On Friday I walked over to the Marimekko flagship on Newbury Street to meet Finnish designer Mika Piirainen, who was in town to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Marimekko’s iconic “Unikko” print. You know, the oversize mod floral that immediately springs to mind when someone utters Marimekko.
Mika Piirainen, who graduated from the Lahti Institute of Design and Fine Arts in Finland, is celebrating his 20th anniversary with the company. He snagged a position with Marimekko back in 1994, after the head of women’s fashion for the brand saw his final student presentation at Ravensbourne College in London.
He says, “The Marimekko people came to critique the show, and afterwards, they told me to call them. I had an interview within a few days, and got hired as a design assistant in the middle of the first meeting.” Then he adds, “I was lucky.”
That fateful collection was inspired by milkmaids in the Finnish countryside, and he reprised it just three months after starting at the firm. He says, “I redid the milkmaid collection in black, navy, and white, using the same shapes and materials. They sold quite well.”
Piirainen worked on staff at Marimekko for several years, and then transitioned into a freelance role, which has been good for both him and the company, which has almost 20 freelance designers on tap.
He says, “At this point I’ve done everything—women, men, kids, umbrellas, towels. I used to do lots of kids, but I’m done with that. Now I concentrate on women’s clothing and bags. “As for how many pieces he puts out, he recalls, “One year I made 140 pieces, now it’s more like 20 to 30.”
He favors simple silhouettes that let the textile designs speak for themselves. And although he sometimes designs his own prints, he also likes to use those created by young designers. He’s also been using lots of archival prints for new pieces he designs. After all, Marimekko has about 3,000 prints in its archives.
Piirainen explains, we have to check in with copyrights, talk to them about scale and color. Some like to have input, others say we can do whatever we want.”
Mika Piirainen and I chatted on the lower level of the Marimekko store.
Then we went upstairs so he could show me some of his designs. Piirainen designed this Silvi dress, as well as the actual textile pattern, named “Sato.”
Piirainen prefers a neutral palette. With “Sato” he used black & white, playing with the positive and the negative. He hand draws his textile designs, rather than designing them on a computer. He makes big swishing motions with his arm to describe the movements he used in the studio while putting these freeform lines to paper.
Marimekko celebrates the 50th anniversary of its “Unikko” floral this year. Love the Unikko bean bags.
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