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Mr Petri, what exactly is your role in the company?
My role has changed recently, about two months ago. I am now more focused on the long-term development of our print design ideas and deal less with the operational procedures and their deadlines. I supervise our new designers and their designs. Together with them we want to tackle long-term stylistic developments and also create a few new challenges for us. I am also responsible for our archives, which I am just reorganising to give us greater insight of what is still of value. For example, I’m looking for patterns that we haven’t used in a while but that are still really good from a modern-day perspective. Meanwhile, our young designers are bringing in new influences. I bring these two spheres together and make sure that the result bears a recognisable, yet fresh Marimekko DNA.
So you work closely with lots of designers. What’s that like?
Oh, yes, in my 30-year career at the company I’ve met and worked with many designers and searched for solutions on how to print their ideas on fabric. I get the impression that a lot of people believe that design means you are given a picture by a designer and then you just print it out on fabric. But that’s not how good designs come about. The design process begins with the designer having an idea, which we then discuss as a team to think about what we can do with it. Often, the designer has to develop many variations of their idea, until they come up with something that works well as a print, as well as being functional, and satisfying the formal requirements of our customers and lives up to their aesthetic standards.
How do you achieve that?
It involves a lot of teamwork and a constructive approach. Often, one of the first things designers ask me is which formal restrictions to consider when designing. My answer is: “Wait, surely you don’t want to start by thinking about restrictions? I’d rather you tell me what you want to do, and then we can figure out a way to do it.” But it’s important for them to learn about all the possibilities in our print workshop, to be inspired. And then the close collaboration between designer and printer begins. You can look at designs from any period in this company and you’ll always see a very strong connection between printing and design.
We are standing in front of the silk-screen printing lines where designs can be produced in up to 12 colours. On average, however, a print usually has around five colours. “The design doesn’t get better just because you use more colours,” Petri notes. Considering his height, Petri talks surprisingly quietly, in a restrained manner, meaning that his pithy answers sometimes take a while to register. Petri has the typical self-assuredness of an experienced expert, who has somehow already seen everything but is still always prepared for a surprise. He started his career modestly as a simple printer for Marimekko in 1986. In 1989 he was already helping to ensure that the designs dreamt up by the designers were fit for purpose. Since then, Petri has witnessed many developments in print technology, including the advent of computer-aided design in the 90s, at a time when silk-screen printing was automated and digital printing was launched.
Do the designers also have to lend a hand once in a while?
Absolutely. In the truest sense of the word, because our starting point is hand printing. You need to work very accurately to be able to create a repeat pattern. As soon as designers have internalised this technique, they can integrate it into their design process and develop designs that are easier to print.
So from then on, their starting point for the design is the technology?
Their starting point is always their idea, wherever that comes from. But what makes it typically Marimekko in the end are, no doubt, the colours and the printing techniques. For example, we are especially well known for our overlapping print visuals.
So the common thread of the Marimekko style is very clear. What has changed since 1954?
Back then our prints were considered shocking. Well, yes, a lot of things were shocking back in the 60s, like rock music for example! Nevertheless, at the time these things had never been seen before: broad stripes, loud colours on fabric, a sea of flowers. It was revolutionary at the time. It’s hard to imagine today, now that pretty much everything under the sun has been done. We’re no longer revolutionary these days.
But you can still be inspired by the wild times?
Yes, indeed. The old designs are a very important inspiration for us, as well as our colour archive, where we have collected 3000 colour tones. We can’t even produce a lot of them anymore because the chemicals needed have – thankfully – since been banned. But we still keep them and try to get an approximation of the colours if required. But our customers tend to prefer classic colour choices. Depending on the season, they prefer the colours they see around them in nature. Within these palettes, however, there is a wide selection. Obviously, we are best known for our use of colour. At the moment, the 70s colour palette is very popular with orange and brown tones.
Petri leads us into what he calls the “candy store”, the colour archive. Drawers full of fabric swatches sorted by tone, next to a desk covered with paper. Do colour systems like Pantone play a role for Marimekko? A tiny grin follows the answer that they use them very rarely in the contract business, because they represent only a fraction of the Marimekko colours. Ten years ago, the dyeing process was changed from powder to liquid colour and from hand mixing to machine mixing. We then pass by various machines for steaming, drying and washing, the latter was purchased just a year ago for a million euros. Many other machines are no older than ten years. “If we're doing well, we invest,” Petri explains succinctly. Last stop is the showroom, where we sit down to look at pattern books from the 60s. Most of the patterns are marked with an “N”, meaning they haven’t been produced. “We can’t afford that kind of luxury these days,” says Petri.
Has the design process changed too?
The times are changing, that much is clear. What is positive now is that people work on a much more equal footing. Marimekko designers always had a special standing; they’ve always been very well respected, and they still are to this day. But nevertheless, there is much more teamwork now. An important change for the designers, no doubt, is that back then they could come up with hundreds of designs a year and nowadays, as a freelancer, perhaps only one or two. Today, we need to think much more economically in that respect. But with such minimal output, designers can’t gain as much experience as they used to. So these days they need to rely more on experts and their experience. They also have to understand that they need to practice even when they aren’t working on a commission. They need to draw every day and not just when this one job comes in. It doesn’t work that way. Experience also shows that some ideas need time to grow over a period of time, sometimes years. You need to work on these ideas continually on your own initiative, so they are ready when you need them.(...)
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