Sunday, September 18, 2005

Marimekko exhibition

The Lighthouse in Glasgow is currently hosting a small but fascinating retrospective exhibition about the work of Marimekko, that superb and innovative design/fashion company that became synonymous with Finland's renaissance in the 1960s and 1970s. What Armi Ratia, who founded Marimekko, understood was that the democratic modernism which underpinned the optimistic and sunny culture of the business would benefit both producers and consumers: a kind of updated Bauhaus and William Morris sprit which aimed to democratise radical design, extending beyond clothes into the whole domestic environment. Perhaps no coincidence that 95% of their employees are still women.

The company's design culture was prophetic and pre-figurative in many ways: they rapidly moved beyond boldly printed textiles, and carefully made clothes with clean lines, into accessories, furniture, and thence into architecture and wider design. Marimekko became a total design concept but without cultishness or pretension- because it maintained an ironic, playful, eclectic sprit. The fashion philosophy was always about much more than clothes, and they never designed just for a skinny young minority. Hugely influential, hugely important, they pioneered an ethical, modernist, optimistic aesthetic that still holds promise. This book tells the story. And this article about the exhibition recently appeared in Scotland on Sunday.