With the creation of Marimekko, rather than simply creating a company that played off of current Finnish design trends, Armi Ratia altered the landscape of printed textiles both at home and abroad. As I mentioned last week, the creation of Marimekko corresponded with Finland's rise on the international design scene. It was during this period that Finland's remoteness and isolation - once perceived as a weakness for the country - actually became its strength. As the writer Anna-Liisa Ahmavaara noted in her contemporary survey, Finnish Textiles (1970), "Many people have pointed to that boundless longing for beauty that the war and years following it produced, and to the fruitful process brought about by Finland's geographical position: the ingredients being western rationalism on the one hand and the freshness and carefree spirit of the east on the other."
Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi's Jokapoika shirt, worn by Armi Ratia (right). Via Mid2Mod.
Ratia's first and most significant innovation for Marimekko was her decision to promote boldly graphic and abstract patterns for both the company's furnishings and fashion. And while some of Marimekko's early designs were by Ratia herself, it was as an art director and public relations expert that she truly came into her own. Ratia began by commissioning patterns from various artists and designers before quickly recognizing the necessity of hiring designers of her own. In a move that proved to be the making of Marimekko, Ratia hired Maija Isola and Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi to work in-house, two untried young designers fresh from college, whose work Ratia believed in and saw great potential.
Maija Isola, Unikko pattern, 1964. Courtesy of Yale Books.
Maija Isola came to Ratia's attention after winning a competition for printed fabrics at the Institute of Industrial Arts in Helsinki, where she was a student from 1946-49. After graduation, Isola began designing furnishing fabrics for Printex (which was soon to become Marimekko), and continued to do so until 1987, creating 533 designs for the company over her 38-year career. As Lesley Jackson explains of Isola's work for Marimekko:
Even though Isola always preferred to work at a distance from the factory, she remained extremely loyal to the company, and throughout her career Marimekko remained her principal client. Isola's relationship with Armi Ratia was sometimes stormy, but the desire to surprise Ratia and win her approval remained a primary motivating factor over the years. Ratia, in turn, placed enormous faith in Isola. Marimekko's identiy was (and to a certain extent still is) intimately allied with her work.Isola's long and intense relationship with Marimekko combined with her tireless commitment to innovation and originality put her in the unique position to repeatedly redefine, reinvigorate and enrich the company's pattern collection. Isola's innovative design work elevated textiles to the level of art through her inspired handling of color, pattern and scale, creating an enduring impact on Marimekko's overall aesthetic.
Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi, Iloinen takki dress, 1960. Courtesy of Marimekko.
As for the other main designer who influenced the Marimekko aesthetic during its formative years, Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi was another graduate of the Institute of Industrial Arts who worked for the company from 1953-1960, creating a series of groundbreaking furnishing fabrics as well as numerous dress fabrics and garments for Marimekko. With a design aesthetic that married extreme graphic simplicity with a daring use of color, Eskolin-Nurmesniemi's early designs focused primarily on color relationships and the rhythmic interplay of verticals and horizontals, in addition to overlapping adjacent colors to create a third intermediate shade. And rather than be stymied by the difficulties at the time of printing a pattern with such wide areas of color, Eskolin-Nurmesniemi instead used them to spur the development of new printing techniques to accommodate her designs. By 1953, Eskolin-Nurmesniemi had branched out from fabrics, creating what came to be considered the Marimekko look with her unique clothing designs. According to Maria Härkäpää:
Nurmesniemi's idea was to design clothes that were simple in line, could be worn by almost anyone, and would be suitable for industrial mass production. Because the garments had few darts and seams, Marimekko's extraordinary fabrics were emphasized. Her first designs were dresses - Yleistakki (a smock for everyday) and Kivijalkamekko (foundation dress, both in 1957). In 1956 she designed the Jokapoika (everyboy) shirt using Piccolo fabric. Originally intended for men, it became not only a unisex fashion, but also a Marimekko classic.Although she only worked for the company for 7 years, Eskolin-Nurmesniemi effectively helped create Marimekko's fashion aesthetic, influencing the company well beyond her tenure.
 Lesley Jackson, "Textile Patterns in an International Context: Precursors, Contemporaries, and Successors," from Marimekko: Fabrics, Fashion, Architecture, ed. Marianne Aav (New York: The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, 2003), 51.
 Anna-Liisa Ahmavaara, Finnish Textiles (Helsinki: Otava, 1970), 1, reprinted in "Textile Patterns in an International Context: Precursors, Contemporaries, and Successors," from Marimekko: Fabrics, Fashion, Architecture, ed. Marianne Aav (New York: The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, 2003), 51.
 Lesley Jackson, "Textile Patterns in an International Context: Precursors, Contemporaries, and Successors," from Marimekko: Fabrics, Fashion, Architecture, ed. Marianne Aav (New York: The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, 2003), 51-52.
 Ibid., 52.
 Ibid., 52.
 Ibid., 52.
 Ibid., 52.
 Ibid., 53.
 Ibid., 62.
 Ibid., 62.
 Ibid., 62-63.
 Ibid., 63, 65.
 Maria Härkäpää, "Selected Biographies of Marimekko Designers," from Marimekko: Fabrics, Fashion, Architecture, ed. Marianne Aav (New York: The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, 2003), 296.
 Ibid., 296.
 Ibid., 296.