In this edition of "Meet the Women Behind the Designs," we put a name to the patterns we all know and love. Who doesn't obsess over the Scandinavian-modern designs of Marimekko! There is a timelessness to the bold, vibrant forms, the contrast of black and white, the super-saturated reds, and blues. We all have a favorite pattern.
And did you know there is a woman behind the most classic of these Finnish styles?
Her name was Maija Isola, a Finnish painter whose eye for color and modern style translated effortlessly to textiles and home furnishings. Her famous prints continue to influence designers today, and we are proud to say we have a few pieces in our own homes that continue to showcase her incredible, bold vision. (We like to think our Light collection has a bit of that bright, modern flair, too.) Seeing her Kaivo or Melooni designs not only cheers us up but also inspires us to be brave and colorful every day, just like Maija.
From Canvas to Cotton
The young Maija Isola graduated from the Helsinki Central School of Industrial Arts in 1949. She studied painting and was particularly inspired by botanical motifs. Her first job was with the local textile manufacturer, Printex, a company that branched out in 1951 into a second company that we all probably know a bit better today: Marimekko.
At Marimekko, Isola designed increasingly bold, organic patterns. Like many artists in the early 1950s, she looked to "primitive" styles for their perceived simplicity of form and purity of line. She blended Slovakian peasant art with African designs, showcasing some of her best work at the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels.
By the 1960s, Marimekko had grown into a world-recognized textile firm with Armi Ratia, its entrepreneurial female founder, leading the way. Maija Isola was her most influential in-house designer, and it was in this decade that Isola developed some of her most iconic designs.
The dramatic, sweeping black curves of Kaivo translate the organic lines of modernism into something exciting and accessible. While other designers coaxed dramatic lines from hard materials like wood and metal, Isola's skill was in making something theatrically bold, wearable, and soft. Printed on giant bolts of affordable cotton fabric, Kaivo was available in bright, saturated tones of blue, red, and green. This was a print for everyone.
One of the legendary stories of Isola's keen design sense and bold personality comes from the annals of Marimekko. When Armi Ratia refused to release flower prints on her label, Isola created Unikko. Not only was it an instant success, but this loud and fabulous floral design continues to be one of Marimekko's most popular patterns.
The fearless, organic lines in Unikko viewed flowers through a new, modern lens. In combinations of black and gold, orange and red, or blue and green, the color palette is endless and endlessly applicable. It works as well on a modern tea set as it does on a dress. Women around the world quickly welcomed Marimekko's radical flower designs into their homes thanks to the confident style of Maija Isola.
In a nearly 40-year career, Isola designed over 500 unique, modern, accessible prints. Her designs appear in homes and in fashion on every continent and are still in print through Marimekko today. While Isola passed away in 2001, her legacy continues in the most unlikely and remarkable of places. In 2015, Finnair added a new design to their airbus: the Blue and Yellow Unikko flowers.
The next time you put on a piece of the Graymoor Lane Bloom collection, we hope you'll think of and be as bold as Maija Isola, too.