimekko’s start) to 1987 — she designed more than 500 patterns. Moreover, her designs were so successful… so colorful and creative… that they quickly defined the “Marimekko look” as we know it, still today. Her 1964 “Unikko” design is iconic — and remains massively popular. We love the “real deal” vintage, so we asked our media contact at Marimekko about the Maija Isola designs still in the marketplace today. The company counted for us and found: 28 Maija Isola designs still in production — on home accessories, textiles and in fashions — for sale currently.

Maija-Isola_35

Copyright Marimekko Corporation, used her with permission

Maija Isola and Marimekko – history and biography

Maija Isola’s first job out of university, when she was 22, was at Printex Oy — which was the predecessor company to Marimekko.  Marimekko officially got its start on May 20, 1951, when Printex co-owner Armi Ratia — another immensely visionary and important woman — used some of the Printex fabrics in her first fashion show, “The Marimekki-projekti.”  “Marimekko” means “Mary’s dress”. After this event, Marimekko spun off as its own company — and ultimately, to international fame.  Marimekko Timeline.

Another interesting tidbit: The company got a major international PR kick start in 1960 when Jackie Kennedy bought seven Marimekko cotton dresses to wear during the presidential campaign. Mrs. Kennedy was featured on the December 1960 cover of Sports Illustrated in one of the dresses — and the design world ate it up with a big flower power spoon.

This short video on the history and design viewpoint of Marimekko made me so smiley:

Here is Maija Isola’s biography, from the Marimekko website:

Maija Isola was a tremendously versatile and bold artist. She interpreted the events of her era from her own unique perspective and foresaw future trends.

Her body of work includes over 500 prints – a brilliant selection of patterns representing different themes and techniques. She drew inspiration from traditional folk art, modern visual art, nature and her countless trips around the world.

In 1970, Maija Isola wrote to her daughter from Paris: “Bon soir children. I’m having a wonderful time these days. I’ve started working. Once again, I feel as if I’ll never find the time to do even a fraction of all the things I want to do. – – I had a huge floral still-life of sorts spread out wet on the floor, waiting to be rolled up … paints in yoghurt pots, and newspaper everywhere, and flowers in vases on the floorboards. I bought those to paint from on Pentecost. Large deep-red roses, small and fragrant, curiously furry pink roses, yellow, orange and white poppies, cowslips in various shades of purple, black tulips and tiny carmine flowers whose name I don’t know.”

From 1987 until her death in 2001, Maija Isola continued working as an artist. See one of her works here.

Kate has the book Phenomenon Marimekko, which contains a brief write up on Maiji Isola. According to her book, Isola was filled with ideas — which would often be so numerous that her sketches would fill the floor of the factory — though she would only allow a few to become finished patterns. She designed hundreds of patterns during her career — which were mostly inspired from either art (such as the Ornamentti series of 1959-1960 that was inspired by Slovakian folk art), nature or her travels. Isola’s patterns fit into two categories — bold, oversized geometric patterns and more ornate patterns with a decorative feel — such as lace, embroidery and cross stitch patterns — which she achieved using small stencils in printing and combining colors. Throughout her career, Isola constantly labored to blur the lines between the hand drawn look of her art and the finished printed textile.

And more: Maija’s daugher Kristina Isola began working alongside her mother as a Marimekko designer when she was quite young, too, Kristina Isola also became a major design force in the company, continuing to this day.

Maija Isola designs still available today

marimekko unikko

Maija Isola designed the “Unikko” pattern in 1964. It is arguably Marimekko’s most famous pattern. It continues to be featured on all kinds of products, in all kinds of colorways, today. Above: Linens on sale at Crate and Barrel right now

According to our media contact at Marimekko, the following patterns designed by Maija Isola are currently available:

Clothing and accessories:

  • Välly
  • Satula
  • Seireeni
joonas-wallpaper

Joonas wallpaper, spotted at AllModern.com

Interior:

  • Lokki
  • Florestan
  • Mehiläispesä
converse-marimekko

Converse Marimekko – Unikko – spotted at FinnStyle

Continuing collection (interior):

  • Ananas
  • Heinä
  • Isot Kivet
  • Kivet
  • Joonas
  • Kaivo
  • Melooni
  • Pieni Melooni
  • Maalaisruusu
  • Vihkiruusu
  • Madison
  • Muija
  • Putkinotko
  • Ruusupuu
  • Silkkikuikka
  • Tantsu
  • Tuuli
  • Unikko
  • Pieni Unikko
  • Mini Unikko
  • Praliini
  • Fandango

Where to buy Marimekko designs today

Marimekko designs can show up in products at many stores. We like to ogle Crate & Barrel’s Marimekko shop… there’s FinnStyle… and go looky loo at All Modern, too.   Marimekko’s online U.S. shop

More great info about Maija Isola:

Thanks to our friends at Marimekko for their help with this story, and for permission to feature historical images of Maija Isola.

Be-Safe-graphic2.3

Get our retrolicious free newsletter.

Newsletter-sign-up-2NMAS

Get our retrolicious free newsletter.

Comments

  1. linda h says

    Two of our bedrooms have Unikko linens from Crate & Barrel. A different color for each bedroom. I have always loved it. The color pictured is one of my colors.

  2. says

    I love the work of Maija Isola. For Marimekko’s 60th anniversary, her daughter Kristina created a whole new pattern called Yhdessä, which is a collage of Maija’s famous patterns. I have a quilt for our bed from Crate & Barrel, which is sadly no longer available, although the fabric is still available on Marimekko’s website. I never tire of looking at the patterns, although I have to say, of them all, Tuuli is my favorite 😉

    Thanks for the research on this post!

  3. Erica D. says

    I admire how timeless Maija’s patterns are. So glad her daughter is carrying on the torch. Thanks for posting the article links too!

  4. says

    Thank you so much for creating this post about Maija Isola. I have always loved her iconic designs, but I didn’t know that much about the woman behind it all. It is amazing that she was so influential even today. I have a Marimekko print dress and scarf, which always gets me compliments whenever I wear them!

  5. says

    Thanks for this post. Marimekko is my favorite & Maija Isola is amazing. she’s been such a huge influence on me. She is one of the people that has inspired me to do what I do.

  6. MissyN says

    My parents had framed Marimekko fabric all over the house when I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, including some Maija Isola designs.

    Kaivo is my favorite – my parents had a giant one in the family room in brown and black and I have a great big piece in plum and maroon waiting to be framed and mounted above my bed. Scandinavians have always been great fabric designers and have had fabrics on their walls to keep out the cold since earliest times. My family is Swedish and I think that’s why I find the large pieces of fabric to be so homey as well as great design.

    To this day I can’t bring myself to purchase new Marimekko – only vintage!

  7. says

    Thank you so much for this post. It’s fascinating to learn about these famous designs. It’s amazing how fresh Maija Isola’s designs still look today and, of course, a credit to Marimekko how they get over 60 years of patterns by different designers to look so good and happy together.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *