That Finland’s most recognizable visual mark should be an exuberantly colorful illustration of a poppy is an irony not lost on admirers of Nordic design. The elegant restraint that’s come to define northern Europe’s aesthetic tradition is, in some ways, the antithesis of the vibrant gestural motifs made famous by what is, arguably, Finland’s best-known brand, Marimekko.
The miracle of Maija Isola’s omnipresent Unikko pattern—Unikko is the Finnish translation of poppy—created for Marimekko back in 1964, is that it wasn’t supposed to have existed in the first place. The oft-cited story is that Isola, a prolific artist and textile designer, would have none of the company’s no-flowers policy, and defiantly went ahead with her plan for a bright red stylized poppy. But not even the strong-willed Isola could have imagined her Unikko, an unqualified hit in the psychedelic 60’s, moving into the 21st century as the de facto visual identity for Marimekko, and, in some measure, for Finland itself.
Any image with the lasting appeal to grace both a coffee mug and the body of an airplane can safely be labeled an icon—and we’re happy to see that Unikko, which turns 50 next year, hasn’t lost one bit of its youthful blush.