Marimekko’s new Sydney store.  Photo – Phu Tang

Marimekko Sydney store – womenswear.  Photo – Phu Tang.

Marimekko store exterior on King st, Sydney CBD.

If you follow TDF on Instagram it will come as no surprise to see iconic Finnish brand MARIMEKKO here this morning!  I was super excited last week to check out the launch of Marimekko’s brand new flagship store in Sydney – and it didn’t disappoint!  It was actually quite special to see a renowned international brand so keen to make a real splash with their Australian launch.

As you might expect, the Marimekko team are sticklers for detail, and no stone was left unturned in the planning and preparation for their first Australian store.  From the sleek interior fit-out (consistent with all Marimekko stores worldwide), to the vibrant beanbags scattered along King Street, the Sydney store, housed in a distinctive art deco building, really does bring a uniquely international flavour to the Australian retail market.

Founded in 1951, Marimekko’s iconic prints and products have been sold in Australia since the 1960’s, but it’s not until now that they have opened their very own stores here.  With a range that encompasses womenswear, menswear, kids wear, home accessories, soft furnishings and even fabric sold by the metre, there is certainly something very powerful about seeing this diverse range in one colour-popping retail space!  It’s like the penny kind of drops when you see the full range styled all together… these bold, playful prints really are meant to be seen en masse!

Whilst in Sydney last week I had the opportunity to interview Marimekko designer Mika Piirainen to gain a little insight into the inner workings of this much loved European design house -

Designer Mika Piirainen in the Sydney Marimekko store.  Photo – Phu Tang
Hi Mika!  Firstly, would you mind telling us what your role entails at Marimekko?

Yes.  I’ve been working in the company since 1994. That’s a really long time!  During the years I have been working with the kids wear, womenswear, menswear, bags and accessories, towels and some interior products – I have almost worked across the whole range, but nowadays I mainly work in womenswear.

What was your background before working with Marimekko?

I grew up in Helsinki, studied fashion design at Lahti Design Institute in Finland, and then Ravensbourne College in London. I graduated in 1994, and there was lady from Marimekko who came to London to see our graduate show. She liked my work and asked me to meet with her team in Helsinki.  So I took my portfolio and went along to meet them.  The lady said ‘you’re hired’ in the middle of the interview! Sometimes things just happen for a reason. I just felt right.

It must be brilliant to work in a company where you are involved from start to finish in the design process, where everything from textile design to patternmaking is done in house so there is a control through the whole process?

Yes definitely, that’s ones of my passions. We’re one of the only companies who really start from a blank canvas. We design a pattern first, then we think about fabrics – cotton or canvas or knitwear or jersey, and then we think about shapes – and how the pattern will work and be scaled across various clothing and homewares or accessories.

A lot of fashion houses just buy fabrics in, but we start really from nothing. That’s why I like it, and that’s why have been working in this company so long.

The designs we strive for are really timeless – pieces created by Marimekko from the 50’s still look nice now. That’s what we want to do, design wise. It’s not what I would call a ‘fashion forward’ company – we’re more interested in designing clothes which can be worn for generations.

How do you go about designing new prints and products which feel contemporary, but sit confidently alongside iconic Marimekko pieces from the 50’s and 60’s? Is there a lot of pressure to honour Marimekko’s long history in everything you do?

Of course there’s a pressure, but I am so relaxed these days, having been in the company so long. But I notice with the new designers, they do get a bit nervous!

The thing is, even though we’re making new patterns and product, we’re always looking back to our history when producing new work. I like to look through our archives and re-work prints and patterns that have never really seen the daylight or been in production.

I’m confident now, I trust my intuition. I have made mistakes. But if a design doesn’t work when it comes back from the printers or patternmakers, we change it at the last minute. It doesn’t happen that often though. Maybe 10 times in my life we have done that. It looks very simple, but making one print work across various designs can be quite complex.

What does a typical day involve for you?

It really depends… I used to work five days a week, but I work a lot from home nowadays as well. I have a studio at home. I don’t go in to the office on Fridays – I keep this day to give my mind a bit of free space.

Every week is a little bit different. Sometimes I get to work after 2.00pm and take a night shift – I do this because it’s more quiet, I can get things done. It’s too social in the daytime. It can be hard to be creative in that environment. Sometimes I go in on the weekends, it’s peaceful, I can get my work done.

Actually my pattern cutting lady, who I work very closely with, lives in Lapland. So we speak a lot on the phone, and then she comes to the office maybe twice a month to work through the patterns. Those are busy, long days!

Do you have a lot of freedom when starting a new range? Do you receive a tight brief from the company directors, or do you do your own thing?

Generally, I do my own thing. But I have to say, now the company is growing, I do have perhaps a little less freedom than in the old days! Now of course we have more stores, more pressure and different markets. In Japan we might do slightly different things to Europe for instance.

Australia is a new market for us and we’ve been thinking a lot about fabrics for the weather here – what Australians wear and use in their homes.  Also the length of our clothes – Australians like dresses a bit shorter than Europe!

I think it’s a fun challenge working with new markets. After almost 18 years here I want to be always learning.

Following on from the Sydney launch last week, Marimekko Melbourne is now open and will have its official launch at its Chapel Street store this coming Thursday November 8th! Get in there, people!

Marimekko – Sydney store
66 King st
Sydney
NSW

Marimekko – Melbourne store
576 Chapel st
South Yarra
Victoria

Marimekko plastic coated fabrics (for tablecloths!).  Photo – Phu Tang