Ultra vivid scene
Bed setting in the new Marimekko store, the first retail store of the Finnish design company in the United States, opening soon in Cambridge. More photos
It makes perfect sense that the country's first Marimekko major "concept" store, which opened last week, would be in Cambridge.
"We think of Cambridge as the birthplace of Marimekko in the US," says Yossie Bitton, managing director of Marimekko North America.
Local design afficionados of a certain age associate Marimekko -- the Finnish textile and clothing company -- with Harvard Square of the '60s and '70s. It was Cambridge architect Benjamin Thompson who first brought Marimekko products to the United States in 1959, selling them in his legendary home furnishings store, Design Research, on Brattle Street. (It now houses Crate & Barrel.)
Known for their vivid, uninhibited colors and exuberant patterns, ``nothing like it had been seen in America," Thompson wrote in 1985. ``It matched the mood of the times . . . Marimekko was freedom of movement -- women in an equal rights world, breaking out into a new life."
Within months, Jackie Kennedy put it on the map in this country, grabbing national headlines when she bought eight Marimekko cotton dresses during the Kennedy-Nixon campaign and breaking with her tradition of expensive Paris couture. Life Magazine photographed women in Marimekko against a backdrop of Cambridge apple blossoms, and ran it on the cover. Marimekko designs were a staple of design-conscious homes -- poppied comforters, soft cotton-striped T-shirts, spirited children's bed linens, bold fabric wall hangings with graphic patterns .
The 1980s were turbulent for the company, which went through a restructuring and some financial turmoil, and Marimekko products all but vanished from the American landscape . But under new ownership since 1991, it started finding its way back. Crate & Barrel licensed some of its patterns. Shops and boutiques imported bedding, kitchenware, and clothing.
Last March, the company launched a ``whole campaign of flagship stores internationally," Bitton says. Located in Japan, Sweden, Norway, Portugal, and Belgium, these so-called ``concept" stores sell exclusively Marimekko products.
Marimekko Cambridge is the first US store to be part of the initiative, soon to be followed by stores in Miami, Orlando, and the Washington area. (An existing Marimekko store in New York is small and is not considered a concept store, he says.)
The Cambridge store is owned by a mother-and-son team, Judy and Jonathan deMont. Judy has worked in the neighborhood for more than 35 years; since 1990 she's owned J. Miles, a clothing store . Jonathan has worked in retail, selling antiques and cars. ``Last place I worked was Mini Cooper," he says. ``I like unique things that are design oriented."
The two have a family connection to Marimekko. ``My aunt was the buyer for Marimekko at Design Research," says Jonathan. ``I had that comforter for years," he adds, pointing to the fabric design known as Unikko, the popular 1964 pattern.
Like the old Design Research, the store sells fabric by the yard ($38-65) ranging from the classic poppy pattern to more restrained black and white designs, as well as comforters, towels, pillows, umbrellas, bags, kitchenware, bathrobes, and assorted gift items. It also sells women's clothing by contemporary Finnish designers.
Most striking, though, are the pieces in the Marimekko line that haven't changed in decades and are happily enjoying a comeback. They include the company's signature striped cotton ``Jokapoika" shirt with silver buttons ($99), which was designed for men 50 years ago but became a unisex fashion symbol; and the striped T-shirt with a rounded neck ($68).
``You see people in their 20s and 30s who weren't exposed to [Marimekko] in the old days, but they still have an appreciation of it," Bitton says. ``It proves that designs are timeless and speak to the generation of today and not just the nostalgia of some '70s flower people." -- LINDA MATCHAN
Marimekko Cambridge, 350 Huron Ave., Cambridge. 617-354-2800.
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