the fifties
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afm036.jpg The fifties were wonderful and I loved being in London. Every day, arriving at South Kensington tube station was a joy, my stomache still turns as I go down Queensgate towards the Albert Memorial. 1951 was the year of The Festival of Britain. Everybody wanted to make design better. Designing was a crusade. It seemed that all patterned fabrics were covered with chintzy flowers on beige backgrounds left over from pre-war days. We all wanted to change that. I was very influenced by the new ideas in furnishing Textiles from Scandinavia and the fashion fabrics from France and Italy.
The college was very much part of The Victoria and Albert museum, The school of painting was in the actual building.I walked through the museum every day on the way to the library or the print room. All students were invited to the talks in the V&A lecture theatre, where we heard history of art lectures by Basil Taylor and Professor Gombrich. Robin Darwin was the principal at the RCA when I was there. His aim was to bring designers and Industry together. This was a revolutionary change in design education. In my last year I was attached to Horrockses Fashions, and spent a lot my time in Manchester working at The Mill. I was lucky enough to have some of my designs in production while still a student.
2-078.jpg At college I met and married Peter Rice who was a theatre design student, when I was there doing Printed Textiles. One of the many good things about being married to Peter Rice, was seeing lots of theatre. He was designing opera sets at The Royal College of Music, just around the corner from the RCA and occasionally I did a little scene painting and prop making. We went to first nights at Glyndebourne and Covent Garden and Sadlers Wells, and in the West End, to see productions he had designed. Life was full. I was awarded a travel scholarship at the end of my college days and went to France and Italy. Much of my work in the 50's was inspired by this visit.
2-070.jpg My professional life started with Horrockses; their offices were in Hanover Square but I worked from home in South Kensington, designing all day. I was on call in case I was needed for design meetings. My visits to the offices took me through Mayfair so there was constant inspiration from art galleries and boutiques. The great thing was to see my designs being printed, made up into garments and shown in the seasonal fashion shows where I met the buyers and the fashion journalists. A memorable moment was seeing the first dress made up in one of my prints in a shop window in Bond street. I often worked on my own ideas, but sometimes the inspiration came from my director, Jimmie Cleveland Belle, or one of the three dress designers. They would suggest special designs subjects such as giant lobsters, trailing ivy or bananas. I liked working in this way,we all understood exactly the look we were after. It was very stimulating.
In 1958, Jimmie Cleveland Belle resigned, he had been my main inspiration. So I thought after 5 years it was time for me to go and try my luck free-lancing. I loved making collections of designs on paper and taking them round to manufacturers. It was so exciting to actually sell a design. After a brief spell of selling from a collection, I started designing for specific clients. I worked on both dress and furnishing fabrics, and wallpapers. I started designing for products I had never thought of as being patterned before, like sheets and towels. Sheets had always been white, or dyed in pastel colours, blue, pink, green or yellow, or sometimes were printed or woven pastel stripes. Tea Towels were plain, or they had "Glass Cloth" woven in a primary colour stripe down the middle. There were all these new products waiting to be decorated.
I hadn't designed a furnishing fabric for five years, and I was bursting with ideas. Three former Royal College students were in charge of design at Cavendish textiles, the production department for the John Lewis stores. We had very much the same ideas about design and I did some of my best work for them. I liked the market and had a lot of pleasure seeing my work in production and on sale in the shops.
2-074.jpg While I was at college I was encouraged to design for pottery. The Professor of Textiles was also Professor of Ceramics. I loved the atmosphere in The Potteries in the 50's. All the big manufacturers were producing their own very distinctive collections. I designed for Minton, Spode and Masons in Stoke and also for Royal Worcester. My visits to Stoke-on-Trent were as exciting as those to Manchester. I really enjoyed pottery design, and I received a "Council of Industrial Design" award for one of my patterns.
I had too much work towards the end of the decade. I decided then to have an assistant to work with me. This was the start of a series of amazing girls who worked for me, each staying with me for about a year. My first assistant was Susan Collier who later created the textile company Collier Campbell. Most of my assistants came straight from their degree course at art school. They have nearly all gone on to greater things. The current Professor of Textiles and Fashion at The Royal College, Clare Johnston, started her designing life with me. Having someone in their early twenties working with me, as I got older, did make me feel I had just left Art school myself.
My designs throughout the 50's were drawn from nature or historic plant forms. Sometimes particular inspiration was suggested by a client. Other designers who influenced me were Ken Scott, a brilliant American fabric and fashion designer (who later worked in Italy) and Fornasetti, whose brilliant and amusing approach to decoration never ceases to amaze me.
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