Marimekko’s career pioneers liberated wearers
Marimekko’s career pioneers liberated wearers: Maija Isola, Annika Rimala & Vuokko Nurmesniemi

Maija Isola, Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi, and Annika Rimala were designers who gambled on writing their own rules­—and it paid off.

The shape that liberated women’s dressing style

In the 1950s, it was common for fashion to be copied directly from the Paris shows. When Vuokko Nurmesniemi started as a designer at Marimekko, she made it clear that she intended to design, not copy. Under her direction, pencil skirts relaxed into straight cuts and architectural-free-form silhouettes. Her garments allowed freedom of movement and boasted details that made life easier: zips, snap buttons, and pockets. An impeccable marriage of new form and functionality was the Jokapoika-shirt (1956). On paper, it was likely to have been intended for men's clothing, but once it hit stores, it became a unisex garment at a time when the term didn’t even exist. 

Marimekko's founder Armi Ratia wearing Jokapoika shirt.
Marimekko's founder Armi Ratia used Jokapoika as a work jacket.

Modern designs that talked to people 

Marimekko's message was built into the clothes: the silhouettes were freeing, the patterns open-minded, and the color combinations optimistic. The style was infectious, and appealed beyond Finland. In the 1960s, Jackie Kennedy, artist Georgia O'Keeffe, and writer and critic Jane Jacobs wore Marimekko. A sense of freedom and creativity was palpable in the lifestyles of Marimekko designers. Maija Isola was Marimekko's first textile designer and a true adventurer. Though it was unconventional and rare to travel then, she spent long periods in North Africa, Europe, and America, absorbing their cultures for inspiration. Uncompromising in her work, the iconic Unikko (1964) print was created at a time when flower patterns were banned by Marimekko’s founder Armi Ratia. But when Ratia saw the ingenious fabric, she couldn't help but eat her words.

Herttoniemi printing mill.
Unikko (1964) has been continuously printed at the Herttoniemi fabric press since its launch.

Introducing a material for everyone

"At your own risk," said an unenthusiastic Armi Ratia when Annika Rimala proposed a jersey collection. For Rimala, the flexible and easy-care fabric represented comfort, diversity, and the new spirit of the times. Like the jeans that everyone seemed to be donning at the end of the 1960s, anyone could wear jersey, regardless of age, size, or gender. Rimala wanted to design an equally versatile counterpart of clothing for the people. Enter Tasaraita (1968). The evenly spaced stripe wasn’t just a print but a range of clothing essentials, and they symbolized equality. People lined up to buy Marimekko’s first jersey collection comprising underwear, nightgowns, and long-sleeved t-shirts. Everyone wanted to wear Tasaraita, just as Rimala had planned. 

Black and white pictures of Tasaraita fabric and clothing (1968).
Tasaraita fabric and clothing (1968) went on sale the same year the word unisex was used for the first time in The New York Times.

In the Spring 2023 Kioski collection, Maija Isola's Unikko, Vuokko Nurmesniemi's Jokapoika, and Annika Rimala's Tasaraita are seen for the first time in the same collection.

Read more about Maija Isola

Read more about Annika Rimala

Read more about Vuokko Nurmesniemi