Collection by Ralston O'Neill

Q&A with Marimekko Designer Erja Hirvi


At Dwell we've always been fans of the bold prints by Finnish textile design house Marimekko and in honor of their 60th anniversary we toasted ten timeless prints and challenged you to vote on your favorite. With over 5,000 votes cast in just three short weeks, it was a close race between the iconic Unikko (Poppy) by Maija Isola and Lumimarja (Snowberry) by Erja Hirvi. Ultimately, the title of "favorite" went to Lumimarja so we went tet-a-tet with Erja to delve into her design inspirations.

Tell us, how did you get your start as a designer and come to work at Marimekko?I went to a handicraft school and my teacher advised me to apply to the University of Art and Design in Helsinki. Without her I don`t know what I would be doing right now. I made an appointment to show my hand-printed fabrics with Marimekko. It did not go too well…. Later in 1995, I had an exhibition with my ceramist friend and I invited the Marimekko Art Director and the former CEO to the exhibition. It went better this time. After that I received a phone call and invitation to show my new works.What's your perception of Finnish design? How does Marimekko embody this sensibility?The purity and functionality reflect the modest nature of Finnish people. Our design icons are not fancy or unnecessary. And there are a lot of reflections from nature and the way of living with nature. Marimekko is inspired by nature, but it is also a bit one-of-a-kind. Marimekko brings Finland’s location between east and west together beautifully into the prints.What do you feel are the major characteristics of Marimekko design?I was just thinking about this the other day. When Marimekko design is at it`s best, it`s breathtaking. The way that the artists handle and treat their subjects when making a print is not "obvious," so to speak, but comes out in a surprising way. Colors give the print different kind of moods.Name the first 3 words that jump to mind when you think about Marimekko.1) Playful 2) Persistence 3) BeautyHow did you conceive the winning pattern, Lumimarja?Long story. I had a clumsy sketch made by felt pen. I saw the pattern in my mind, how it should look like, but knew that I can`t just paint it that way. I searched the actual living plant in the city in the middle of the winter, and found two bushes with berries left. I made a mess with Xerox machine and spent days on a computer trying to separate berries from lousy color copies. Then Petri Juslin from the Marimekko art work studio told me to cut the branches and place them in the shape of a tree. I finished that quickly and after scanning I could finally place the berries to the tree the way I wanted.Tell us about what inspires your designs?Nature, a lot. But remembering that outer space and chemistry is also part of nature. My eyes are wide open all the time. I see things and I have a vivid imagination.What is your process when you design – from the inspiration through to the production? What do you think about and how do your designs evolve during the process?The process is sometimes like what went into making "Lumimarja" and sometimes it`s a quick flash and I have to draw a sketch immediately. The most important thing is the idea. Or something I`m really interested in. Then I have to find the best possible way to realize the print. When I start, things look really clumsy, but then it comes out slowly. Usually I reduce and simplify my prints during the process.What people inspire you?Friends, artists, scientists, people with a strong view. People who are themselves.What makes your designs unique to you?That they are made by me.What’s next? What are you working on now that you’re excited about?I`m relaxing and letting ideas to come to my head.

Marimekko designer Erja Hirvi on Finnish...
The Lumimarja print by Marimekko.

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