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People love to remind that Boston is an especially European city for the US, a comparison that is not lost on Finnish textile design house Marimekko. With two local stores—one on Newbury Street and another in Cambridge—the company caters to the design-centric (yet practical) population of the area, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of its iconic Unikko poppy print this year with apparel, accessories, and home goods collections specific to the occasion.
As part of Marimekko's festive tour, we connected with womenswear designer Mika Piirainen at the Newbury Street store to discuss how Alfred Hitchcock inspires his bold and colorful designs, the way each collection must accommodate preferred silhouettes around the world, and the brand's textile legacy, from Unikko to quieter archival prints.
How did your story begin with Marimekko?
It's Unikko's fiftieth anniversary and my twentieth. I was studying at Lahti Design Institute in Finland. I made my final collection called "The Milkmaid;" it was a women's collection and a woman from Marimekko at the time was on the critiques and she really liked the collection. She told me to call her; I went to interview and met the owner of the company and in the middle of the meeting she said, "You're hired." It was the right time, right place.
Favorite print from the archive?
When I started we didn't use so many old prints; Our archives we're messy, I felt like a detective going through a dumpster. Nowadays it is very clean and tip-top. I've found so many prints in there, and some of them never see the daylight of production. They never exist in a way, and then forty years later they sell really well. A new print may just be an old one coming back. I really like Tuuli—it's a photo taken in 1972 in Paris. There are birds and I've got the feeling that the birds are going to sleep. It is nice when you frame it. I'm a fan of the quiet prints.
Obviously the Scandinavian sensibility of apparel shape and silhouette is pretty different from that of the US. When designing do you consider how other markets will react to shape?
Yes, I definitely think about it, but there are also a sort of greatest hits that work everywhere, Japan, Australia, US, Finland. I'm noticing in the states you like more flattering and cut to the waist. But it's difficult to please so many markets. The length is the most problematic. Australian and English girls like it really short.
And not just with silhouette of the garment, but also with the proportion of print.
I scale the prints as well. It also depends where you cut the print. We have XS through XL so we always need to cut in the same direction. Usually I start with the print. I might go to the archives or order them from the young designers; it's quite unusual for designers to start that way. Then I look to fabric—cotton or silk or linen. After that we decide what shapes we're using.
Tasma Dress, $378
What has been the best performing silhouette?
This sheath [Tasma, above, $378].
Is there a particular story behind that print this season?
The girl made the pattern with hand-cut pattern pieces. It looks digital, but she was doing it for days and days.
It's interesting to hear you find inspiration in Hitchcock, because these bold, colorful prints don't exactly reflect that. How do you interpret his work?
I think it's more shape-wise; his women are feminine. If you think about Hitchcock films and how he did a whole set and did perfect casting and lighting—it was a very visual thing. So in a way, he was the best designer in the world I think. With fashion, you think about the shows, and the stores. It's all about the visuals.
With so many different Unikko colors, how do you come up with new combinations?
There are 80 in production but we have almost 300. There are still plenty to make. You can see the decades through the colors; for example, in the 1970s they liked brown.
Do you pull inspiration from travel? Where is your favorite destination?
Yes; I like everywhere. I'm very "Mr. Swiss" that way. Australia is my second home; it's very relaxed, sort of a California lifestyle. When I design, it's 24-hour dresses. After work they go to the beach, they swim, they have a few cocktails. They wear the same dress nonstop.
Who is your Boston customer?
There is a long, long history here. Marimekko was in a shop in Cambridge, Design Research. Now Anthropologie is in that building; it used to be Marimekko in the late 1960s. Boston is part of the history. The next generation is turning to Marimekko now; Boston is a special place for it. It's a design hub for architecture and artists. In Sydney and Melbourne, Marimekko has the same history from the 1960s and 1970s. That's why we're doing so well there again. There's a feeling of nostalgia.
· 50 Years of Unikko [Marimekko]
· Marimekko [Official Site]