Democratising fashion the philosophy behind Uniqlo x Marimekko collection
With nine items (T-shirts, dresses, blouses, trousers, shoes and handbags) featuring six different printed designs, the Uniqlo x Marimekko collection is a balanced blend of Finnish graphics and minimalistic Japanese cuts.
It's a balance both labels emphasised as they presented the collection, on which they worked in unison for the last five years. The partnership was initiated by Yukihiro Katsuta, Vice-President of Uniqlo owner Fast Retailing and Director of Research and Design for the Japanese brand. It hinges on a vision shared by both labels: to create fashion that is never out of fashion, and that everyone can afford.
After Uniqlo's first store was opened in Hiroshima in 1984 by Tadashi Yanai, the label has gradually become one of the jewels in the Japanese apparel industry's crown. Operating 1,900 stores in 19 countries worldwide, Uniqlo is constantly growing internationally and, in 2018, it announced that for the first time its selling more goods abroad than in Japan.
In Europe, Uniqlo is adding to the number of stores it operates in France (there will be 25 by the spring), and is targeting other markets too: from Spain, where it first landed in 2017, to Italy, which it plans to enter in the near future, not to mention Stockholm, where the label's first Swedish store will open in October 2018.
The future Stockholm opening will also be Uniqlo's first foray into Scandinavia, but in the meantime the Japanese label is boosting its reputation in the region via this collaboration with one of Finland's best-known apparel labels, Marimekko.
And while Uniqlo does not strictly rely on select collaborations to penetrate new markets (though it teamed up with Ines de la Fressange and Carine Roitfeld in France and J.W. Anderson in the UK), it does admit that one of the collaboration's objectives is to let Marimekko customers, who may be unfamiliar with Uniqlo, become better acquainted with the Japanese label.
According to Yukihiro Katsuta and Tiina Alahuhta-Kasko, CEO of Marimekko, the collection, available only at Uniqlo stores and on the retailer's website, is not aimed at a specific target. Or rather, it is designed to appeal to all women, irrespective of age, taste and fashion sensibilities. Both labels claim they share a similar approach to fashion, expressed by timeless, quality clothes which last, and put a premium on comfort, and both labels also overlap in terms of clientèle.
Marimekko was created in 1949 by Armi Ratia and it's a print specialist. Ratia's husband had a fabrics factory, and the budding entrepreneur decided she wanted to brighten up the rather bleak daily life of Finnish women, struggling to shake off the after-effects of WW2. She tapped local designers, asking them to create colourful prints to match the fabrics manufactured by her husband. To make sure her customers knew what to do with the brightly coloured cloths, in 1951 Ratia organised the first of her fashion shows. Marimekko was born, the name meaning 'Mari's dresses' - 'Mari', perhaps not quite so randomly, being also an anagram of Armi.
Many fashionable artists, among them ceramics creators, sculptors, architects and painters, were called on to collaborate with Marimekko over the years. Since 1968, the label has worked with Katsuji Wakisaka, the Japanese artist who created the Bo Boo print known for its multi-coloured vehicles. That was the start of a long relationship with Japan, strengthened in 2006 by the opening of a series of Marimekko stores in the country, now regarded as one of the Finnish label's most significant markets.
The collaboration with Uniqlo makes a lot of sense then. And it allows Marimekko to boost its visibility in countries where Uniqlo is present and Marimekko isn't (France for example), and to offer Japanese consumers a line at Uniqlo prices, which are much more accessible than Marimekko's premium prices.
Tiina Alahuhta-Kasko also emphasised the similarities between Finnish and Japanese culture: "Both the Japanese and the Finns think that a well-designed item must not simply be an object to be stored in a corner and admired, since the world is already brimming with useless products. On the contrary, such items must combine functionality and design in order to create genuine added value. Also, Marimekko prints are heavily inspired by the presence of nature in everyday life, a concept which is ubiquitous in Finnish culture and which resonates with that of Japan too."
To create the collection, Marimekko designers suggested dozens of motifs to the Uniqlo creative team. The latter eventually chose six of them, of which five come from Marimekko's archives and one, 'Kukkia rakkalle', was created by young designer Maija Louekari. All of them were designed using the printing techniques of Marimekko's Helsinki factory for inspiration. The motifs are usually printed on cotton, linen, wool or silk, and now on Uniqlo's own materials. T-shirts, dresses and blouses required the development of specific techniques and treatments, so that printing and product quality would be consistent with the two labels' standards, both for finishes and prices.
Ultimately, the intention of Uniqlo and Marimekko was to "allow everyone to express their own style, cheerfully and boldly." And while nothing has been decided yet, Uniqlo is accustomed to serial partnerships (it is the label's ninth with Ines de la Fressange) and it isn't averse to the idea of doing a repeat with Marimekko.
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