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Setting a new standard: Designing for Heals
‘For a conservative country like ours, the new designs were accepted extraordinarily quickly.’ 1
Opposite The unusual ‘Small Hours’ pattern, on screenprinted cotton, was one of Lucienne Day’s first patterns following the success of ‘Calyx’ in 1952. Three colourways were produced. Courtesy of Francesca Galloway. 1
Day, L., ‘Plain or Fancy’, Daily Mail Ideal Home Book, 1957, p.84.
Pond, E., ‘Design and the British Textile and Wallpaper Industries’, Did Britain Make It? British Design in Context 1946-86 (Sparke, P. ed.), The Design Council, 1986, p. 88.
Schoeser, M., Fabrics and Wallpapers, 20th Century Series, E.P. Dulton, p.87.
Cheetham, D., ‘Design Management: Choosing Decorative Designs’, Design, November 1964, p. 57.
Hughes-Stanton, C., ‘A shop with high standards’, Design, July 1965, p. 47.
6 Information from the Lucienne Day Accounts book. Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation. 7
Jackson, L., Robin and Lucienne Day; Pioneers of Contemporary Design, Mitchell Beazley, 2001, p. 78.
8 Lucienne Day quoted in Harris, J., Lucienne Day: A Career in Design, Whitworth Art Gallery, 1993, p.24.
With such outstanding international attention for the award-winning ‘Calyx’ pattern and the assurance of future commercial success, Heals was understandably quick to commission further designs from Lucienne Day. She was also finally paid the other half of the twenty-guinea fee for ‘Calyx’. A close relationship developed between Heals and Lucienne Day that would last for over twenty-four years. This famous London store, established in 1810 as Heal & Son Ltd, had built up a reputation for being associated with good design, and in 1893 Ambrose Heal entered the family business. In 1913 he was elected as Chairman, following the death of his father. It was Ambrose who decided to move away from the popular Victorian over-ornate styles to help pioneer simplicity in interior design. He was a founder member of the Design and Industries Association (DIA) and was involved in many debates about the improvement of design. Heals proved that there was a large market for highquality well-designed furnishings. Eddie Pond, a designer and a contemporary of Lucienne Day remarked that Heals ‘became synonymous with the most avant-garde furnishing fabrics of the day’.2 In the early ’40s Heal and Son Ltd established Heal’s Wholesale and Export Ltd, to export all Heals merchandise. By 1946 they were selling their own furnishing fabrics by designers such as Helen Close and Dorothy Martin.3 In 1948 Tom Worthington, who had joined the company in 1929, took over the direction of the company and concentrated on textiles, with the intention of producing modern well-designed fabrics at moderate prices, through their wholesale and export department. The name of that part of the business was changed to Heal Fabrics Ltd in 1958. All their textile designs were produced by a few print works such as Stead McAlpine in Carlisle. Heal Fabrics Ltd did not have a resident design team, as Tom Worthington took the view that such a group could not react quickly enough to changes in taste. He would see over ten thousand designs a year but selected only about sixty of them, plus those bought the previous year but not yet put into production, to form a
pool from which he chose those that would go into production in March and be launched in November. He also visited various colleges across the country to look for potential new talent. In an interview in Design magazine in 1964, Worthington commented, ‘You are purchasing designs you hope the public will buy in 18 months time... I watch fashion trends in all design fields, schools of painting and even architecture, and am able to secure what is likely to be accepted in the future in both design and colours.’ 4 In an article in 1965, Charles Hugh-Stanton commented that the success of Heal Fabrics Ltd was, ‘the entire doing of Tom Worthington, the most brilliant and dynamic impresario/converter in the business. He has discovered and made more textile designers than anyone else, and although all his fabrics carry the designer name, each collection is a comprehensive, recognisable unit clearly stamped “created by Tom Worthington.”‘ 5 Although not officially contracted with Heals, Lucienne Day would submit between four to six designs a year and was paid a fee for each design, with a small additional charge for each separate colouring, rather than a royalty. Through her association with Tom Worthington, she was given complete control over her designs, and they shared the same belief that good design should be mass produced. One of the first patterns to be launched after the success of ‘Calyx’ was ‘Allegro (5110)’, which, according to the designer, was the successor to ‘Calyx’.6 However, despite ‘Allegro (5110)’ featuring alongside ‘Calyx’ in Heals’ catalogues, Lucienne felt that the bands of colour on the pattern were too strong and therefore the pattern was unbalanced.7 ‘Allegro’ was followed by ‘Flotilla’ in 1952, which represented an abstract seascape and was, she recalled, the nearest thing to a painting she had ever created in textiles.8 This small-scale repeat pattern, printed on rayon, retailed at 16s 9d a yard and was selected for the budget ‘People’s House’ at the Ideal Home Exhibition in 1952. 41
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Another pattern in a similar vein was ‘Small Hours’. Interestingly, the painterly styles of these two patterns were soon put to one side by Lucienne Day, who increasingly took a more minimalist and graphic approach towards developing new designs. During the early fifties, Lucienne Day started to develop a new series of modern and economical patterns using her preferred medium of black pen.9 These innovative patterns, which consisted of a simple linear design, were set against a one-coloured background, which not only made a huge visual impact but also cut the cost of production as most standard patterns required between five to ten different colours for printing. This approach enabled Lucienne to price her work competitively, as well as opening up many possibilities for colour variations that would appeal to a wider public.
Above The ‘Allegro (5110)’ pattern, screen-printed cotton, was, according to the designer, the successor to the ‘Calyx’ pattern, Heals, 1952. Information from Lucienne Day’s Accounts Book, Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation. Image © Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Right An example of the ‘Flotilla (5115)’ pattern, screen-printed on linen for export, and linen-look rayon for the home market, 1952. Courtesy of the Centre for Advanced Textiles, The Glasgow School of Art. Opposite A period image of Lucienne Day textiles, selected by the designer for her article ‘Plain or Fancy’ in the Daily Mail Ideal Home Book, 1957. From left to right: ‘Ticker Tape’; ‘Script’ in jade/flame; ‘Linear’ in charcoal; ‘Graphica’ in white/red, and ‘Perpendicular’ in blue/pink (bottom) and spruce/brown, 1953. 9 Author in conversation with Lucienne Day, May 1993.
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The ‘Lapis’ pattern, screenprinted cotton, for Heals, 1953. ‘Lapis’ was used by the Days in their guest bedroom at Cheyne Walk. As illustrated in the Daily Mail Ideal Home Book 1953-54, p.39. The Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester.
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Left Originally known as ‘Circles’ the ‘Miscellany’ pattern, screen-printed acetate rayon taffeta, was designed for British Celanese, 1952. Courtesy of the John Lewis Partnership Archive Collection.
Above A colourway for the ‘Miscellany’ pattern, screenprinted acetate rayon taffeta for British Celanese, 1952. Collection of H. Kirk Brown III and Jill A. Wiltse.
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The â€˜Cadenzaâ€™ pattern was created by building up layers of cut-out coloured paper then covered with a mono-printed design in black. Each individual square was put together to form a repeat. Designed for Heals, 1962. Courtesy of the John Lewis Partnership Archive Collection.