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 (at time of this story): 28 Maija Isola designs still in production — on home accessories, textiles and in fashions — for sale currently.
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.
Here is Maija Isola’s biography, from the Marimekko website (updated: I can’t find link any more):
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.
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 Marimekko designs still available today
According to our media contact at Marimekko, the following patterns designed by Maija Isola are currently available:
Clothing and accessories:
Continuing collection (interior):
- Isot Kivet
- Pieni Melooni
- Pieni Unikko
- Mini Unikko
Where to buy Marimekko designs today
Marimekko designs can show up in products at many stores. You can:
- shop right on the Marimekko website…
- there’s FinnStylee …
- look at All Modern…
- I see lots of Marimekko wallpapers at Designers Best
- And it’s wise to simply google, because capsule collections show up at various retailers.
More great info about Maija Isola:
- Maija Isola on Wikipedia
- New York Times on the birth of Marimekko, and its rebirth in terms of popularity a few years ago
- Description of 2005 exhibit on Maija Isola’s work at DesignMuseet.
- Textiles in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Thanks to our friends at Marimekko for their help with this story, and for permission to feature historical images of Maija Isola and their products.