Marimekko and Design Research

I’m a big fan of the Finnish textile company, Marimekko, and I recently was lucky enough to have this vintage shirt from the company appear in my mailbox.  It is a gift from one of the most generous persons I know, Beth Lennon, or Mod Betty at Retro Roadmap.

Marimekko became known to Americans through the efforts of Design Research, what many consider to be the first lifestyle store.  Design Research was founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1953, and was primarily a store selling items for home decor.  After owner Ben Thompson saw Marimekko textiles at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels,  Marimekko clothing and fabrics were added to the store.

Design Research carried  Marimekko until the stores were closed in 1978.  Through the years Design Research had expanded into different markets, and by the late 60s the company was showing signs of trouble.  According to some accounts, their expansion was poorly thought out, with some of the markets not being suited for the store’s aesthetic.   And of course, times were changing.  What looked so modern and fresh in 1953 was looking dated by the mid 1970s.

All of the Marimekko designs are copyright protected, and because of that there is sometimes a copyright date on the tags from the 1960s and 70s.  Mine is missing the tag, but my guess is mid 1970s, based on the stores listed on the label and the fitted shape of the shirt.

I’ve looked, and I’ve not found this particular design.  All the designs were named, and there are records which record who the designer was of each.  If anyone can point me in the right direction to find that information for this shirt I’d be most grateful.

Again, I’d like to thank Beth for sending this great shirt my way.  I’ve actually been wearing it, paired with a black and white Marimekko striped knit that I bought last year.

Beth is presently working on a Kickstarter campaign.  She wants to do a series of videos that will highlight the wonderful vintage, and often endangered, places that make America unique.  If you’d like to help, contributions start at $10 and I know that Beth appreciates every dollar that is given to help record this history.


Filed under Collecting, Vintage Clothing

20 responses to “Marimekko and Design Research

  1. Thanks for posting this. I’m from the next town to Cambridge. My mom and her friends loved Design Research. I well remember all the vivid Marimekko prints.


    • She was very lucky to have been able to shop there!


      • That she was. I don’t remember her buying the fabrics as much as the water glasses of which she ended up with a large collection. Mom was more into Vogue type fabrics from the runways in NYC. But her friends had dresses made out of them. It was a very cool store. Even when Harvard Square was destroyed and looted twice during the anti Vietnam War/student rioting years they never touched DR even though it was made out of glass.


  2. In the 60s there was a small store in Ghiradelli Square (or The Cannery, a block away) that sold Marimekko fabric — the bold, clean, brilliantly colored ones for home decor. Way beyond our budgets — I couldn’t even afford a throw pillow — but we always stopped when we passed for a shot of intense color and airy light. Marimekko just made you feel good.


  3. This design is Hedelmäkori designed by Annika Rimala. You can find it by searching the decade 1970 on the Marimekko Design Museum website.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. That is one fabulous gift! I have not seen that print before. I live not far from where DR (as it was known) was founded. And about 15 years ago, when I still worked in a museum, I proposed a major DR exhibition that would draw loans from the items I knew people still had in their homes in my neighborhood. I also started collecting Marimekko/DR textiles and clothing, which I still have. I spent a year interviewing many of the people involved with the store (who are probably no longer alive), acquired original slides of the store interiors in Cambridge and San Francisco, and perused Ben Thompson’s archives now at the Cooper-Hewitt in NY. Sadly, I couldn’t get a museum to host the show. Now I need to make all of the info I have public so others can use it.


  5. I’m so glad I was able to share the top with you Lizzie, as I know you’ll be able to share it with a wider vintage clothing loving audience than I ever could. I wore it myself a number of times with capris and a cami, but knew it was too cool to do that for long as I knew the tags were a link to it’s history.

    I have to say that’s one of the things I love so much about your site and what you do – peoples comments (like the ones above already!) add bits and pieces to the history you provide and create a fuller picture that would not have existed without your post. Please keep up the good work!

    And thank you for linking to my Kickstarter campaign. Much like you are one lady helping to document vintage clothing one piece at a time, I’m hoping I can raise the awareness of the neat vintage places that are quickly falling by the way. Much appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a spiffing gift! I really love the monochrome colour scheme which I’ve never seen before on Marimekko fabric. I’m used to seeing bright, bold colours. This shirt is fabulous!


  7. My forward-thinking mom was a big Marimekko fan, and somehow got her hands on some of the towels and fabric in the mid-60s (maybe when we went to London for a summer–highly unusual for people living in Northern Michigan). I remember her mounting fabric on a wooden frame my dad made for decor in our little ranch house.
    Now a Marimekko store has opened near us in Boston, so I’ve become a fan of their Breton shirts in those bold color combos. I can’t quite pull off their clothes in printed cotton–they make a big statement–but they’re fun to look at. They have a U.S. website, too.
    Wish they’d reissue that print!


  8. Susan Ward

    You’re right about the date – the long list of stores were added after an expansion that started in 1971. They also made knit t-shirts and Nehru-collared shirts in this pattern in the 70s, probably because Indian shirts with similar prints were popular then -?
    I also worked on a D/R museum exhibition that fell through, but it ended up morphing into a 2009 installation in the D/R building – probably more fun, in the end!


  9. Pingback: 1970s Design Research and Marimekko Bikini | The Vintage Traveler

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