MARIMEKKO ARRIVES IN BEVERLY HILLS

A festive crowd celebrates the opening of the latest Marimekko store in Beverly Hills.

The Finnish clothing and home textile brand Marimekko opened a store in Beverly Hills Friday. The grand opening was preceded by an invitation-only star-studded party Thursday night. Finntimes was there and met the CEO of Marimekko, Mr. Mika Ihamuotila.

 

The CEO of Marimekko, Mika Ihamuotila with his wife, Helena “Kitty” Ihamuotila.

You have been busy opening stores abroad lately, haven’t you?

-Yes, I just returned from a two week trip to Asia. Last week we opened stores in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as Tokyo and Shanghai. Last week we opened a store in Palo Alto, California as well. In the middle of it all, I flew into Helsinki to open our new store there.

There are also spanking new Marimekko stores on New York’sFifth Avenue and Newbury Street in Boston.

-We wanted the best possible location in each city. The new stores are big as well.

Ihamuotila, 48, admits that the opening frenzy is not business as usual for Marimekko.

-This if far from ordinary for us, these are exceptional times.

The Beverly Hills store is the 103rd Marimekko shop. Since Ihamuotila took the helm of Marimekko some five years ago, the company has opened 20 new stores a year – most of them in Asia and the United States.

Guests arrive at the new Marimekko store, located on 370 North Canon Drive in Beverly Hills.

-If we did not do brisk business, I wouldn’t have the courage to expand so vigorously. We are doing really well at the moment. Our collection has been well-received around the world. Our show at the New York Fashion Week received praise from fashion magazines. A week ago we published our quarter annual report. In it we told our international sales have increased by 23% and our revenue has doubled. It looks good, but one has to remain humble, as the economic situation in the world looks troublesome.

 

The children’s corner was temporarily turned into a bar on the opening night. The bar served tasty Marimekko drinks, of course.

The Beverly Hills store offers a wide range of Marimekko products.

-Fashion has become an ever important part of Marimekko. Here we have separate departments for men’s and women’s fashions. Then we have bags and even iPad covers. In the new Marimekko stores, our fabrics have been placed in the very center of the store. Many other fashion brands have forgotten their roots. We want to shine a spotlight on our fabulous fabrics. There is also a children’s corner here and all the glassware and ceramics can be found in the back of the store. They are rather new product categories that we didn’t have five years ago. There are also wooden and fabric jewelry here.

 

Barbara Tuuri tries on a Marimekko fabric. Mika Ihamuotila wants to honor the history of the brand by displaying fabrics in the center of the store.

How well do Americans know about the Marimekko products ?

-We have ten shop-in shops in Crate and Barrel stores. We are increasing our visibility with these new Marimekko stores. Our ambitions are on a totally different level than at any time in the company’s history.

Now that we are in “Hollywood”, do you have celebrity endorsers?

-Last week Sarah Jessica Parker was photographed wearing Marimekko, Elton John wore Marimekko shoes in Saint Tropez and Anne Hathaway has been seen wearing our clothes almost weekly. It seems to me that we are at a time when marimekko clothes are being widely used.

 

Irina Björklund performs at the Marimekko opening in a Marimekko dress.

Ihamuotila has no plans to use star power in advertising.

-We have no such plans, nor do I think we will use stars in the future either. We think of Marimekko in organic terms. If someone likes our clothes, fine. However, I don’t like the idea of paying a star to wear Marimekko. It doesn’t seem to fit our values. Many other brands pay actors up to hundreds of thousands to wear their clothing.

The marketing is done mainly via media articles and public relations.

 

TV journalist Abdellatif Mouffakkir and his wife, consul general of Finland Kirsti Westphalen, were taking pictures and trying on mittens at the grand opening of Marimekko.

-We employ one of the best PR firms in the United States. I have had nine interviews with American news media. Through these news articles we aim to inform the public about Marimekko’s values, history, production and design. There’s less emphasis on advertising.

How do you feel now that the Beverly Hills store is reality?

-It feels really good. As I was walking here tonight I saw the store full of people. I passed a restaurant next door that is a favorite place for actors and directors to dine in. They were curious to see what was going on in our store next door. As I saw the bright Marimekko colors through the large windows, I felt proud about our brand and people. It feels incredible but it is true!

 

Colorful Marimekko dishes are the latest addition to the Marimekko line of products.

Mika Ihamuotila comes from a famous and prestigious Finnish family. His father Risto was the chancellor of Helsinki University and uncle Jaakko was the long time CEO of the Finnish petroleum company Neste. His gradfather Veikko served as a minister in the Finnish government and his mother was a textile designer. The family still owns a manor house in Espoo named Hista.

 

Mika Ihamuotila discusses with actress Anna Easteden at the Marimekko opening.

Mika Ihamuotila became the CEO of Marimekko in 2007 after acquiring 13% of the company stock. Just a year earlier Ihamuotila underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor. It took him months to recover from the serious procedure. Last year he was once again under the knife for the same reason. But you would never know it by looking at the man. He looks tanned, healthy and strong – not to mention handsome as hell. I ask the famously private man about his health.

-Perfect, couldn’t be better, he responds.

Mika Ihamuotila is married to Hannele “Kitty” Ihamuotila, née Mandelin. She was beaming at the store premiere by his husband’s side. They have four sons. Mika Ihamuotila’s hobbies iclude reading, tennis and nature, especially the Finnish archipelago and the Alps.

 

Kitty and Mika Ihamuotila opened the 103rd Marimekko store in Beverly Hills.

It was a fun opening indeed that read like who’s who in the LA Finnish circles. Consul general Kirsti Westphalen was having fun with her husband Abdellatif Mouffakkir. They were taking pictures at the Marimekko photo booth and trying on mittens. Barbara Tuuri from Warner Bros. was there. The patrons of everything Finnish, Mirja and Ernie Covarrubias were mingling in the crowd, sipping Marimekko drinks. Mirja met up with media personality Sauli Koskinen, who was there with some friends.

Mirja Covarrubias connected with Sauli Koskinen.

Sauli Koskinen came to the Marimekko opening with his friends.

Finnish actresses Susanna Finn and Marjo-Riikka Mäkelä were present, as was the ever so lovely colleague Anna Easteden. Magician turned movie mogul, Iiro Seppänen had just returned from a six-month vacation to see the wonders of the world. Iiro’s Pan Pacific Entertainment focuses on U.S. -China -collaborations. His latest endeavor was a Chinese TV series featuring wing suit jumpers.

These days movie producer Iiro Seppänen spends half of his time in China.

Janne Kouri, who runs a gym for the paraplegics showed up with his banker-wife Susan.

Gym entrepreneur Janne Kouri with wife Susan.

The crowd was entertained by the lovely actress-singer Irina Björklund and her five man band. Irina sang and played the saw – yes, the saw. She recently recorded a brand new album in France in which she sings in French.

 

Irina and her band, all dressed in Marimekko. From the left: Janne Haavisto, Joe Karnes, Janne Lappalainen, Irina Björklund, Peter Fox and Markus Nordenstreng.

The store looked fabulous. Everything was bright, elegant – and I’m afraid quite expensive. This is definitely not a store for the bargain hunter. A canvas shopping tote for 21 dollars, anyone?

A couple browses Marimekko products in the brand new store.

However, if you want to remember that special someone this holiday season, you cannot go wrong with Marimekko. Finntimes wishes the new Marimekko store the best of success.

Marimekko marketing director Tiina Alahuhta-Kasko was happy after a successful opening.

JANNE KOURI’S WAR

REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – LAWNDALE

PHOTOS: TOMI HINKKANEN, JANNE KOURI’S HOME ALBUM

DATE: March 5th, 2012

Founder and president of NextStep Janne Kouri

For most of us, getting up in the morning, taking a shower and getting ready for work is everyday routine. For Janne Kouri, it’s a major operation. His life changed forever on a beautiful summer day almost six years ago. A sudden diving accident turned sun, fun and volleyball on the beach into a desperate attempt to save his life. From that moment on, Janne’s life has been a war to regain his mobility and help others in similar circumstances.

Janne has invited me to visit his NextStep Fitness – a nonprofit organization and a gym for paraplegics. I have to admit, I arrive with butterflies in my stomach. Would it be a gloomy place ? Nothing could be further from the truth. As I open the door to the gym, three young people are exercising with state-of-the-art equipment, as upbeat techno music is playing in a spacious, bright and clean gym. The staff is likewise cheerful and young.

NextStep Gym is modern, cheerful and boasts state-of-the-art excercise equipment

Janne Kouri, 36, is working with a receptionist in a glass-encased office by the front door. He is sitting in a modern wheel chair and as I enter, gives me an enthusiastic handshake. I ask him to recount the events of that day – August the fifth, 2006.

 “It was a fun, hot day. We headed to Manhattan Beach with my girlfriend Susan and a bunch of friends to play volleyball. I got hot, so I ran on the sandy beach into the sea for a swim. I jumped head first into a wave. But behind it, under water there was a sand bank. I crashed my head into it. After that I did not feel anything, and I could not move. I was conscious the whole time. A wave turned me around. I was floating on my back and I was hoping that someone would see me. I could not move my hands or feet. I thought these might be my last moments alive ”

Seconds felt like hours, as Janne lie helplessly on the ocean.

“Water filled my mouth and lungs. It was difficult to breathe. I wouldn’t have lasted there much longer. I had gone into the water alone. Then a man on the beach came and pulled me away from there. ”

In the meantime the others in Janne’s group did not know anything about the accident. There were thousands of people on the beach that day and Janne’s momentary absence did not raise eyebrows.

“Susan was walking along the beach and saw the ambulances. She thought that might it be me, since she had not seen me for a while. She ran there and found me by an ambulance. ”

Janne was rushed to a local hospital where the medical staff managed to stabilize him. A couple of days later he was transferred to Cedar Sinai in Los Angeles. There he lay for two months on the brink of death. Twice he went into a cardiac arrest but was brought back to life. He has hazy memories from those weeks after the accident – friends and relatives visiting and that sort of things.

“I was so sick and on heavy medication during the first month. I remember being out there and I remember the days when the guys came to see me. I slept quite a lot. I had a 104 degree fever for almost two months. It was really uncomfortable. I had pneumonia.”

The diagnosis was devastating. He had broken two of his neck vertebrae, C5 and C6. They were surgically connected together. Undaunted, his girlfriend Susan Moffat did not sit idly by, but started to make preparations for Janne’s release from the hospital. She started touring different rehabilitation facilities around the U.S., finally finding a doctor named Susan Harkema who practiced at the Frazier Rehab Institute in Louisville, Kentucky. It was the only facility to offer locomotor training – a term Janne mentions a time and again.

Janne is prepped up to use the locomotor excercise machine

 “I started to improve immediately at Frazier Rehab. It was quite an amazing place. Rehabilitation began immediately on the first day. I trained there for eight hours a day for total of ten months. I also an opportunity to catch up with other patients. Most of them were victims of car accidents. I do not know what would have happened if I had not gotten there.”

 Throughout the ordeal, Susan stood by his side. Janne gets emotional when talking about it.

“Susan was there all the time. I do not know if I would have been as upbeat as I am, if she hadn’t been there. Often, after an accident such as this, the intact spouse leaves from the relationship.”

It was essential that Janne had excellent health insurance. His medical bills totaled a whopping 20 million dollars! After his rehabilitation was over, the couple returned home to Southern California. Janne could not find a gym that would offer locomotor training there.

“That’s how we go the idea for the Next Step. If a suitable gym does not exist, then we have to build one.”

Both Susan and Janne had the business knowledge to pull it off – Susan is in the banking sector and Janne had an MBA from Georgetown University, plus a lot of work experience in the IT-sector. Janne’s father, the late financial guru Pentti Kouri, helped a great deal.  Together Susan and Janne wrote a business plan and went to work.

“We organized fund raising parties and charity events. We asked for money from friends, families and applied for scholarships. My school,Georgetown, friends and co-workers wanted to help, when they saw what a good thing we tried to create. People, firms and associations pitched in.”

Activity base trainer Joel Wenger helps Janne Kouri stand by himself

 They were able to scrape together a million dollars – enough to keep the gym running for one year. The grand opening of the NextStep Fitness took place on June 2nd, 2008. However, in the midst of it all, it was totally uncertain, whether the venture would pay off. They did not have enough money to do the market research. But then, during the first few weeks, when customers started pouring in, they knew they had a winner in their hands. That same summer they married in Miami.

 Today, the NextStep Fitness employs 11 people and it has about 200 clients. Net sales total $550,000. That includes charity receipts. Members basically pay what they can afford – anything from 75 to 1,600 dollars a month. As of now, medical insurance does not cover the membership fees. Since members pay only about 30 percent of actual costs, the rest – 70% – has to come from somewhere. That’s why Janne is constantly on the road, organizing charity events to collect money for his non-profit foundation. Janne creates a hand-tailored exercise program for each member.

“At first, we talk with the person and assess his/her condition and needs. For us, health is our number one goal and walking two.”

Most of the members – about 60 per cent – have some kind of spinal cord injury. Others have differing forms of paralysis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and brain injury. In other words, they are suffering from a variety of neurological disorders.

I get to observe, as Janne goes through his daily exercise routine. It includes stretching with a staff member, and standing up! Yes, amazingly enough, for the past couple of weeks, Janne has been able to stand on his own for a few moments unassisted. Then it is onto the famous locomotor exercise. It includes a conveyor belt, a harness and a bunch of high tech monitoring equipment. Janne is hoisted onto the conveyor belt in a harness. As the belt starts to move, the staff members guide Janne’s legs on the belt. Another employee monitors the essential data on a computer screen. After a 45-minute workout, Janne is sweaty and ready for a shower.

Despite of his great progress, there are still many things in Janne’s life that are more cumbersome than before his accident. He calls his condition with a term “incomplete”.

“I have a special car, it takes two hours to take a shower, I am unable to put the clothes on me. I need help with morning and evening, undressing, and gaining access into bed. I can not travel alone. I can not get up or down stairs. Many restaurants and bathrooms are inaccessible,” Janne lists. I ask him, if he has returned to the secene of his diving accident.

Janne and Susan at the scene of his accident - she has stood by his side throughout the ordeal

 “I have, yeah. I have been there many times. It will not bring any cold shivers. No, this whole thing has had quite a positive outcome. I can not complain about anything.”

Have you always been so positive, or has this experience changed you as a person?

“I can say that I have always had quite a positive outlook on life. But at the same time, this accident has changed me quite a lot. I have realized, what’s important, and I want to do with my life. It has, of course, changed somewhat.”

About  NextStep:

NextStep is a nonprofit organization. It is partnered with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and is a member of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network. Doctor Susan Harkema invented locomotor training with Dr. Reggie Edgerton at UCLA. Christopher Reeve was one of their first test subjects at their laboratory at UCLA. Christopher Reeve believed that this therapy should be available to everyone. That is the mission of NextStep.

Mission statement: At NextStep, we believe all persons living with paralysis and other physical disabilities should have the opportunity to live long and healthy lives. Yet today most of these individuals are deprived of the resources they desperately need for survival because there are no options available to them or they cannot afford them. The NextStep Foundation provides the opportunity for health and recovery through affordable and progressive community fitness, health, and wellness facilities.

To learn more, go to: http://www.nextstepfitness.org/