Helsinki Design Museum celebrates Finnish icons Vuokko and Antti Nurmesniemi

by Editors Staff
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In Helsinki, it’s laborious to overlook Marimekko: the daring, joyful prints of the much-loved textile home seem in eating places and bars, on billboards and trams, on cushions and cutlery. They’re as Finnish as reindeer and sauna. Ask any Finnish lady, and she or he could have an merchandise of Marimekko, classic or in any other case, tucked away someplace within the wardrobe.

In the present day, the poppy print Unikko is essentially the most acquainted of Marimekko’s designs, however the model was already well-known by the point it was launched in 1964, because of the entrepreneurial drive of its feminine founder Armi Ratia and her younger designer and textile artist Vuokko Nurmesniemi. Their unstructured clothes and unisex shirts and overalls, printed with stripes, zigzags and ovals in pink and orange and blue and inexperienced, introduced color and pleasure to a darkish, depressed nation struggling after the Second World Struggle. Ratia and Nurmesniemi would lay the foundations of contemporary Finnish trend. 

A portrait of Vuokko within the Tremendous Finland guide by Mila Pentti, plus archive pictures and sketches, together with a shot of the ‘Lab’ costume, designed in 1970 and featured on one among Vuokko’s Christmas playing cards. Pictures: Man Bolongaro

Nurmesniemi’s early creations for Marimekko kind a part of an upcoming exhibition on the Helsinki Design Museum. ‘Antti + Vuokko Nurmesniemi’ charts the lengthy, gilded careers of Finland’s celebrated husband-and-wife inventive powerhouse; she, one among Finland’s most illustrious designers, he, a revered inside architect liable for many modernist landmarks. Collectively, the Nurmesniemis put Finnish design on the world stage. ‘Within the Nineteen Eighties, they had been very well-known,’ says Harry Kivilinna, the Helsinki Design Museum curator answerable for the present. ‘Individuals had been all the time speaking about them. It was very uncommon {that a} spouse was higher identified than her husband, however that was the case with Antti and Vuokko.’ 

Marimekko is barely a part of Vuokko’s story. In 1960, she and Ratia fell out when Jackie Kennedy purchased a number of Marimekko clothes and was photographed for the quilt of Sports activities Illustrated journal carrying a pink shift costume by Vuokko. Rivalries and jealousies took maintain, Vuokko give up and the pair by no means spoke once more. Ratia carried the quarrel to her deathbed in 1979.

A ‘Myllynkivi 4-stripes’ costume on show at Vuokko’s Helsinki boutique. Primarily based on the 1964 Pyörre sample, the unstructured garment kinds a circle when the wearer raises her arms. Pictures: Man Bolongaro

In 1964, Vuokko began her eponymous label. First up was the ‘Myllynkivi’ costume, a circle of cloth in inexperienced, pink, yellow and pink stripes. It was radical, and an enormous hit. From the Seventies to the mid-Nineteen Eighties, Vuokko employed greater than 100 individuals, and clients from Europe and Japan clamoured for her colour-saturated sack-like and tent-like clothes and unisex shirts. However by the late Nineteen Eighties, the straightforward silhouettes, lack of embellishment and uniformity of materials had misplaced their attraction, and in 1988, Vuokko filed for chapter. She returned in 1990 with a brand new label, Vuokko Oy, which continues to function a small boutique as we speak on trendy Helsinki road Korkeavuorenkatu. 

Her profession might have had its ups and downs, however Vuokko’s marriage was steadfast, lasting from 1953 till Antti’s dying in 2003. ‘It was greater than a love affair,’ describes Pirjo Hirvonen, professor emerita of trend design at Aalto College, who has identified Vuokko for the reason that Nineties. ‘Antti and Vuokko additionally discovered happiness collectively as designers. They had been one another’s strongest critic.’ However regardless of their synergy, the pair hardly ever labored collectively; Vuokko had her studio downtown, whereas Antti’s atelier was at residence, within the elegant modernist home he constructed for them in 1975 on the upscale island of Kulosaari. ‘Their marriage was very equal,’ says Jutta Ylä-Mononen, a journalist whose biography of Vuokko was printed in 2021. ‘Antti all the time had nice respect for Vuokko’s creativity. He agreed with Charles Eames, who used to say: “Something I can do, Ray can do higher”.’ The couple had their very own careers, but Vuokko was extra cautious about saving samples and patterns; 1000’s are in storage in Kulosaari, and the Design Museum owns greater than 1,000 items from Vuokko collections. These will likely be a spotlight of the present and can go on show within the museum’s primary corridor. 

A ‘Loikka Pink’ jumpsuit on the Vuokko store on Korkeavuorenkatu in Helsinki’s Design District. Pictures: Man Bolongaro

‘Vuokko knew her worth,’ Hirvonen factors out. ‘She was the one feminine designer making clothes who was so well-known internationally.’ Antti, too, was well-known, having created the orange rolling inventory for the Helsinki metro (nonetheless in use as we speak) and furnishings for the Palace Lodge on Helsinki’s waterfront. And he was extraordinarily well-connected. The Nurmesniemis travelled the world, received prizes, threw events, and hosted the likes of Charles and Ray Eames in Kulosaari. ‘They did a lot to advertise Finnish design,’ says Ylä-Mononen. ‘And never simply self-promotion; they helped others, too.’

Born in a working-class district of Helsinki in 1930, Vuokko was 15 when her mom died of pneumonia. Because the eldest, she needed to deal with her youthful sister and brother whereas her father went out to work as a taxi driver. ‘I believe the dying of her mom was the rationale Vuokko turned who she turned,’ says Ylä-Mononen. The younger Vuokko needed to be impartial and robust, traits that landed her the job at Marimekko within the first place. Ratia was on the lookout for a designer to repeat a mosaic print she had noticed, and knew Antti had a girlfriend who was a fresh-out-of-college ceramicist. By no means having labored with prints, Vuokko agreed, and introduced a daring sample of black, white and blue stripes that had nothing to do with mosaics. ‘She needed to take accountability,’ explains Ylä-Mononen. ‘She understood early on that everybody has to make their very own happiness. Sure, we Finns have sisu [toughness and resilience, a national trait that helped build an independent Finland after 1917]. However Vuokko is particular.’

A number of the gadgets in Vuokko’s complete hat and ceramics collections. Pictures: Man Bolongaro

She was a self-avowed ‘feminist’ who additionally washed her hair in egg yolks and used paper luggage as a substitute of plastic ones. ‘Within the Nineteen Fifties, Marimekko was making housecoats that had been offered within the family part of malls,’ explains Kivilinna. Vuokko’s free clothes in daring colors introduced glamour behind closed doorways, and had been shortly seen as too good to be confined to the nursery. Girls began carrying them out, ditching tight corsets alongside the best way. In 1956, Vuokko went additional, designing the striped unisex ‘Jokapoika’ shirt. She fitted it with low cost aluminium buttons, the kind that farmers wore, that she had picked up in a small store within the countryside. ‘Jokapoika’, with its hand-drawn Piccolo stripes, remains to be a bestseller. In 2003, Finland’s first feminine president Tarja Halonen wore a Vuokko night robe at an Independence Day reception. Product of silk taffeta, it was usually unstructured across the physique and had a free cape.

Regardless of such successes, Vuokko by no means referred to as herself a clothier. Although she took a number of trend lessons at Helsinki’s Institute of Industrial Arts, her diploma was in ceramics. ‘Vuokko labored between trend and design; she performed with an thought and tried to search out one thing new inside it, slicing a material in numerous methods, or utilizing the identical sample in many alternative methods,’ says Hirvonen. ‘And all the time she adopted the Finnish custom for simplicity.’

A portrait of Vuokko Nurmesniemi by Roberto Sambonet in her residence workplace, with a ceramic vase by Pablo Picasso and a fowl figurine by main Finnish ceramicist Birger Kaipiainen. Pictures: Man Bolongaro

Antti’s path was extra well-trodden. By the point he graduated in 1950 from Helsinki’s Central College of Utilized Arts, Finnish modernism was in full swing; Alvar Aalto was working for main American universities, Tapio Wirkkala’s glassware was profitable worldwide awards, and, in 1957, Kaj Franck mentioned to Antti, ‘It’s your flip subsequent.’ The endorsement spurred on the younger Antti, who created interiors for the Hyvinkää Church, a modernist landmark, and for the Artek drawing workplace amongst others.

‘His furnishings is sort of uncommon, for the reason that editions had been typically small,’ says Antti Tevajärvi, director of Artek’s 2nd Cycle classic retailer in Helsinki. ‘The 1960 Triennale sequence may be very wanted and the chaise longue with Vuokko’s striped seat cowl is one among my favourites.’ Greatest-known are the ‘Wärtsilä’ espresso pot and the ‘Sauna’ stool. 

A pair of historical Japanese headrests and a plate by Picasso are displayed subsequent to a guide on Antti Nurmesniemi. Pictures: Man Bolongaro

This autumn, the ‘Sauna’ stool is being reissued by Vuokko’s niece Mere Eskolin. Eskolin began working for her aunt 23 years in the past and is now managing director of the corporate, custodian of the home in Kulosaari, and caretaker of the Nurmesniemis’ legacy. They by no means had youngsters; a near-fatal bout of appendicitis when Vuokko was a pupil dominated out the chance. ‘It was an enormous difficulty for each of them,’ says Ylä-Mononen. ‘However Vuokko is a constructive particular person; she advised me she thought she and Antti would by no means have stayed so shut if they’d ever had a household.’ Antti’s ‘004’ chair, upholstered in Vuokko’s black-and-white and red-and-white stripes, can even launch within the autumn, adopted by a divan, pendant lamp, ‘Amer’ lounge chair and ‘Pehtoori’ espresso pot.

Eskolin faces an enormous job. The 2-storey home, which Vuokko, aged 92, left earlier this 12 months to take up residence in a care residence, incorporates Antti’s archive – a whole bunch of pictures from the shoots that occurred there, artworks, books, household portraits and furnishings, most of which was designed by Antti. Objects and pictures are proudly displayed: Vuokko, aged 17, all angular cheekbones and pixie lower; the couple with presidents and the Queen of Denmark; medals from Triennials and expos and artwork establishments. It appears like a museum-in-the-making, which Eskolin hopes it’ll turn into. 

Classic Vuokko clothes photographed at Helsinki’s Design Museum. Pictures: Man Bolongaro

And what of Vuokko the label? It is going to proceed to make bestsellers similar to ‘Loikka’ jumpsuits and ‘Messu’ clothes, and can produce new items from the archives. ‘There’s sufficient to maintain going for the subsequent 20 years. Vuokko was very inventive; she made samples on a regular basis,’ says Kivilinna. However guiding the Nurmesniemis’ legacy is an enormous accountability.

‘It’s very unusual speaking about them,’ provides Eskolin. ‘Like I’m somebody. I’m not. Vuokko and Antti are. I want to ensure individuals don’t neglect that.’  §

Antti’s designs embody this Nineteen Eighties espresso desk, in addition to the Sixties ‘004’ lounge chairs and Seventies ‘001’ daybeds, all upholstered in Vuokko’s signature cloth. A black-and-white striped armchair will likely be reissued for the exhibition. Pictures: Man Bolongaro

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