Maija Isola

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Maija Isola
Maija Isola at work.jpg
Maija Isola at work, sitting cross-legged, paintbrush and paintpot in hand
Born (1927-03-15)15 March 1927
Riihimäki, Finland
Died 3 March 2001(2001-03-03) (aged 73)
Nationality Finnish
Occupation Textile designer
Known for Marimekko patterns

Maija Isola (born 15 March 1927 in Riihimäki, Finland, died 3 March 2001) was a leading Finnish designer of printed textiles. Her bold colourful designs made Marimekko famous in the 1960s. She also had a career as a visual artist.[1]

Life and career[edit]

After studying painting at the Helsinki Central School of Industrial Arts, Isola became principal textile designer for Marimekko.[3]

In 1964, Isola defied Marimekko founder Armi Ratia's ban on floral patterns, setting the style of the company by painting the famous Unikko (Poppy) pattern in bold pink, red and black on white;[4] the pattern has been in production ever since.[5]

In 1974, Isola designed the popular pattern Primavera, consisting of stylized Marigold flowers; this has since been printed in many different colours for tablecloths, plates and other items.[6]

From 1980 to 1987, Isola worked in Marimekko with her daughter, Kristina "who is still one of Marimekko's chief designers";[7][8] Kristina joined Marimekko when she was 18.[9]

During her 40-year career with Marimekko, Maija Isola created a "staggering"[10] 500 prints for the company.[10]

From 1987, Maija worked on painting, not textiles, until her death in 2001.[8]


The glowing colours and bold patterns in Marimekko owe much to Maija Isola's design and example. A roll of Unikko is second from the bottom of the fabric stand

According to FinnStyle, Isola was "undisputedly the most famous textile designer to have existed at Marimekko",[2] and she "created over 500 prints during her long and colorful employment."[2]

Ivar Ekman, writing in the New York Times, quotes Marianne Aav, director of the Helsinki Design Museum: "What we understand as the Marimekko style is very much based on what Maija Isola was doing".[8] Ekman comments "The range of prints that Isola produced for Marimekko is astounding", as the patterns span "minimalistic geometric", "toned-down naturalistic" and "explosion of colors".[8]

Marion Hume, writing in Time Magazine, explains that Isola "was able to mastermind an astonishing range, from the intricate and folkloric Ananas (1962)—which remains one of the most popular prints for the home market—to the radically simple, dramatically enlarged, asymmetrical Unikko poppy (1964), originally in red and in blue, which may be one of the most widely recognized prints on earth."[11]

According to Tamsin Blanchard, writing in The Observer, "The designs of Maija Isola - one of the company's original and longest-standing designers - have stood the test of time."[12] Blanchard describes as "timeless" Isola's 1972 Wind design "with its feathery organic tree skeletons in silhouette", her 1957 Putinotko "spiky black-and-white print", her 1963 Melon and her 1956 Stones.[12]

Hannah Booth, writing in The Guardian, explains that Marimekko's founder, Armi Ratia, "recruited Maija Isola, the first and most important of many young female designers, to create original prints".[13] She describes Isola as unconventional, leaving her daughter Kristina "to grow up with her grandmother so she could travel the world to find inspiration for her textiles".[13] Booth quotes Finnish novelist Kaari Utrio as saying Isola was "a dangerously original character"; she "belonged to a trailblazing generation" enabling young women to move freely into the arts.[13]

Lesley Jackson, in the aptly titled chapter Op, Pop, and Psychedelia in her textbook Twentieth Century Pattern Design, writes that "from Finland the exuberant all-conquering Marimekko burst on to the international scene" in the 1960s; she illustrates this with one pattern by Vuokko Nurmesniemi, and three by Isola – Lokki, Melooni, and inevitably Unikko.[14]

  • Of Lokki, Jackson writes "Isola revolutionized design with her simple, bold, flat patterns, printed on a dramatic scale. The design, whose title means 'seagull', evokes the lapping of waves and the flapping of birds' wings."[15]
  • Of the famous Unikko, Jackson explains "This huge, exploded poppy pattern embodies the unbridled design confidence of the mid-1960s, and presages the ebullience and sizzling colours of the flower power era."[15]

Hanna-Liisa Ylipoti notes that "The themes of many Marimekko designs are also very Finnish, portraying Finnish nature. For example, Maija Isola created her Luonto (nature) design [series] using actual plant specimens".[16]

Legacy of Marimekko patterns[edit]

In 2011, Marimekko flew a hot-air balloon decorated with an enormous version of Unikko over Helsinki, showing that the pattern remains iconic nearly half a century later.[17] Marimekko's marketing policy is to reissue "classics from its fifty-year back catalogue, notably a large group of patterns from the 1950s and 1960s by Maija Isola."[7]

Isola was described in 2013 as a style icon.[18]




  1. ^ "Maija Isola". Marimekko. Retrieved 5 March 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c "FinnStyle:Maija Isola". Finnish Designers: Maija Isola. FinnStyle. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Maija Isola patterns for Marimekko". Design Finland. 31 August 2006. Retrieved 5 March 2010. 
  4. ^ "Marimekko Timeline". Timeline. Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  5. ^ Kueber, Pam (17 October 2010). "RetroRenovation: Marimekko Unikko". Marimekko Unikko by Maija Isola, 1964. Retro Renovation. Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  6. ^ "Primavera". Primavera. Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  7. ^ a b Jackson, 2007, page 200
  8. ^ a b c d Ekman, Ivar (23 August 2005). "New York Times". Nostalgia for a modern Finnish designer. New York Times. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Maija & Kristina Isola". FinnStyle. Retrieved 27 November 2015. 
  10. ^ a b "Maija Isola: art, fabric, marimekko". Perimeter Books. Retrieved 27 November 2015. 
  11. ^ Hume, Marion (April 9, 2008). "Time Magazine". Luxury Source. Time Magazine. Retrieved 23 October 2011. 
  12. ^ a b Blanchard, Tamsin (20 May 2001). "The Observer". Interiors:Marimekko:The Finnish Line. The Guardian. Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  13. ^ a b c Booth, Hannah (5 September 2005). "The Guardian: Life & Style: Women". Flower power. The Guardian. Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  14. ^ Jackson 2007, pages 136–137 Examples of Maija Isola's prints, including Unikko
  15. ^ a b Jackson 2007, page 136
  16. ^ Ylipoti, Hanna-Liisa (3 February 2011). "Research". Marimekko's Path to Success During the 1950s and 60s. FAST-FIN-1 (TRENAK1) Finnish Institutions Research Paper. Retrieved 23 October 2011. 
  17. ^ "Unikko hot-air balloon". Marimekko Unikko hot-air balloon flying above the silhouette of Helsinki. Marimekko. 22 June 2011. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  18. ^ Azzarito, Amy (15 November 2013). "Style Icon: Maija Isola". Design Sponge. Retrieved 27 November 2015. 
  19. ^ Retrospective exhibition at Designmuseo
  20. ^ Exhibition Marimekko at Sem in Ljubljana
  21. ^ Exhibition at Minneapolis Institute of Arts
  22. ^ Exhibition at Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

External links[edit]