Concorde: Clothes for an ideal future
The eternal appeal of vintage Marimekko, and how to rock it today, featuring Mach 3+ collector Kerri Darn
Welcome to Concorde, a bimonthly edition of the sletter where Erin takes the lead. You could call it a women’s vertical, but the insights, intel and “cute swag information” transcend gender. The full Concorde archive lives here…
Readers who have been on board Concorde since take-off know that I (Erin) like to get loose with prints — mixing and matching them, chopping them up, screwing them down, and otherwise freaking them like a Pattern DJ. And one of the greatest artists in my L.P. (“legendary prints”) collection — a line whose “music” I throw on when I want to get off turbo PRINTS FITS— is vintage Marimekko.
You might think the Finnish label is “Nothing but Unikko” — the cheerful poppy print they’re best known for. But dig a little deeper into the catalog and you’ll find clean lines, body-skimming shapes and gender-neutral prints designed in the straitlaced 1950s by sneakily revolutionary women. Much the way Eames re-imagined furniture in the midcentury via industrial materials like molded plywood, plastic, and welded steel, Marimekko combined emerging techniques in mass production (screenprinting) with sturdy, utilitarian materials (cottons, mainly) and “high-design” thinking…
There was one chic genius in particular behind Marimekko’s early designs: Vuokko Nurmesniemi. Currently 93 (!), Vuokko gave a miss to the corsets and wasp waists that dominated womenswear at the time, and introduced loose silhouettes instead — free of pleats, with as few seams as possible — that let women perform such radical acts as “breathing easily.” She took an explicitly architectural approach to clothing: Some of the shapes and prints she created between 1953-1960 are above top left, plus pieces from her own line, Vuokko Oy — founded in 1964 and still going today — pictured immediately above.
Her most iconic design was the Jokapoika (“every boy”) shirt. It’s easy to dismiss something as familiar as a brightly striped button-up as “regs” today … But when Vuokko whipped it up in 1956 it represented an early example of modern unisex clothing — and it was not regular! That’s 2 stacks of them above middle right: Vuokko developed Jokapoika’s “piccolo” striped fabric using freehand brushstrokes, and the irregular, overlapping lines create a “third intermediate shade,” on some vibey Josef Albers color-perception sh*t… (check the swatches above.)
Marimekko have been making this shirt for 67 years straight, longer than anything else they’ve put out — and with good reason, because it’s looked fantastic the whole time.
None other than Issey Miyake tha god called Vuokko his “design mother” — his 1990 Pleats Please Circle dress (below bottom left) was inspired by her very ‘groovy ‘60s’ Millstone dress, cut from two circles of fabric (bottom right). And routine fit-pic crusher Georgia O’Keeffe herself had multiple Marimekko shirt dresses on deck. There she is below left in 1962, rocking a Vuokko-designed striped version in her garden, about to go Cloud Mode and paint some of those fluffy Abiquiu stratocumulus!!
I’ve been collecting Marimekko & Vuokko pieces for a couple years now, and I put a bunch of gems available now in the Blackbird Spymall here.
But I wanted to talk to someone who knows way more about it than me, so the other day I tapped in with a Mach 3+ collector named Kerri Darn.
Kerri (below left) is a London-based Mekko-head who’s been hunting for the good stuff for more than 20 years, accumulating well over 300 pieces so far. And like me, she has a special sweet spot for Vuokko’s designs. I caught wind of Kerri through her excellent Instagram account, Marimuokko. She also sells vintage clothing and homewares on IG & ships internationally — links below.
Kerri also happens to be married to Spyfriend Alexis Taylor from Hot Chip (above right), who clearly f**ks with the Marimuokko vision: He rocked a fat-striped multicolor Vuokko button-up to the recent David Hockney opening. Like me & Jonah, or Spyfriend Steven Yeun told us he does with his wife, Kerri and Alexis often trade pieces back and forth — he plucked the striped raincoat he’s wearing above from her collection, and you can see it on her again below.
I wanted to figure out why these designs have looked good for so long, where to dig up more gems, and how to style them, so I picked up the Spyphone and dialed Kerri in the jolly old +44.
Concorde: The first Vuokko piece I ever bought is a ‘70s shirt dress with pockets and metal snaps. It’s so easy to wear — it feels like a smock. It’s kind of like workwear for “women’s work,” like an apron or housecoat for ladies who needed to get sh*t done but still cared about how they looked…
Kerri Darn: “Yes, there’s something quite smart and elegant about it, because you’re still wearing a dress, cut in a nice, beautiful, crisp fabric, and by virtue of that you’re looking quite elegant. It just so happens it’s very comfortable and not constrained. I think the Finns are really good at doing comfortable-but-still-really-beautiful.”
Concorde: Prints can scare a lot of people, but I love how you mix pieces and patterns on your IG account. One way you pull it off is by keeping the colors in sync tonally, like in this picture above: You’ve got the stripes up top and grid below, but all in red, and then the tan of your boots matches the tan of the broad stripes on the jacket. They’re all in the same color family, so that creates this cohesive look. Can you share some of your guidelines for putting together an outfit?
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Blackbird Spyplane to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.