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Translating Art into Iconic, Original Designs: Q&A with Petri Juslin of Marimekko

Mable Yiu

It's hard not to smile when walking around a Marimekko store... The clothing boasts bright colors and florals—even darker-colored options incorporate polka dots, stripes, or pops of color. For the New Yorker that must wear all-black, everything, their home collection (think dinnerware, stationery, bedding and pillows) features the same iconic, original prints you see around the store. Not only will they bring playfulness into your living space, but they will also up your at-home entertaining game. 

This September was the first ever New York Textiles Month, and the Finnish design and lifestyle brand celebrated by installing a large textile piece by MAD Museum Artist Studios Program resident, Sarah Zapata. For the occasion, Marimekko's Artwork Studio Manager, Petri Juslin, flew from Helsinki to New York to give talks at both Parsons and Marimekko's flagship store in Flatiron. Having been with the brand for thirty years, Petri plays a crucial role at Marimekko, collaborating with countless designers, artists and the printing team. 

At the event this past Tuesday, loyal customers and fans crowded around the store to hear Petri discuss the history of Marimekko and explain the design process, from translating the original sketches—which are typically hand-made pieces of 3D art that go way beyond a layman's definition of a "sketch"—into the prints now recognized around the world. Lucky for us, I got the chance to speak with Petri before the event to learn more about his work with the brand.

On Marimekko’s influence on people around the world…

“It’s fun to realize how many fans we have around the world and how our prints have influenced so many people and touched their hearts. In my presentations here, I try to explain what is it in the prints that makes them so powerful. We want to make people happy—to bring joy into their lives with the patterns and colors. That’s why we make so many different products from the patterns so you can find your own way of placing them in your home. Not everyone wants big printed fabric, but you can have an accent mug, if you like the pattern. 

On the brand's history...

"Marimekko is truly a heritage brand because the history is very real. It began 65 years ago in the printing factory. It’s one of the oldest lifestyle concept brands—fashion and home established around print design.”

On finding new designers…

"We have arranged competitions [in the past], but we haven’t done so in many years. They became so huge. The last one we did had almost 10,000 applicants. But we did find many young designers through that that are still with us. Other times, we see someone’s work in an exhibition, and then we reach out to them. We get so many applications every day, but it’s very rare that we find someone that way, because they have to be very special."

On how long it takes to create a new collection...

"Right now, for instance, I’m working on things that you will see in the store in about a year. So it’s about one year, but there’s a lot of things included into the process like production itself, shipments and marketing." 

On knowing which print will be a "hit"...

"It’s a bit of a mystery to us, what is going to fly off the shelves. If we knew exactly, it would be a very easy business. It’s been very interesting work for us."

On working with the company…

"I like all the designers—everyone has their own flavor and influence on the company. All in all, Marimekko is a very special place to work. It’s like a family—lots of laughing and sometimes we hate each other. It’s a very different office environment."

On challenges related to Europe's current economic state...

"Sometimes the market is very challenging. For instance, right now with the economy in Europe, people are a little nervous about spending money. But since there is such a strong heritage with the brand, it doesn’t make us so nervous about [dealing with] the pressures of the business. We try to create timeless designs, so it’s also sustainable. For example, a design that we made in 1957 still looks modern and is used in our collections today."

On the size of the Helsinki printing factory…

"People usually think it’s bigger and expect it to be very noisy, but are quite surprised to find that it’s pretty peaceful and small."

On giving lectures at universities…

“I usually teach once a year in print design to first years. The university reached out to me 13 years ago, and I’ve done a class every year. It’s been really fun. I’ve found some talented people from there as well, who then started as interims and then full-time. It’s always fun to work with young people because they are so passionate and they are still unspoiled. It gives me energy. And when you teach something, you have to think, am I right? Even if I had done something for so many years the same way, if I teach someone else, I have to question myself. But I wouldn't want to only teach, because then I wouldn’t get to develop professionally.”

On his thoughts of being an “expert” and general advice…

“Doing something for thirty years doesn’t make you an expert. You have to keep developing new techniques. It’s not mileage that makes you a master of something; it’s the attitude that you have to keep curious.”

By Mable Yiu

Photos courtesy of Marimekko.