FASHION Slow fashion, elegance, and exceptional quality come together in Estonia with Marimo, the label founded by designer Mariliis Pikkar. Jack Yan interviews her
Photographed by Julia Astok
at the Tallinn Botanic Garden
Modelled by Greeta Rai/EMA
Make-up by Elis Niils
Team: Mariliis Pikkar, Karin Kallas, Kadi-Ann Simmermann, Liisa Põldoja
From issue 45 of Lucire
It would be a disservice to northern Europe to group its fashion design together, since each country has a distinct approach. Estonia, for instance, welcomes a brighter palette than one might see in Scandinavia, and offers takes on traditional costumes and patterns. Marimo, meanwhile, approaches luxury fashion with its choice of premium materials and elegant design. Designer Mariliis Pikkar has created her range for the woman who appreciates quality, with an emphasis on slow fashion. Everything is made in-house by professionals who are paid a fair wage, with the designer keeping a firm eye on quality through the production process.
Her latest range for spring–summer 2022, for instance, dubbed Be the Light, features a silk jacket with hand-made crystal embroidery, and a sumptuous spring coat that can complement any outfit, while also ensuring customers have a choice of blouses, skirts, dresses, and a plaid jumpsuit and cocktail dress. She has kept her palette muted, with silver and ivory, letting the cuts and forms take more attention. It’s a versatile range, with emphases on refinement and elegance, with silk, cashmere and wool its core fabrics. As Pikkar says, ‘During difficult times we must return to ourselves to find balance, clear perspective, and strength; so that we could stand strong for ourselves and others, make right decisions and move forward to build a brighter future.
‘I wanted to offer something truly pure and calming yet empowering to the women. White is my favourite colour and it has a strong presence, without being too dominating.’ The company’s release notes that the colour symbolizes ‘purity, hope, peace.’
A season ago, The Freedom Is Within You took Marimo to the Italian Alps for an exclusive shoot. The autumn–winter 2021–2 collection was similarly versatile, appealing to the woman who might want to look professional and head out for the evening, recognizing not just the need for comfort (stretchy viscose blends were used) but our current world. We might not have quite the same range of options for heading out in a pandemic, but we still want to look good, and have the freedom to change plans on a whim. Pikkar even ensured there was a cardigan that could be worn as a dress and a jacket, for those who needed versatility while travelling.
‘Our wardrobe has changed from what it was two years ago. We need a wardrobe that empowers and supports us in our daily lives and brings out our uniqueness, whether at a home-office, professional setting, a fabulous night out, or just relaxing at home with our loved ones,’ elaborates Pikkar. She adds that being able to head to Italy for her first overseas campaign shoot was a ‘dream come true’: ‘Those majestic mountains, breathtaking views, stunning valleys were captured to bring you the essence of this collection and inspire you. As we were shooting in early autumn when the pandemic was at a low point it actually wasn’t too difficult to arrange it and in the Alps there was a lot of open space and nature with less people, so we felt very safe.’
The elegance comes as no surprise when you realize Marimo also has wedding gowns for modern brides: nothing over-the-top, with simple silhouettes but luxurious details.
‘I really love minimal design language, so clean and clear lines are very characteristic of my designs, but as I am utterly feminine, I love to add a feminine touch to all the pieces I create. I always think that the garment should be timeless and get as much wearability as possible so very often these luxury details I add are removable. It gives you the opportunity to wear it during the day in the office, but by adding Marimo’s signature details like [a] crystal-adorned belt or crystal back chain you are ready for a festive event. All these details together—minimal design, silk linings, open backs, crystal-adorned details—create a feminine, timeless, and elegant style touched by luxury,’ explains Pikkar.
‘For me, the creating process starts from the right fabric. The simpler the design, the more luxurious the material should be; and the simpler the garment, the finer the sewing quality must be, because otherwise every little defect will be easily detectable.’ Little wonder Marimo had also earned an enviable reputation for designing dresses for Estonia’s presidential reception.
This talented designer has successfully built her business for over a decade, fortuitously putting a world-class online store in place in 2019, and attracting international sales beyond her home market. As the pandemic unfolded, Marimo knew it could rely on 14 markets, and abandoned a travel-based collection in favour of smaller collections of staple items for 2020. Twenty twenty-one, meanwhile, turned out to be one of Pikkar’s best years.
A dream come true
While Pikkar’s mother sewed, she says that that had not sparked her interest in fashion design. While she managed to earn some pocket money sewing when she was around 10, it was not till high school when she saw some fashion shows that she became interested. ‘I took part in them successfully and started to dream about my own high-end fashion brand,’ she tells Lucire.
She describes the Estonian style as one with some Slavic influences alongside Scandinavian ones. ‘We have a very beautiful heritage of national patterns that a lot of local designers love to use in their work. Estonian’s style is minimal but most of the time with a twist,’ she says.
However, Pikkar’s approach is quite distinct, and here her mother’s values echo strongly. ‘I never thought about fast fashion because I have always been into quality. My mom taught me that all garments have to be made with the best possible quality, and Marimo Fashion focuses just on that: slow fashion luxury, representing modern elegance, utmost quality from design and fabrics to tailoring, which is done at our in-house atelier.
‘Marimo has also proved that made-to-measure service can be provided online and has delivered it to countless women all over the world.’
Initially, Pikkar lectured and managed at the Estonian Academy of Arts as well as working full-time on her label. Come 2014, one of her full-time jobs had to go. ‘I took the plunge and started to solely work for Marimo. I felt it was now or never. Immediately my brand started to grow considerably.’
She finds her inspiration from ‘our Marimo community and nature,’ though she loves Tallinn’s old town, where Marimo is based. ‘Walking to work every day is so inspiring. The streets and buildings are stunning, full of history and character. The fact that Tallinn old town is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List confirms that it is valuable treasure. Our dear clients love it, too.’
Sustainable in more ways than one
Sustainability is also part of Marimo’s offering, though Pikkar feels the term has been overused. ‘I create Marimo garments in the way that they would be wearable for years—all Marimo pieces are thoughtfully designed and timeless, created of the best quality materials, and finished to perfection,’ she says. The made-to-measure service also plays a part in creating something a customer will cherish and wear repeatedly. ‘If it’s made for you, it’s perfect and you love to wear this piece again and again. A lot of my pieces are six, seven years old and they still look and fit perfectly. I will wear them for years to come. That is real sustainability.’
The company also has a capsule wardrobe concept, where a customer can have her entire wardrobe uniquely styled by the Marimo team. ‘Marimo’s capsule wardrobe sets are timeless and wearable for years, making women shop more wisely and sustainably and cutting their impulse purchases, because they have a wardrobe where all pieces go together, and they always have something to wear. I’m sure that our capsule wardrobe concept helps women all around the world to consume less, which is good for Mother Nature.’
The concept was borne out of her own experience. ‘At one point together with my team, I realized that I personally have always had a capsule wardrobe—I don’t have many garments. I only have the pieces I love and which I combine with one another to create different outfits, and unlike many customers I don’t have the problem of [a] closet being full of clothes and nothing to wear.’
She also notes that everything is made to order, so there is no wasted inventory.
The biggest year yet
While many designers navigated tough waters, Pikkar says 2021 was ‘a year of growth for me both business-wise and personally,’ one where the pieces fitted and everything aligned at Marimo.
‘We ended last year with a true dream team. Marimo’s team has never been as big and fashion-conscious as it is today and I’m really thankful that I’ve found all those dedicated team members. I’ve always dreamed to create a company where people really want to work and last year two of my current team members reached out to me with the wish to work for Marimo. The synergy that a great group of people can create is so powerful and it makes working fulfilling for everyone. I have come a long way from doing everything myself to building a team.’
It was also the year the capsule wardrobe concept was launched, and Marimo’s YouTube channel, where they share how a capsule wardrobe is created for a professional woman. Pikkar also gave more prominent media interviews and did podcasts.
‘And the most important achievement of 2021 is our community of amazing women from all over the world. I’m so happy that I have so many amazing women with the same values around me.’
The headiness of 2021 did result in an overworked team, says Pikkar, so her hope for the year ahead is ‘to take it slow and steady, while still working hard; to look after each other and enjoy everything we do!’
She concludes, ‘My personal goal is to be the best leader and role model I can be. Living in this rapidly changing uncertain world makes lots of people anxious, unhappy, and angry, and I want my team to be happy and care for each other and this is what I plan to work on this year. I really value creating an open and positive atmosphere at work. It’s really important to me that the whole team wants to come to work every morning and enjoy what they do.’ •
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