Design Research

5 Oct


Marimekko in the New York Times

On September 29, 2010, “One Stop Living” by Pilar Viladas

The New York Times’ T Design Fall 2010 edition proves that people are still hooked on mid-century design.  A new book, Design Research: The Store That Brought Modern Living to American Homes, explores the  scope of its influence.  This Cambridge, Massachusetts store offered the best of design with Finnish goods like Marimekko and Iittala. D/R also had some surprising selections, blending folk art among its Mies Van der Rohe and Noguchi products.

Architect Benjamin Thompson opened the store in 1953 and it closed twenty-five years later, in 1978. The book is written in part by his widow, Jane Thompson, a celebrated urban planner in her own right, with Alexandra Lange, an architectural historian.

Ben Thompson met Armi Ratia, Marimekko’s founder, at the Brussels World Fair in 1958. He invited her to partake in a show the following summer at his store. One year later, Jacqueline Kennedy purchased dresses from said store and the rest is history. According to Thompson, “Marimekko was new freedom of movement–women in an equal rights world, breaking into a new life.”

Ratia’s involvement with Thompson is part of her longstanding interest in architecture. She later worked with the Finnish architect Aarno Ruusuvuori on the designs for a Marimekko factory (that fell through) among many ambitious projects including the “Marihouse.” Furthermore, in a 1963 interview in American Fabrics Raita even compares herself to an architect :

“I don’t really sell clothes. I sell a way of living. They are not designs, not fashions… The cut is as simple as possible. My approach is something like the architect’s. He makes a house for people to live in. I make a dress for women to live in…”

Marimekko on Film

I am extremely excited to see the Marimekko documentary mentioned in the Times. Caroline Van Valkenburgh’s film, “It Wasn’t Just A Dress,” touches on the history of the Marimekko with accounts of the company’s  impact on a personal level.

Also, I recently e-mailed the photographer Elsa Dorfman who helped with Caroline Van Valkenburgh’s film. She has beautiful large-scale polaroid portraits of people wearing Marimekko, like the self-portrait below, on her website.

Copyright Elsa Dorfman, 1973


On a Personal Note

When I was in college, I worked for one summer in Cambridge Square at the Harvard Co-Op Bookstore. I walked past the old Design Research building on Brattle Street nearly every day for a few months. Because the D/R store closed in 1978, I knew the building only as a Crate and Barrel.

Of course, Crate and Barrel has its own ties to Design Research. Their retail shops sell Marimekko textiles and its founder, Gordon Segal, was clearly inspired by Ben Thompson’s vision of better living through design. The Boston Globe reports that an Anthropologie clothing store will open in the space later this year. It is worth noting that Anthropologie also sells Marimekko clothing.

With plans to expand their presence in the United States, a new book and a new film, Marimekko is definitely on the rise!


Quotes from Marianne Aav’s Marimekko: fabrics, fashion, architecture

Published for The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, New York, and the Design Museum, Finland, by Yale University Press, 2003


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