Interviewed with the inspiring Creative Director of Marimekko.
Anna Teurnell is the incredibly nice, interesting and smart creative director of Marimekko, and I’m a self confessed fan girl of her style, career and way of interacting with people. (She often leaves little blue heart emojis on Instagram pictures of people wearing Marimekko, and I heard she sends thank you messages to people after meetings and interviews – like modern day thank you notes.)
Before Marimekko she worked at H&M for years and as the head of design at &Other Stories. Now, she splits her time between Helsinki and Stockholm, and was somehow able to find the time to chat to us about work, fashion and fancy pants.
We met at the Marimekko head quarter in Herttoniemi. Anna’s office was filled with green plants, she looked mega stylish, laughed a lot and made the talk feel like a nice dinner table conversation.
It’s so nice to meet you! You have a very impressive career.
Ah! Thank you for saying that!
And Marimekko seems so interesting again. Do you think that because of your experience at &OtherStories and H&M, you have a good commercial eye, maybe a point of view that you can now apply to Marimekko?
Hmm, what do you mean?
I feel like the collections feels so relevant now. For example, I now buy all my black trousers from Marimekko.
That’s nice to hear! I’ve done so many different things. I worked for the trend department at H&M for six years. And I’ve done everything from underwear to accessories. At &Other Stories I was a part of launching and building that brand. I’ve also worked with prints when I was studying, and some fashion houses as well. So my experience is a mix of all that. To me, coming to Marimekko was so great, because I understood the brand – I loved the brand. The colours, the cuts, the unisex touch, the way they collaborate with artists.
I love that too.
They dress your life, so to speak! A real authentic life. But when I started, I felt like we had too many products and too many printed items. And I love print. But I think it can be toned down, not everything has to be print. Often I look like this. (Anna points at her outfit: She’s wearing a black over-sized Celine shirt over a black Marimekko turtle neck and a pair of printed Marimekko pants.)
I thought it would be nice to have more combination with the materials and more variety in the colors. It makes me very happy to hear you found the black pants from us.
I think it makes sense to buy something so versatile and have it be something of nice quality. I can wear them for a long time.
Here we can do things that are affordable but great quality. You can find nice basic trousers from Prada or Marni, or some other luxury brand too, but then it’s very expensive. Then it’s only a very few people who can buy them.
Do you feel like for Marimekko, big fashion houses are a reference point?
I think they are, in a sense that it’s not only about a great product. You want something more as a customer: you want the vibe, the whole thing, the experience when you go into the store. It can be so much more than just needing a product. And at Marimekko’s level – we can have that. We can develop the service and the stores to be more and more great.
I think you have done that.
We have! But we can still do much, much more! And this kind of thing I lacked, a little bit, earlier in my career. H&M was great to me, but working at this level was something that I longed for. For example this idea, that Marimekko is so timeless. We can have things that are very modern, that look relevant, but that are timeless at the same time. (She points at her trousers again) These are very fancy pants, but you can wear them again and again, next year and the year after that. Maybe you get tired of them for a moment, and perhaps you store them away for a little bit, but then you pick them up again. And I love that.
Who would you say has been your biggest mentor?
I have plenty of people I look up to, but the one who has made the most difference for me, is Margareta van den Bosch, the former head of design at H&M. Because at first I worked as a visualist, but I wanted to become a designer. So I met with Margareta, and she saw the interest and the talent in me, even without the proper education. I showed her some of my sketches – and now I feel a bit embarrassed when I think about it, but when I went to the interview, I showed her some jewellery I’d made my self. She was like, ok here you come, with something like 200 necklaces with you.
But now, when I meet people who want to work with me, I kind of like that in certain parts of your career, you have done certain kinds of things. And you can actually measure talent and passion from that. So Margareta brought me in and I still consult her in everything I do. I consulted her, when I got offered this job.
Were you nervous about taking the job at Marimekko?
When I first got approached by the head hunter, they couldn’t tell me what brand the job was for. They only said it was an important Finnish brand.
..and that gave it all away immediately!
Yes, well I knew that if it was Marimekko, and they wanted change.. I would know exactly what I wanted to do. So, I wasn’t nervous. I knew exactly what we should stand for. And it’s all linked to the heritage, as the intention was never to change too much, we have so much we should keep. And with this you have to be very careful, you have to be delicate in deciding what goes in and what goes out. You need to respect the heritage.
It’s a big responsibility.
It is. And you don’t want to change the character of the brand. You just want to make it relevant. And I’m very interested in this question of how to be attractive to a grown up, busy woman.
When you accepted the job here, do you feel like that was a risk that paid off? Or has there maybe been some other time in your career, when you took a risk that turned our to be worth it?
I don’t think I live my life like that, thinking: should I take this risk or not? I just have a lot of energy and passion – if I have the passion. Do you know what I mean? If I enjoy something, then I have the energy and stubbornness to take things very far. But I must have the heart involved. I must get inspired. If something triggers that feeling that I’m inspired, then I get confident and I know what I’m doing. And then, it’s not a risk, because I know exactly what to do.
But then it’s also about, not making compromises, but… let me give you an example: I had my three boys before I was thirty. And I wouldn’t say that that was a risk – it was a great thing – but at the time, I was thinking that, ok, my dream of moving abroad and working at fashion houses can now be a bit complicated, because I also want to be a mother who is available for her family. So I understood that I can’t do everything at the same time. At the time I had a great job at H&M, it worked out great, but it was very hard work sometimes, it wasn’t all easy. So I learned that you can’t always have everything if you want to do things well.
To me it seems like you had everything.
Thank you for saying that. But I did all these things later, when the kids were grown up. You have to be realistic. Not everything is possible.
How old are your kids now?
The youngest is 19, so they are big now.
Are they into creative things?
One of them is into music. And sometimes he thinks maybe he could be into design as well.
Are you trying to persuade him into design?
Not really, but somehow you do affect the people around you, even if you aren’t trying. They see what I do, I take work home. They see the passion.
When you were growing up, did you know you wanted to be a designer?
No, not really. I recall wanting to be a doctor. But I’m afraid of everything sick and blood. I could not stand it.
That’s not a good quality in a doctor.
No, it's not! But I remember wanting to do something important and wanting to be surrounded by people. And I was always into design and creating things. I drew, knitted, sew and when I was very young, I tried to make my own high heeled shoes out of planks and thread. So the interest was there very early.
I believe in doing things that are fun and nice – because then you do those things better. But sometimes success and nice things won’t come exactly when you want them to. Like when my kids were small, I had to wait and get educated and take things step by step. And I also learned to say yes to things. When something feels right, say yes. See where it takes you.
What do you think is the most rewarding part of your job?
I love to work with people. I want to have a great team, lots of people. People inspire me. But it’s like an orchestra: everyone needs to know what way we are going.
What about the most challenging?
I’m not so patient. I think everything could go faster, faster!
That’s another good reason to have a great team.
And it’s very powerful too. When you have a common goal and you get the feeling that you can make a difference and do the things you want to do together.
What is a normal work day for you? And some things you can’t work without?
I’m usually very social but in the morning I really need my coffee before I can stand… well, anything.
I’m the same.
Are you? It’s terrible actually. It’s like we lack fuel. But after coffee it’s all ok again.
I agree. I think it’s the ritual too, of having the coffee. You need a bit of time in the morning to adjust.
Yes it’s something like that! You have to contemplate a little. It’s a slow process. I like to end my day the a same way. Arrange things, contemplate, make sure everything is in order and e-mails answered.
During the work day, sometimes there is very little design. But on my best days, I do something creative. Fittings for example, when all the designers and pattern makes come together and the design comes to life and suddenly you see the prototype: It’s the most wonderful part of the process, when the collaboration and efforts of many people come together in a product. And this same feeling comes back to me when I see the customer wearing something. It’s wonderful. I can’t get enough of that, it really gives me energy. Because that really is the point. I’m not doing these things for my self, we are doing them for someone else, someone out there.
What’s you favourite piece from the last collection?
I love the work shirts we do. (Stiina poplin shirt) I love those. We did one in black and grey, I wanted to wear it today, but it’s in Stockholm. I bought it for my self in a big size, so it’s oversized. It’s something I wear all the time. I have like seven of those shirts. So many! But it’s very high quality. I just love them. I also love the printed dresses we do.
What other brands you wear in addition to Marimekko?
I spend a lot of time in vintage shops. A lot. It’s a constant search. I like to look for something that isn’t so familiar on the street. Something that’s perhaps a bit odd. I tried explaining this idea to someone before, and they thought I meant that I like things that are a bit ugly. But that’s not the case at all. I just find it interesting when there is a contrast. Something that makes you wonder and explore. It can lead to fabulous things and fresh ideas. But I don’t shop much. I have some Marimekko things, of course.The last thing I bought were these black Margiela Tabi boots. That was perhaps eight years ago.
I love those boots.
I love them too. And I already had one pair, but I felt like maybe its good to have another pair. I’m also a bit like that, if I find something I like, I stick to it. Just like with the Stiina shirts I mentioned. And I have those shoes you are wearing. I have them in white leather and wool (She points at my Céline trainers). Sometimes when I sense I have found something I love to wear, I invest in multiple pieces of the same thing.
It’s a bit like a uniform?
Yes. It feels efficient.
Would you rather waste time or money?
I don’t think so much about time. I like to do things. I’m very active. Sometimes I’m a bit tired on the weekends, and then I might sit an read a book for example, but usually I like to do something. I want to use my time, then I feel the most alive. With money… I try to use it in a good way. I mean, we live in a big apartment and that costs something. But thats worthy, because then it’s lovely to be home. I try to buy fewer but better things. I want to be smart. But I do also want to invest in a quality of life. And that you can do with good design. I feel like I have not answered you question.
I think you did.
I like to be smart when it comes to the choices I’m making. And I like to be in control, to know what I’m doing. I have a big family and I have to think about them too, you know.
What were your own parents like?
My mother is a bit like me, she also has a lot of energy. She is a psychiatrist. And in a way, she was my Marimekko role model, strutting around in her Marimekko shirt. And fox fur. When she was the age I’m now, you could still wear fox fur, you know! She values good design. I think I took that from her. My father is an engineer. He isn’t so interested in design, I guess. But his favourite colour is yellow. He wears yellow. I think that’s an interesting choice, for a man.
I also have many siblings, and I’m used to a lot of people around me. Teams, people, different wills: it’s a mess. People come and they go. I love it. That’s how I feel relaxed.
Do you look for that kind of dynamic in your work place too?
It seems so: People, team. big mission.
What qualities make a good creative director in your opinion?
I think it’s very important to have passion and to know what you want, to not doubt what you want to do. And you have to have stubbornness. That has been a good combination for me. But also, I really think that you are nothing without good people around you. If you have super people around you, you can do super things. When my team is on top, then we can succeed. I also like being around people who challenge me.
What advice would you give someone who wants to do what you do?
I think the most important thing, whatever you do in life.. is to do it. To start doing what you want to do. Many people have dreams, but the trick is to stop thinking about it too much, and start doing it. Take a course. Work in a clothing store. Observe how people dress. Take sewing classes. Educate your self: learn. Everything is useful.
At one point, when I was younger, I thought about becoming an artist. I have a relative, who is an artist, and whenever she has a minute to spear, she is always drawing. Always. All the time! If I have a minute to spear, I read, or maybe I cook. So I realised that the desire to do something and make things happen, has to come from the heart. It’s important to start doing the things you think about. Someone asked me awhile ago, how they could become a photographer. I suggested that they start taking lots of pictures. It’s a good start. That way you can also see if you really like it. Do you agree?
Yes I do.
And sometimes what you don’t like, can lead to something too. I worked in a kiosk, and I think I was able to do it for one week. It was so boring for me to sell cigarettes and candy. So from that I learned, that this kind of thing is not for me.
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