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Crate helps Marimekko celebrate 50 years

Powell Slaughter, Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, December 24, 2001

Chicago — It was a love affair that began some 35 years ago when Gordan Segal and his wife Carole first saw Marimekko fabrics in a friend's store in Copenhagen.

At that time, the Segal's had just four years under their belts with their fledgling Crate & Barrel stores and were always on the lookout for singular design. Their friend arranged an introduction with Armi Ratia, founder and creative head of Marimekko, and the multi-decade relationship was underway.

"We went to Helsinki in mid-winter, and the factory was bright and white and full of color and energy — a contrast to the dark Finnish winters," Segal recalled. "It spoke of something very different."

The designs, then as now, Segal related, "are very close to nature. The colors are spectacular; they take inspiration from the woods, streams, water. Color is the antidote to their winter darkness."

Initially, Crate put Marimekko product in its second store in June 1966, and beginning in 1968 it carried the Marimekko apparel for better than eight years.

"We got smart and got out of the clothing business but everything else was so humorous, so full of life. It was a very exciting time," Segal said.

The relationship flourished and next month, Crate celebrates Marimekko's 50th anniversary and its 35 years of working together.

Crate is sending out 9 million catalogs next month with the Marimekko story on the inside cover, and much of the merchandise is Marimekko designs, including an expanded Revman bedding program of five new designs as well as new Marimekko licensees: Paper Products Designs, which will launch an exclusive collection for Crate with plates, napkins, gift wrap, table covers and novelty tissues; and New World Traders, which will produce rainwear, tote bags, cosmetic bags, travel products and umbrellas.

In addition, there will be plastic tumblers, melamine trays, beach towels, shower curtains, decorative pillows, kitchen accessories and fabric covered books.

People in Chicagoland will not be able to miss the festivities, Segal said, with a huge billboard on the road to O'Hare [International Airport] heralding the event, and Michigan Avenue will be the focus of a lot more promotional activity. "Our Michigan Avenue store will be the heart of the campaign, and maybe later we will do some things in New York and San Francisco."

The kickoff will be a party at the Michigan Avenue store during the weekend of the Housewares Show, Jan. 13, that is billed as "a shared passion, a shared vision, not a trend, true friends."

The staying power of Marimekko, Segal emphasized, has been its dedication to design. Over the years, he said "the fun, joy, class, color and style has been a strong influence on Crate. It's been a very important cultural part of our business. We're very fortunate to have this relationship."

Although Marimekko has been through ups and downs in ownership since Ratia's death in 1979, the company now is under the aegis of Kirsti Paakanen, who bought control in 1991 and later took it public. Said Segal: "If ever a person could be close to replacing Armi, it is Kirsti, who has the spirit, verve and creativity."

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