Check out the article below, originally published in People Magazine, on 04/25/1977. Writer John Bryson gives insight into the history of Marimekko’s fun prints and patterns, and the lady who made her dream a reality:
“In Finnish, the name simply means “little dress for Mary.” But to thousands of American shoppers, Marimekko is synonymous with bright patterned fabrics and modern Scandinavian design in dresses, tablecloths, T-shirts, paper napkins, sheets, pillowcases and even canvas luggage. The woman behind this stylish $12 million empire isn’t a Mary at all but Armi Ratia, 65, who has become a Finnish national treasure.
Operating out of her Helsinki apartment (above), which was designed by her eldest son, Ristomattia, Ratia is watching her life come full circle. She began at the drawing board, creating patterns for her husband’s oilcloth factory, then headed up Marimekko after their divorce, and now is back to design again. Ratia will oversee the firm’s eight designers and leave the day-today running of the business to hired executives. “I’m delighted to let someone else boil about strikes and salary crises!” she says. (Nonetheless, she still owns 74 percent of the company.)
Simplicity has always been the hallmark of Marimekko, starting with the early designs of the 1950s. “I was getting up early to feed the baby his porridge and my husband his breakfast,” Ratia says. “I needed a housecoat to throw on quickly. So I designed one, and that was the first Marimekko.”
Being on the plump side (she describes herself as a “happy apple”), she did not create clothes that would look good only on cadaverous models. She remains frankly antifashion. “If there is a button it has to function,” Ratia insists. “Maybe we are thinking in peasant ways, but when I see all the finery today I don’t know who buys it.”
Marimekko is still expanding. Its products, once distributed only through the Design Research chain, are now merchandized in specialty and department stores worldwide. Prosperity has allowed Ratia to indulge in some cheerful hedonism. One example is her estate outside Helsinki, which has 14 buildings including a sauna next to the Gulf of Finland. “In winter I dip through a hole in the thick ice,” she boasts. “It doesn’t kill me.” Come spring, Ratia is famed for her house parties, for which she decorates the grounds with “candles to the point of madness.”
In Helsinki her ex-husband lives next door with his young wife. But Ratia wants no more scenes from a marriage. “I get tired with one man hanging around all the time,” she confesses. “With me, any man starts to stink in three days.” Otherwise, her exuberance for life seems undiminished. “I almost died last year,” she says, referring to a serious illness. “But I decided, ‘No, I’m too curious.’ “
Article from people.com.