Marimekko Collectors: Juliana Osei opens doors to vintage wonderlands

The first time Juliana Osei walked into a Marimekko store, she felt like she’d drunk a magic liquid that shrunk her to fit through the tiny door of the secret garden in Alice in Wonderland. Everywhere she looked, her eyes feasted on colors and prints; florals, stripes, and geometric patterns on bags and folded tops filled the shelves, bright homewares glowed above Scandi furniture, and vibrant cotton fabrics, each with a personality of their own, adorned the walls. “It was like being in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I just wanted to buy everything. EVERYTHING,” she exclaims. It was only a matter of time before she reasoned that if the brand started in the early 1950s, there must be vintage Marimekko. So, the search began.  

Fast forward 20 years to today, and she’s lost count of how many Marimekko pieces she’s collected: “I stopped counting after I reached 50,” says Juliana, 59. For the Londoner, now based in Milan, it’s about the addictive thrill of finding a beautiful piece, then selling it to someone who will love it just as much as she does.  

This exchange takes place at Pourquoi Moi Vintage (@pourquoimoivintage), the vintage shop in Milan she runs with her long-time boyfriend and business partner (the one who introduced her to Marimekko). She describes the shop as “small, but perfectly formed,” where every element in the space is an extension of her eclectic style, honed from years of developing her living environment, her fashion sense, and her architecture sensibility, or, “the arteries of our daily lives,” as she calls them.  

The shop possesses all the architectural design features Juliana loves: beautiful high ceilings, original 1930s ceramic tile floors, wooden window shutters, and a mezzanine level. Aware of the stigma some people hold against second-hand clothing, and the detached transaction of buying online, she wanted the space to evoke the joy of an enthralling, real-life shopping experience. So, she dressed it as a boutique, curating every element with compassionate detail. When we visited, a circa 1960s blue Marimekko dress hung next to a glass vase the shape of a garlic bulb, filled with two knitted dolls – one black and one white – in a loving embrace, while a floor-length color spiral print was enveloped by ceramics, Scandinavian furniture, and Italian design antiques by Gio Ponti and Campo & Graffi.  

Armi Ratia, Marimekko’s founder, used color as a constant across creative disciplines, and it’s clear that this design element chimes the loudest with Juliana. Her world is steeped in color, from her flowing Marimekko frocks to the shiny bijoux treasures that catch the light from a glass cabinet against the shop wall. Juliana’s style is like a work of art she’s spent years evolving to reflect the truest expression of her exuberant individuality. If her energy were to be a color, it would be bright orange, radiating in time with her vivid storytelling and dimming to a soft sunset in moments of peace. 
Discover what ignited Juliana’s collection obsession, spot her rare Marimekko prints, and learn where to enter the magical world of hidden Milan. Our interview has been edited for length and clarity.  

Juliana’s vintage boutique in Milan, Pourquoi Moi Vintage, is a haven for Nordic and Italian design in the form of clothing, shoes, bags, and accessories.
Color is everything for Juliana. Particularly if the tone evokes water or a Nordic aesthetic, like these shimmering Suomu (fish scale) print pants.

What influenced you to start collecting vintage?

I first discovered vintage one day in the late 70s when I happened to visit Camden Market when it was just a small flea market. It's hard to believe nowadays, but it really was quite small. And when I came across it, it was love at first sight. I was 14 years old. I didn't have much money, but I was really interested in fashion, and vintage was a way of obtaining something unique. Pieces that were well made and super attractive but didn't cost the earth. I remember going through a stage of wanting to dress the same as my friends. I think we all remember a period like that. We all wanted to dress the same because we thought that was kind of cool, and then the next stage comes when you want to be different. Well, that stage never left me. My passion for vintage was born, and I never looked back.

What do you look for in a collectible piece? 

I'm all about fabric, details, and print. Probably in that order. They're always exceptions to the rules, of course. But I particularly like sartorial handmade pieces, maybe for small boutiques or made to measure for a client. Italy really specialized a lot in this in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and they also thought about the weather. They concentrated on natural materials like wool, cotton, and silk and they were at the forefront of manufacturing. If the piece is a designer label, then it's a bonus, I guess, but it's not a priority for me.  

It has to have a style aesthetic about it. It has to be cool. It has to be a wearable timeless piece. That you can wear not just for five minutes, not just for a month, but hopefully, for next year, and the year after that, and for years to come. Classics are classics for a reason, you know? We like stripes, we like flowers, and we like color as human beings. So these are the kind of things that I look for, but they must also be well made.  

What drew you to Marimekko pieces? 

I immediately loved the quality of the cotton, which was a new experience for me. Even better when I realized that I could throw most of them in the washing machine. And they would just come out perfect. If you hung them up carefully, you didn't even need to iron them. I mean, you know, win-win! I just kind of kept on buying because I realized that when you bought a vintage piece, you would come across a wonderful print, and it would always be a print that was better than the last vintage piece you bought, so it was just endless. This long road of never-ending new Marimekko prints to discover. 

Tell me about some of your favorite pieces in your collection. 

In a nutshell, my favorite piece is always my latest acquisition. How can you really choose a favorite, you know? You have pieces that give you memories of where you found them or things like that. But what I've realized is that I'm always excited about the next piece that I'm going to find. It's not that you're forgetting pieces. You'll always select to wear certain pieces in the winter, certain pieces in the spring, certain pieces in the summer. But I think the real excitement is when you get your next piece.  

The road for collecting Marimekko prints is never-ending for Juliana, who would seemingly come across a better pattern every time she bought a new piece.
Juliana surveys the street in a strikingly colorful Marimekko dress. Behind her, the icy Nordic blue dress she acquired most recently hangs next to the garlic bulb-shaped glass vase.

What was special about the last piece you bought? 

My last piece is actually one I put in the window of the shop. I don't know the name of the [Marimekko] print, but the colors were very Nordic. They were a kind of gray, an icy kind of blue. And the print reminded me of elements of water. I'm very drawn to water, and I would love to eventually live near water. So this piece is definitely one of my favorites because it just has a really Nordic-Scandinavian aesthetic about it. I feel that there's a kind of Nordic person inside me trying to escape. I think I should have been born in Scandinavia. 

What are some of the other treasured items in your Marimekko collection?  

I have one dress with a wonderful optical print, and it looks really similar to the famous Liidokki or Kirjo print by Pentti Rinta circa 1973, which is iconic and that Marimekko actually remade. And this particular print that I'm wearing is similar to that, but it's very different, and I've never seen another one like it in 20 years.  

I also love this beautiful pleated 1960s dress, and it has the Keidas (oasis) print, which was created by Annika Rimala, who was one of my favorite Marimekko designers. In fact, my three favorite Marimekko designers are Annika Rimala, Pentti Rinta, and Vuokko [Eskolin-Nurmesniemi].  

My other treasured item is actually not a dress. It's a doll, and it's called a Molla Mari. I think you originally bought it as a kind of construction kit, and you would sew it and make it up yourself. I found my Molla Mari in a small underground seller in a basement. It was surrounded by lots of Finnish vintage clothing, and I rescued her and brought her with me to the shop. Now she sits in my 1930s director's chair. The doll's name is Lotte, after the person that kindly sold her to me.  

How would you describe your sense of style?  

Because I live in Milan in Italy, it's really quite hot for at least six months of the year. So the first thing that I would naturally do is try to avoid synthetics because, you know, they're quite uncomfortable and hot. So I've evolved my look and my sense of style by going for more natural materials.  

My look evolved, especially around vintage Marimekko, because that fulfilled all my fashion needs. The garments were made out of the finest cotton, and the styles being A-line and smart, and a lot of the times oversized, made them really comfortable and easy to wear. They give you a lot of freedom of movement. 

Also, I love color, which is really a priority for me. I think we need color in our lives. It's a really positive thing. And if I look at Marimekko, their prints are so strong. And so iconic. I mean, they are the kind of thing that would stop traffic when you wear them. And who doesn't want to stop traffic?  

What does the word style mean to you?  

Well, nowadays we live in such an eclectic fast-paced world which has been accelerated by the internet. And while everything seems to be going faster and faster, including fashion, I personally feel that style is about slowing down. And kind of going back to our roots. So I've never followed trends, and I've always tried to be individual.  

Choosing a well-made garment in good quality fabric is going to last you a lifetime. That's why vintage garments from the 50s, 60s, or even 60 years ago, can still look like they were made yesterday. And I think Armi Ratia, the founder of Marimekko, really followed this aesthetic. So style, for me, is taking pride in how you dress. 

I feel dressing well at the start of my day means a positive beginning. It can really lift my mood and energize me for whatever the day might bring. It's a bit like when we say we should kickstart the day by having breakfast, as it's the most important meal of the day.  

Style, for me, is also wearing something that fits and complements you and your body shape. After all, we're probably going to be wearing that thing for at least 10 hours. So it has to be comfortable.  

At the heart of the Marimekko lifestyle is the freedom to be yourself and find joy in everyday moments. How do you relate to this way of life? 

Well, Italy was the first European country to go into lockdown due to COVID. And it was probably the most difficult thing that I've had to go through in my life. Where work was concerned, I basically lost everything that I'd worked really hard for overnight. So after that happened, the things that I appreciated the most, and took pleasure from, were the little things. The things that I had previously taken for granted before the pandemic hit. Even though we couldn't go anywhere, I still got dressed every single day. And, most of the time, my garment of choice was a Marimekko dress. Wearing a colorful Marimekko made me happy. So, even during the darkest periods of my life, like during COVID, things like that actually lifted my mood. 

What are your favorite places to visit in Milan? 

One of my favorite hobbies is walking around the city, especially in the daytime, because that's when most of the old apartment buildings have the doors open, and you can walk inside and discover these beautiful courtyards, beautiful architecture, and secret gardens or ancient tiled flooring. It's the hidden Milan. It’s kind of going back to that original Alice In Wonderland feeling that I had when I discovered Marimekko.  

One place that I would love to visit is the Villa Necchi Campiglio, which is an authentic 1930s villa right in the heart of Milan, that has remained exactly the same as when it was built. It has a wonderful garden, and it’s a homage to 1930s architecture, which is what I love. It’s a place that I would suggest to anybody to go and visit. Especially if you like history and architecture. I haven't been, but I will get to it one of these days.  

Pourquoi Moi Vintage  
Via Mario Fusetti, 7, 20143 Milano, Italy 
Open Tuesday to Sunday, 1 pm-7 pm, hours sometimes subject to change.
Check Google and Facebook for updates.   

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