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Marimekko Sets up Shop in Crate and Barrel

MarimekkoNEW YORK - With the debut of a new in-store Marimekko shop concept, both the Finnish design company and Crate and Barrel - its longtime American retail partner - hope to reenergize Marimekko's impact here and abroad.
     Crate and Barrel has been a Marimekko design supporter, emotionally and from a major business perspective, since the mid '60s, Crate's co-founder and retired ceo Gordon Segal said at the launch of the first Marimekko shop here earlier this month.
     Segal and his wife Carole discovered the design works of the company when they were young, about-to-be-retailers in the mid '60s during a visit to Copenhagen. The shop owner arranged to have them meet the head of marketing at Marimekko as well as tour the plant. "We never saw color and product like this and decided to put it in our new store," said Segal.
     "Over the years," Segal remarked, "We were very influenced by their thought process. We were young and impressionable, and their philosophy influenced the way we did things - especially in lighting, freshness and design."
     The Marimekko look has been a significant design force at Crate in bedding, and the new shop which includes tabletop, table linens, ceramics, kitchenware and some accent furniture "will force us to rethink how we use our space," he commented.
     The boutique here in the Crate SoHo store is 1,700 square feet "and we reduced our own space and it forced us to rethink our space," said Segal.
     There will be smaller Marimekko boutiques opening across the country, said Barbara Turf, Crate's ceo and a longtime merchant at the company. She joined Crate in '68 in sales and joined the corporate organization in '72. "In February and March we will open Marimekko boutiques on 59th Street here, in Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C." - all in the 500 to 700 square foot range. The company also plans boutiques for its larger stores, she said.
     The bedding and decorative pillows - and new bath collection - are done with Revman International, whose founder and ceo Rich Roman noted: "Crate was the first customer we shipped (in '89) with Marimekko - and the business has grown over the years." Ironically, he noted, "most people think Laura Ashley was our first license, but it was Marimekko,"
     In addition to the iconic black and white graphic designs initiated originally by founder Armi Ratia and later enhanced by bold, colorful designs created by Maija Isola, the company became known world-wide. It lost its tempo with her death in 1979 and was sold to a bank in 1995, a similar move followed by a sale to a banker in 1991.
     In 2007, the current owner, a former bank ceo with a textile and design heritage, assumed ownership. "I'm so enthusiastic about the future," said Mika Ihamoutila. "Marimekko is more relevant today than it has been. People see happiness from our colors and their tired if throwaway things.
     "While we have a signature, we are new and current as well as timeless," he emphasized.
     "Our customers are responding to all decades of our designs - and they are the older customers as well as younger ones."
     Ihamoutila has global plans for the company. Marimekko currently operates 90 stores, including its first in South Korea.
     In the United States, the home part of the Marimekko collection will be confined to Crate & Barrel, which is expanding the brand's impact in the stores as well as in the catalog and on the internet, Turf said.
     "A year ago we thought we had a fragment of the brand but not its complete design statement," Turf noted. "I saw a boutique in Japan and thought it would work for us. It's perfect for tabletop as well as gifts and accessories besides the bedding."
     The retailer is working with the Finnish company on sourcing. "We will collaborate with them globally," she said. Currently tabletop is done in Thailand, table cloths are from Portugal. "Furniture is under discussion," Turf remarked. "We would love to have their fabrics on our frames," she said, noting one chair already covered in a Marimekko fabric for the new shop.
     Already the shop here has impacted the way Crate executives look at the store. "I see us using more white fixtures. It's fresher than the wood we've been using," said Turf. And overall presentation will be influenced as the Marimekko space forces a rethinking of the balance of the store.
     With 2009 sales of $1.1 billion from 174 Crate and five CB2 stores, the company is now testing its Land of Nod kids division in its stores. There is a test in Washington, D.C. as well as four free-standing stores, Turf noted.
     CB2 "is on fire. It's unbelievable, it's remarkable," Turf said. The company went slowly in expanding the CB2 concept, which focuses "on smaller scale, lower price points and very modern aesthetics from the Crate viewpoint," she said. "Crate is more eclectic."
     Catalog and internet sales account for 25% of the company's business, Turf noted, and the Marimekko collection will be on the retailer's internet site in March.
     Overall, the gift registry is the strongest segment of the internet business, "but textiles are very strong as well." Furniture, which company executives were extremely concerned about adding to that mix, "is very strong in terms of customers doing research. They can't place special orders via the internet," Turf explained.
     While the home side is the major focus, the Marimekko brand is undergoing changes in this country with its U.S. subsidiary, in collaboration with C2 Group, a brand management firm spearheading the effort that crosses product lines including a newly rejuvenated apparel, jewelry, bags and other accessories to be sold through department and specialty stores as well as expanding its current roster of concept stores in New York, Cambridge, Mass., and Miami.
     C2 Group is headed by Lynn Shanahan, ceo, as well as Karen Martin, creative director, and Allison Niles, director of product development and marketing - all alumnae of Tommy Hilfiger.
     "We did research on the brand," said Shanahan "and it has two audiences - one 45 plus who remembers it from the past, and a whole new age group that respond to the color and design."

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