Marimekko’s Unikko: 50 years of flower power

In 1964, when Marimekko’s red-and-white poppy pattern Unikko was introduced, America was poised to embrace flower power.

Since them, hundreds of items including tableware, sheets and sneakers have been produced in this bold print, whose name means “poppy” in Finnish. The pattern became an icon for Marimekko, the Finnish company founded in 1951 by Armi Ratia that brought energy and innovation to the field of textile design. The 50th anniversary of Unikko, designed by Maija Isola, is being celebrated with a recently opened exhibition at the Finnish Embassy and a new product launch.

Have your own Unikko story? Tell us.

The exhibit highlights a collection of Unikko ceramics, household products and dresses, and shows various color schemes it has manufactured since 1964. A limited-edition 50th anniversary collection of trays, pitchers, pillows, bags and other Unikko items debuted this month online and in the six American Marimekko stores.

“Marimekko is close to our soul,” said Ritva Koukku-Ronde, Finnish ambassador to the United States, at the opening of the exhibit last week. The embassy used tablecloths of several Unikko color schemes for the reception, and a number of guests wore Marimekko dresses. “The bright colors and the courageous designs all speak to our lifestyle.”

We spoke by phone last week with Isabelle Cadieux-Fabian, president of Marimekko North America, about the history of the popular brand and the company’s future. Here is an edited transcript.

Why has this particular pattern had such staying power for Marimekko?

The pattern came out after Armi Ratia, the owner and founder of Marimekko, declared that Marimekko could never do floral prints. That was when designer Maija Isola, who was a bit of a rebel, created a collection of florals, one of which was Unikko. The pattern was produced, and it’s very graphic and very in tune with the DNA of the company. Over the years, it has been done and redone in more than 100 colorways. Through new colorations, it evolved and has always remained popular.

What are some of the future plans for the company?

We want to increase our footprint in the retail industry. We are planning to open new stores. We have a partnership with Banana Republic for a collection of limited-edition clothing and accessories. We want to find ways to bring the brand to customers in new ways.

Is Washington on the list for a store?

Yes, it is. We need to fine-tune some specific locations, but it’s on the list.

Do you own anything in the Unikko print?

I’m working at home this morning, so I can tell you that on my dining room table is a large Unikko tablecloth of pink and orange flowers on a dark brown background. I have orange leather chairs around it. It brings so much energy to the room. I thoroughly enjoy it. Everyone always comments on it.

Why is Marimekko timeless?

Its essence resonates with real values. It’s about happiness and being oneself, not pretending. Once you are connected with those values, they become part of your life — like my tablecloth. This is something that represents who I am, and when I have people over, they see brightness and happiness.

The “50 Years of Unikko” exhibition at the Embassy of Finland, 3301 Massachusetts Ave. NW, is open Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m.-4p.m. through June 29, with the exception of June 21 and 22. Admission is free. For additional information call 202 298-5800 or go to www.finland.org.

The home and design coverage of Jura Koncius has taken her inside hundreds of homes, from tiny studios in Penn Quarter to country castles in Warrenton. Jura also hosts the Home Front live chat, Thursdays at 11 a.m. ET.
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