Lesbian T-shirts in Lockdown: Winning the Costume Society’s Yarwood Prize

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Eleanor Medhurst, student of MA History of Design and Material Culture, explains how she will use a prestigious prize awarded by the Costume Society.

In March 2020, before we knew what the spring and summer would hold, I applied for the Costume Society’s Yarwood Grant. The Yarwood Grant, as described on their website, is “aimed at helping an MA student engaged in high quality research into the history of dress and/or textiles with expenditure relating to the completion of their dissertation.” My MA dissertation, titled ‘Billboard Bodies: Dyke Theory and the Lesbian T-shirt’ is a study of lesbian activist/slogan T-shirts and their unique position as politically-charged signals. A large part of this study revolves around the close analysis of a number of lesbian T-shirts. I applied for the Yarwood Grant to assist in the cost of visiting the Lesbian Archive in Glasgow Women’s Library and the Bishopsgate Institute in London; at these archives, I planned to look for examples of T-shirts that aren’t posted online, and analyse them as physical objects rather than only the slogans or designs that are the main feature in online archive photographs.

I’ve been to the Lesbian Archives before, albeit briefly and without warning the staff and volunteers in advance, so I know that there are boxes and boxes of T-shirts in the collection to look through as a researcher. When I last visited, some were even out on display, one black, with “The Lesbian Avengers” printed in white, and one white with an inverted pink triangle on the front and the words “Fight 28” (referring to the controversial Section 28 law of 1988 that forbade the “promotion of homosexuality” in educational and local authority contexts). I have included the quick snap that I took of the Lesbian Avengers T-shirt in my dissertation research already, and I know that there’s so much more that my research could gain from the archives.

Fig. 1: Lesbian Avengers T-shirt, black with white text. C.1992-6. Glasgow Women’s Library Lesbian Archive. Glasgow, Scotland. Personal photograph taken by the author, Aug. 2019.

It was, honestly, a surprise to find out that I had won the award at the end of June. Not because I didn’t think my research to be worthy (after working on it for months, I know that it is a valuable study), but because I’d mostly forgotten even applying. This year has been a little bit disruptive, to say the least. Initially, I was thrilled, of course. After that, however, I started to worry. How could I undertake the research I’d initially planned? Archives are still closed, it is still not particularly safe to travel, and on top of that, I’ve already written a large amount of my dissertation, sans archival research.

Writing my dissertation has proved to me how important this topic is, and how much room it has to expand, even after the 18,000-20,000 word count. What I now intend to do is complete my dissertation to the plan I’m already following, but then undertake the archival research afterwards, when it is safe to do so. The grant, then, will still be contributing to my dissertation research, but it will allow it to stretch further. I’ll be using the new research that I’ll gather to rework and build on part of my dissertation, with the goal of submitting it as a proposal for journal publication. This means that the grant will support me not just as a Masters student, but also as a postgraduate researcher. I am very excited to continue.

Reflections on a Curatorial Research Opportunity

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MA History of Design and Material Culture graduate Sandy Jones reflects on the study stages and career steps that led to a curatorial role in the Design, Architecture and Digital Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Fig. 1: The Cast Courts, V&A. December 2019. Photograph: author’s own.

I had arrived early and wandered through the cast courts at the V&A. Passing time before the meeting with curators, I paused to take a photo of an intricate stonework frieze for a friend, texting it with the words, ’can’t believe it, working here’. The brief for the job was exciting: a three month curatorial research project to explore the design history of an everyday manufacturing material, working alongside another researcher who would, in parallel, identify the objects in the museum’s collection to tell the story. It also involved looking through an entirely different lens at a collection close to my heart, the Jobbing Printing collection of commercial print at the National Art Library, to find the contextual objects that would best illustrate the material’s cultural significance and use. This early stage scoping research was a proof of concept exercise: ‘what was the story, did the museum have the objects to narrate it and were there opportunities to reframe the way we think about this material?’ I reflected that my BA/MA study had, of course, enabled me to apply for this role yet there were other factors too: field specialisation, volunteering, the encouragement of tutors and colleagues, and right place/right time opportunities.

Fig. 2: Luxor Radio, Sweden, publicity material. 1930s. JP Box 25. V&A National Art Library Jobbing Printing Collection.

My interest in graphic design began when I worked in the design industry. As my Museum and Heritage Studies BA progressed I became particularly interested in design during the interwar period. Lectures such as Jonathan Woodham’s ‘American Design Between the Wars’ in 2012 (my notes to this lecture: ‘Streamlining. Speed whiskers. Aerodynamic corners. Faster, better’) brought into sharp focus how artists and designers were imagining this brave new material world. Commercial art, as it was called then, also underwent a radical transformation as modernist designers embraced new technologies such as photography and print production processes, and organisations began to recognise its value as a powerful tool for business and recovery following the Depression. An assignment to research an exhibition display from Britain Can Make It (V&A, 1946) extended my interest even further to the post war period and led me to discover the University of Brighton Design Archives. It was here that I found photographs recording the wartime exhibitions of emigré designer F. H. K. Henrion for the Ministry of Information and US Office of War Information, which became my dissertation topic.

Fig. 3: Aerobics at the De La Warr Pavilion. The People’s Pavilion: Our First 80 Years (2016). Photograph: Bexhill Observer, September 1983. Image: B2226/22. Courtesy: DLWP/Bexhill Museum.

I began volunteering early on in my BA to gain experience of working in the cultural sector and was briefly a gallery assistant at The Towner and a volunteer at the Design Museum, responsible for cleaning and packing objects for their move from Shad Thames to Kensington. I was also a regular volunteer at the iconic modernist building by the sea, the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill. Whilst there, I wrote the gallery guide for a Hayward Touring exhibition, helped out with admin and co-curated an exhibition, The People’s Pavilion: Our First 80 Years (2016). 

Fast forward to the first term of my part-time History of Design and Material Culture MA when the DLWP asked me to undertake curatorial research for their exhibition, The New Line Works: from the Jobbing Printing Collection (2016/17). A collaboration with the V&A’s National Art Library (NAL), the exhibition showcased some of the treasures from this commercial art collection assembled by Keeper of the Library, Philip James, between 1936-39. On display were works by some of the most prominent international designers of the period, such as Edward Bawden, Barnett Friedmann, Edward McKnight Kauffer, Herbert Matter, László Moholy-Nagy and Serge Chermayeff, the joint architect of the Pavilion.

Fig. 4: Installation shot, ‘The New Line: Works from the Jobbing Printing Collection’ (2016/17). De La Warr Pavilion. Photographer: Nigel Green. Courtesy: dlwp.com.

Once I’d completed this research, I knew I wanted to continue and hoped to make it my dissertation topic. I wrote to NAL curator Deborah Sutherland to ask whether there were aspects of the collection that would benefit from research. She generously invited me into the NAL to discuss three proposals. One in particular stood out, a collection within the collection containing rare Czech, German, Russian and Swiss works sold to the library by exiled German typographer and educator Jan Tschichold in 1937. It was significant as the only collection purchased for Jobbing Printing at a time when the museum did not actively collect Modernist material. I was also fortunate because Professor Jeremy Aynsley, my dissertation tutor, knew the collection well, having written about it in 1995 and exhibited works from it.

Fig. 5: Bochumer Verein publicity material, ca. 1925. Designer: Max Burchartz. JP Box 34 (a). Museum Number: 38041800366916. V&A National Art Library Jobbing Printing Collection.

In order to gain access to the objects I was sponsored by the NAL as a volunteer, this took a few weeks of paperwork relays and security checks. Even though I completed my MA dissertation in 2018, I have continued as a volunteer researcher whilst working part-time, cataloguing the works and contributing a blog post about one of its objects, a ticket to the party to inaugurate the Bauhaus school’s new buildings in Dessau, 1926. The collection continues to surprise us. Having shared a research presentation I gave at the Bard Graduate Center with the NAL team, a colleague discovered Philip James’ works list for his exhibition, Modern Commercial Typography (V&A, 1936/37), the catalyst for the Jan Tschichold purchase. This was such a find. Previously we had relied on press articles to tell us what he had displayed; finally we knew for certain.

The opportunity to work as a curatorial researcher for the Design, Architecture and Digital Department (DAD) at V&A was advertised in 2019.  The role was a part-time job share and I was responsible for design history research and uncovering some of the more unusual stories. My research partner was John Williams, Collections Moves Officer who was seconded from the Blythe House Decant to identify the objects in the collection that would best illustrate this narrative. We met on Tuesdays in the research department and used WhatsApp to share images, research and snippets we had discovered. I used the online resources of the museum and accessed contemporary journals, images and texts in the NAL and St Peter’s House Library to understand the cultural context.  We met regularly with senior curators Corinna Gardner and Johanna Agermann Ross, who provided direction and urged us to be critical. We visited specific exhibitions in order to analyse curatorial approaches and provoke questions about the different viewpoints we might take.

Fig. 6: Dunlop advertisement. The Illustrated London News, July 9, 1938. St Peter’s House Library, University of Brighton.

My deliverable was a timeline, report and slide presentation; John’s was a detailed object list containing images and descriptions. We shared our presentations with the team together with an online repository of our resources that John coordinated. What would I do differently next time? Set clearer parameters. With a subject so broad and endlessly fascinating, it was at times overwhelming. Working together remotely worked really well, although more face time would have perhaps produced a more unified final presentation.

I look forward to returning to the museum as an occasional volunteer when it re-opens, it will be great to see the team and Jobbing Printing. Having this project on my CV will be a great talking point as I continue to pursue other opportunities and personal research interests.

‘Chemicals Give Bread, Beauty and Prosperity!’

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Lisa Hinkins, artist, student of MA Curating Collections and Heritage, and Gallery Explainer at Brighton Museum, tells the complex political history of an artefact in the collection.

This is a tale of East-West relations during the Cold War told through a lesser-known design classic, the Garden Egg Chair, on display in Brighton Museum & Art Gallery’s Twentieth Century Decorative Art and Design gallery. The chair reveals relations between East and West Germany in the period now referred to as the Thaw Years (1953-1964).

The post-World War II division of Germany meant that the East of the country inherited the nation’s extensive chemical industry. It gave what was then the Communist-ruled German Democratic Republic (GDR) a great position to compete with new synthetic materials. Inspired by the Space Race, futuristic designs were achieved. With the death of Stalin in 1953, the new Soviet Leader, Nikita Khrushchev was motivated to outdo the West. At the heart of the Communist future was to be higher living standards. Western designs, technologies and materials were viewed as products of a treacherous world but they could be adapted to a Socialist vision.

To compete with the West’s flow of goods crossing the border from West Germany, which was enjoying an economic miracle enabled by US loans, a ‘friendship pipe-line’ connected East Germany (GDR) with Soviet oilfields. The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance permitted GDR factories to supply industrial and domestic plastic products  for GDR and the Eastern Bloc, while the Kremlin used oil as a way of propping up the GDR economy in the face of Western competition. GDR leader Walter Ulbricht announced it as an essential element of the socialist cultural revolution’. At the 1958 Chemical Conference he proclaimed, ‘Chemicals Give Bread, Beauty and Prosperity!’

Newer thermoplastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene were preferred products for GDR designers. The possibilities of a new world challenged the dominating official Stalinist aesthetic, which had imitated rococo and Chippendale styles. These were expensive and not suited to mass production, but at the same time Bauhaus-style modern design was viewed as dangerously international, cosmopolitan and a weapon of imperialism. In 1956 Khrushchev proclaimed that he wanted to build ‘better, cheaper, and faster’. The stylistic tide was changing in favour of the Bauhaus-influenced designers. Modernist designers gained control of the aesthetic discourse in East Germany, though many in government found this hard to reconcile. Designers used plastic in unity of form and function. It was manipulated to fit the functional needs of the product, not to cut overheads and increase profit. Most of the GDR population saw plastic as a quality material and a sign of technological progress.

Peter Ghyzczy, Garden Egg Chair. c. 1968. Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. Photograph by Lisa Hinkins. 2018.

Designer Peter Ghyzczy was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1940. After the 1956 political unrest he moved to Vienna, and then to Bonn. He studied sculpture in Düsseldorf and then architecture. After graduating he produced many designs for furniture including the Garden Egg Chair, one of the earliest examples of a hinged chair. The political Thaw did not last and by the early 1960s the ultimate ‘check on freedom’ was the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. The East German leader Walter Ulbricht called it an ‘anti-fascist protection barrier’. Ghyzczy’s design defied the barrier with new materials testing carried out in West Germany. Cheaper labour meant the chair could be produced in East Germany. This border-crossing practice was not unique, but it was not publicly acknowledged. The flood of people fleeing East to West threatened the national economy and revealed the GDR’s inability to match the West in the consumer boom. The Garden Egg Chair demonstrates these problems. In the GDR, the chair was unaffordable for the general consumer. Officially one third of production was sold in West Germany, while the rest was for the domestic market and for export.

Expectations raised by the Eastern Bloc were not alleviated when hard currency shops selling Western consumer goods opened in the mid-1960s nor when factories churned out cars and stereos for the domestic market. There were great design accomplishments in the Eastern Bloc, but they did not reach consumers. Production of the Garden Egg Chair ceased after about three years, in part due to its problematic lacquering process. Shortages continued  for people living in the Eastern Bloc and promises could not be fulfilled by the communist regime. Cracks also appeared in design discourse with further outbursts from Khrushchev in Moscow and Ulbricht in East Germany on the subject of modern art and ceramics. Some designs were just too modern, even for those in the vanguard of socialism. Ghyzczy moved to the Netherlands in the early 1970s. He developed new ways in fixing glass to metal, resulting in his signature designs for furniture including tables of frameless glass secured with a single brass screw.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, followed by the re-unification of Germany in 1990, scholars started to dispel the myths that Western capitalist countries had no contact with Eastern Bloc countries during the Cold War period and the full story of these design exchanges could be told. Brighton Museum & Art Gallery acquired its Garden Egg Chair in 1999. The Twentieth Century Gallery offers a unique setting for a distinctive chair with a complex history.

Further reading:

Crowley, David and Jane Pavitt, eds. Cold War Modern Design 1945-1970. London: V&A Publishing, 2010.


Recreating Art in Lockdown: A History of Art student competition

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Annebella Pollen, History of Art and Design co-Academic Programme Leader, introduces a recent competition and announces its winners.

With access to museums and galleries closed, not to mention libraries and universities, how are History of Art and Design programme students staying close to their subjects? In recognition of the unique challenges facing our current cohort of students and as a fun activity to lighten the mood in these difficult times, History of Art and Design staff recently invited our undergraduates to recreate famous art works at home. We were inspired by similar artistic challenges taking place in other cultural institutions, for example, the invitation to recreate, with domestic objects alone, art housed in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Vogue magazine’s call to restage famous red-carpet outfits from the history of the Met Gala and, my personal favourite, the spontaneous efforts made to mimic kitsch submissions to the cult Facebook site Terrible Art in Charity Shops.

We were not sure if any students would have the time and space to take up this invitation; we are aware that many are facing major personal and practical challenges brought by the enormous changes of circumstances resulting from the global pandemic. Students have dispersed across the world and are contained in their homes and gardens. We were delighted, therefore, to receive two submissions to the competition, particularly as both were of excellent quality. To our surprise and delight, the submissions unwittingly formed a pair. Both are inspired by Pre-Raphaelite paintings. In reverse order, then, I am pleased to announce our competition winners.

Annie Jones, The Soul of the Rose in Quarantine, photograph, 2020.

In second place, with a wonderful updating of J. W. Waterhouse’s 1908 painting The Soul of the Rose, is Annie Jones, second year BA Visual Culture. In the original painting, an auburn haired young woman with a peaches-and-cream complexion leans against a terracotta wall to inhale deeply the scent of a pink rose in full bloom. Dressed in a wide-sleeved robe, against a background of whitewashed walls and tiled roofs, the subject demonstrates Pre-Raphaelite preoccupations with colour, sensuality and literary inspirations (the title comes from a Tennyson poem).

Annie’s recreation, retitled The Soul of the Rose in Quarantine, has stayed faithful to many details, with a pink rose, a string of pearls loosely entwined through the subject’s auburn hair, a deep-sleeved chinoiserie-style dressing gown in place of a robe, and a terracotta brick wall. The structures in the background – including a chimney and wooden door – signal its British lockdown setting. The detail of Annie’s tattooed forearm adds a neat twenty-first century reboot. It is an excellent contribution, and a fitting partner to the winning submission.

Olivia Terry, Ophelia, photograph, 2020 (photo credit: Stacie Ruth).

Olivia Terry, second year BA Fashion and Dress History, also chose a famous Pre-Raphaelite painting for her  recreation. Sir John Everett Millais’ 1851-2 Ophelia is one of the most beloved works of the stylistic school and the most popular painting in Tate Britain’s collection. Depicting the tragic death by drowning of a character from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the painting was famously composed by posing its model, Elizabeth Siddal, in a tin bath of cooling water. Olivia’s recreation shows a similar commitment to art at the risk of health, as she impressively took to the waters in a creek in her backyard wrapped only in a bed sheet. Surrounded by rocks and foliage, in Olivia’s native Idaho rather than in Surrey, she clasps a bunch of flowers to indicate Ophelia’s final actions before her poetic demise, and to take first prize in the competition.

We are very pleased with the imaginative way that both these entries took up the challenge. We are also very pleased to reward both winners with book token prizes for their excellent artistic reinterpretations. Bravo!



My textile conservation journey

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BA Fashion and Dress History student, Katy Crawford, details how she built a profile in volunteer textile conservation to support her career plans.

After stumbling across some painting conservation videos and being completely mesmerised by the process of conserving, preserving and sometimes restoring objects, I wondered if this career path might align with my own interest in fashion and dress, and that is when I discovered textile conservation.

After researching how I could pursue this journey in March 2019, I discovered the only dedicated Textile Conservation qualification is at the University of Glasgow. I knew instantly that this is where I wanted to be after my finishing my BA, but the entry requirements were tough and after speaking to previous and current students, I knew I had my work cut out. There is no doubt that the experience and contacts I gained through volunteering helped me gain a place on my dream master’s degree.

Figure 1: Using an ergo hoover and nylon mesh (to avoid direct contact with the textile) to clean the Acanthus bedspread of a year’s worth of dust. Standen National Trust. Personal photograph of the author. 17th July 2019.

I first contacted the National Trust properties, Nymans and Standen House and Garden, who were delighted to help me in preparation for my master’s application. Through volunteering I gained an introduction to conservation and was able to build my skillset in an environment where there was very little pressure and I had the luxury to simply learn from others. I completed morning cleans, deep cleans and aided in the general upkeep of the house. I also learnt about pests, how to handle and condition check specific objects, and how to talk to visitors about conservation and all the work that goes on behind the scenes.

Volunteering not only expands your skills but also provides you with access to an experience that the general public don’t get. At Standen I carried out an extensive project where I condition reported and pest checked over forty textile items. This included the Acanthus bedspread made by Morris & Co. in 1890, making it conceivable that May Morris herself supervised the work completed on it! At Standen, I was able to view and handle their wonderful Arts and Crafts textile collection, a luxury I earned through gaining the trust of the conservation team.

In addition, I have gained a tremendous amount of contacts by volunteering. Through Nymans I was lucky enough to visit Zenzie Tinker’s conservation studio in Brighton, where I gained invaluable advice from Zenzie and members of her staff who had also completed the Glasgow master’s qualification. I later completed a course with Zenzie on the conservation of electra beetle wing, an insect element sometimes used in fashion and textiles. This in turn put me in touch with further conservators and students. During the Professional Paths module in the final year of my Fashion and Dress History degree, I focused on textile conservation as a career. I was able to interview Zenzie for my final essay, which not only helped me improve my grade but strengthened my relationship with a professional contact.

Figure 2: Inspecting one of the Tulip hangings for pests and signs of new damage. Standen National Trust. Personal photograph of the author. 31st July 2019.

For many, the ultimate goal of volunteering is for it to lead to paid work, and it is possible! After a few months volunteering with Standen, a member of their conservation team handed in their notice and I was offered some paid work while they interviewed for a replacement. This was an incredible opportunity which I would not have received had I not already shown my capabilities through volunteering. I was even encouraged to apply for the full-time role, which I would have been delighted to do had it not clashed with university commitments.

I wholeheartedly encourage students to talk to your university tutors about your career plans. Through my course tutor, Dr Veronica Isaac, I was able to visit the V&A textile conservation studio. This was something I had attempted to do myself with no luck, highlighting how you should make the most of your tutors’ contacts. While visiting, I asked if I could volunteer and the answer was yes! This is an ideal example of ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get!’ Putting yourself forward demonstrates your commitment and may lead to other opportunities. My experience at the V&A was sadly cut short due to coronavirus but I was able to help with the current decant project, making new storage supports and improving old supports for women’s sixteenth-century hats.

If I could summarise my journey, I would say that volunteering will never be a waste of time. You get the opportunity to expand your skillset, gain hands-on experience and contacts, and maybe even gain paid work. Everywhere I have volunteered I have met someone new, which has led to more places to visit and even more people to meet. Through contacts at the National Trust, I have visited Knole conservation studio, where I did my first interventive conservation work (assessing collections damage), and later this year I will be visiting the National Trust’s dedicated textile conservation studio for a week-long placement. Through contacts at the V&A, I will be visiting the textile conservation studio at the Museum of London. All of these visits and opportunities were made possible through volunteering and being able to name-drop the contacts I have gained over the past year.

Breaking through: From History of Art and Design studies to History teaching

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BA History of Art and Design student, Hannah Kempster, reflects on the value that a breakthrough prize has had for her confidence and career development.

I was very excited to find out that I had won the Anne Clements Breakthrough Award for my grades during the second year of my History of Art and Design degree. I hadn’t been aware of the award in advance, so I was extremely surprised to find out that I had won it. I loved the second year of the course and had wonderful experiences such as a trip to the Tate Modern, and a voluntary placement at Volk’s Electric Railway. Winning this prize felt like a fantastic end to a great year.

Breakthrough awards are given to second year undergraduate students to support and encourage them through what can be a challenging phase of their studies. The university also holds an annual celebration event for students and donors to celebrate the awards that are given in all subject areas. This is also an opportunity for donors to meet the winners of their prizes, and to see the impact that the awards can make in students’ lives. During the speeches, we were regaled with stories of the many ways the funds had been used. It was amazing to hear how students had used the awards for diverse projects including trips abroad and business start-ups. I left the evening feeling inspired and in awe of the amazing work that students are undertaking alongside their studies.

Hannah with other University of Brighton student award-winners, and the Vice Chancellor, at the annual celebration event, 18 February 2020.

Anne was sadly unable to come to the celebration evening, so I didn’t get a chance to thank her personally. However, her daughter Fiona was attendance. Fiona told me that Anne had had a career in design history and as a result wanted to support scholars in the same field. I am extremely grateful to Anne for this support. Winning an award represents not only financial backing, but a huge boost to my confidence. It gave me renewed enthusiasm and encouragement going into the final year of my studies.

Like many of my peers, I have had to work alongside my degree to support myself financially. The funds have allowed me to have some much needed time off work while I completed my final assignments and dissertation. While I had originally planned to also use the time to gain more work experience to enhance my employability, lockdown hasn’t allowed for this. This has been a blessing in disguise however, as I reflected on my career options and have decided to train to become a teacher. I am very pleased to say that I have accepted a place for next year to train to teach secondary school history. I am hugely grateful to Anne for the award, and the financial support that has allowed me the space and time to work on my studies. It has also given me the confidence and encouragement to pursue a career I know I will love.

Liberty fabrics in Country and Western wear: Historical research and creative practice

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Janet Aspley, who recently completed her PhD, was interviewed by the fashion company Liberty about her love for their fabrics, and how her design company Dandy & Rose, where she makes bespoke Liberty print western shirts, links with her interests in the history of fashion.


I am based in Lewes, East Sussex, where I’ve lived for 25 years. I started experimenting with making western wear in the late 1980s when I first became a big fan of country music and started writing for Country Music People magazine. A couple of years ago, I was interviewing the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale and plucked up the courage to show him a shirt I had made from a 1940s western shirt pattern. He loved it and started wearing my stuff onstage – and Dandy & Rose was born.


My mum Iris was an avid home sewing enthusiast – when I was growing up, she made all my clothes. She had learned her skills from my dad’s mum, who would make extra pennies by taking in sewing after she married my grandad, a coalminer. Sometimes when I see one of my shirts on stage or on TV, I wonder what she would have made of it. I bet she would have loved to have a workroom full of Liberty fabrics!


Thank you! About 10 years ago, I interviewed the tailor Manuel Cuevas, the ‘Rhinestone Rembrandt’, and realised his work would be a great basis for an academic study. ‘Nudie suits’ are made using incredible finesse of cutting and construction – but instead of the understated details that usually go with bespoke menswear, they are made in bright colours, embroidered with pictures and embellished with sparkling rhinestones. Walking into Manuel’s showroom is like entering a jewel box. In its 1950s heyday, the Nudie suit was a working-class version of luxury, an expression of rags-to-riches stardom. Since then it has come to be seen as traditional, and country singers wear their Nudie suits to show that they are the ‘real deal’.


Studying dress means you need to understand how something’s made – for me, that means having a go at doing it myself wherever possible. The research and the making are an exchange, with each feeding the other. I did a lot of research at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, so it was a thrill when they included me in their ‘Featured Western Wear Designer’ exhibit a couple of years ago.


Gram Parsons, who is an inspirational figure to many modern musicians, had a Nudie suit made in 1968 embroidered with pictures of leaves, pills and poppies – a real product of 1960s counterculture. Parsons spent time in London and loved the iconic Kings Road boutique Granny Takes a Trip, which made the famous psychedelic William Morris print jackets worn by George Harrison and Jimi Hendrix. My Liberty print western shirts evoke this important ‘60s music moment – I’d love to find a photograph of Parsons in a Liberty shirt, because I’m sure he must have had one!

Musicians love Liberty prints because they’re beautiful. These are creative people, and they can appreciate the work of an artist in a different medium – which is what your print designers are. Tana Lawn™ is a great fabric for a touring musician. It’s very soft and light, and it doesn’t crease as much as most other cotton fabrics either. They can pull it out of their bag, put it on to go onstage and make an impact.


I try to help my customers pick out a print that expresses their personality. Sturgill Simpson chose the print Gustav and Otto – he had a song out called ‘Turtles All the Way Down’, so I cut the shirt so that the tiny turtles in the design ran all the way down the button band. Danny George Wilson is highly tattooed, so he loved the tattoo-inspired Wild at Heart print. I love connecting my customers with the stories Liberty can tell about each print.

Sometimes it’s Liberty itself that is the connection. A couple of years ago, I made a shirt for the actor and comedian Tina Fey. Her brother Peter bought the shirt for her as a Christmas gift, because he knew she had special memories of visiting Liberty when she came to London as a young backpacker. He chose the print Queen Bee, which I suspect was a family in-joke!


Aaron Lee Tasjan has all the flamboyance of the ‘60s and ‘70s menswear moment, so I loved it when he got a ruffled Dandy & Rose shirt in a psychedelic print called Amelia Star. When Jim Lauderdale wore one of my Liberty shirts on the TV soap opera Nashville, I had a viewing party with all my friends. And I’ll never forget sitting backstage in the bleachers at the Grand Ole Opry, a historic Nashville venue for country music, and looking up to see Jim wearing a shirt I had made on the huge screen – it filled me with awe to think it had come all the way from my little workroom in Lewes.

There are still some musicians I would love to make for, so Lyle Lovett, Elvis Costello – if you’re reading this…


The colours and details are amazing. I made a shirt in the print Wild Flowers, and was working to a deadline to get it ready for a show. Because I do a lot of pattern matching, I examine the prints very closely, but even so, I was right at the end of the make before I noticed that the designer had inserted the word ‘Strawberry’ into the print. I love that level of attention to detail.

An earlier version of this blog post originally appeared on the Liberty London website.

Selling Wallpaper: An archival history of interwar home decoration

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Lucy Ellis, MA History of Design and Material Culture, provides a fascinating insight into the history of wallpaper. 

I have always had an interest in the history of wallpaper, and I also have a background in retail. When I started my MA in the History of Design and Material Culture at the University of Brighton  in 2017, I was keen to bring these two things together.  So I was delighted to find a publication called The Wallpaper Magazine in the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MODA) collections at Middlesex University. MODA proved to be a fascinating resource for research into wallpaper salesmanship between the wars.

My research made me realise just how much rich history is contained within trade journals and magazines: all the voices of the trade are there, from management through to decorators. We see them at work and at play through the advice features, technical instruction, sports and social reports, jokes and cartoons, all wrapped up in these wonderful ephemeral objects.

Wallpaper Magazine, April-May 1927

Wallpaper Magazine, April-May 1927, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture collections, Middlesex University.

The Wallpaper Magazine was published in Britain from 1920-1939 by The Wallpaper Manufacturers Ltd (WPM), the dominant wallpaper company of the first half of the twentieth century.  The magazine was an in-house journal that sought to unite the industry. It was a conduit for enthusiastic (and at times intensely didactic) advice on how to maximise wallpaper sales.

When the magazine was launched in 1920 the wallpaper industry was recovering from a slump brought about by war and shortages of raw materials. The wallpaper industry also faced a hostile design climate in which critics, enthused by modernism, advocated abandoning wallpaper for plain painted walls.

In response, WPM used The Wallpaper Magazine to inform, educate and motivate the wallpaper salesman to ‘better business’. It was a means of conveying the new USA-led science of salesmanship to the independent decorator on the high street in order to revive the trade.

The magazines chart the growing importance of branding as a means of selling.  I was intrigued by the changing cover designs and how the tone of the magazine altered over the 1920s and 1930s.  In the 1920s the salesman was encouraged to see his (mainly female) customers as ‘unbelievers’. It was thought that they needed to be ‘educated’ into buying wallpaper. By the 1930s, there was a more moderate and sophisticated assessment of the client based on psychological profiling, a change reflected in the tone and content of these magazines.

I am very grateful to the Wallpaper History Society for awarding me the Merryl Huxtable Prize to support my research into inter-war wallpaper salesmanship.

For more information about Lucy’s research, watch this film made by Middlesex University TV Production students. With thanks to the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture for permission to reblog this content. 

Curating The Ladies’ Paradise: A Hidden History

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PhD student Jo Lance offers a view of her exhibition on early twentieth century fashion illustration for department stores at Worthing Museum and Art Gallery.

The Ladies’ Paradise is a fashion exhibition in the Norwood Gallery at Worthing Museum and Art Gallery, September 2019- June 2020, which I created with support from the Museum’s curatorial team. Its core is a collection of Edwardian fashion drawings c.1905-1914 by an illustrator named Ida Pritchard [1889-1948].

Figure 1. Ida Prichard. Illustration showing evening cloak, c.1910. Worthing Museum and Art Gallery.

I first came across Pritchard’s fashion drawings while volunteering at Worthing Museum and Art Gallery, prior to commencing my PhD studies. I was immediately intrigued by the drawings, as it seemed unusual for a young woman to have had a career as a fashion illustrator in the period before the First World War. We know from her relatives, who donated her drawings to the Museum in 1993, that Pritchard was raised and educated in London and that she worked as a commercial illustrator for Peter Robinson department store producing images for advertisements in fashionable publications such as The Queen, Country Life and The Ladies’ Field before she left work upon marriage in 1914. We do not know how common her career path was; little is known about female graphic artists in this era.

Traditionally, histories of early twentieth-century fashion illustration have looked at fashion plates by celebrated avant-garde artists to emphasise the relationship between fine art and Parisian couture. Such accounts focus on elite fashion and do not include the many artists like Ida Pritchard who worked in the rapidly expanding advertising and magazine industry. This exhibition was an exciting opportunity to show the work of one of those unknown artists, and to frame her work within the context of the department store phenomenon and ideals of femininity at the time. Pritchard had an amazing eye for detail and her work captures the sumptuous textures of the clothing and stylised, staged femininity of the Edwardian period.

Figure 2. Ida Pritchard. Illustration of day ensemble with hat and feather stole, c.1905. Pencil / gouache on card. Worthing Museum and Art Gallery.

Pritchard’s drawings provide a valuable glimpse into the working life of a female commercial artist just before the First World War, in the heyday of the West End department store. She and her colleagues sketched from live models, who often posed in the large shop windows, wearing the latest fashions. The illustrators sat in the windows and sketched them. This was a clever publicity stunt that drew large crowds on the busy pavements outside.

Pritchard’s drawings skilfully capture the exaggerated characteristics of the feminine ideal of the 1900s and early 1910s, from the dramatically corseted “S” bend silhouette to the high-waist Empire line that replaced the hourglass style. The opulence of the Edwardian era, the layers of lace, feathers and furs are delicately modelled in a largely monochrome palette of pencil and gouache. A selection of dress from the museum collection, c.1900-1914, including pieces from Peter Robinson, is displayed in the exhibition alongside the fashion plates. A monochrome colour scheme, relieved by touches of pink and gold, reflects the colours Ida Pritchard used in many of her drawings. Where possible, outfits that echoed the silhouettes and textures of Pritchard’s work were juxtaposed.

The Edwardian period saw the commercial peak of the major London department stores, which were at the forefront of fashion retail for the rising middle classes in the early 1900s. Like many department stores, Peter Robinson’s had begun as a modest draper’s shop in the 1830s and expanded to become “Black Peter Robinson’s” mourning warehouse, capitalising on the Victorian cult of grief. The enterprise expanded rapidly in the late Victorian consumer boom and by the 1890s Peter Robinson was a prosperous business, with premises on Oxford St, Regent St, Great Portland St and Argyll St. A purpose-built flagship store was completed on Oxford Circus in 1912, which still stands, occupied today by Topshop.

Figure 3. Ida Pritchard. Illustration of three female figures showing lace blouses, c.1905. Pencil / gouache on card. Worthing Museum and Art Gallery.

The nineteenth century department store offered a new cultural space for women. Consumption was integral to the identity of the New Woman and shopping was seen as a form of liberation. During the Victorian period there were few public spaces which a respectable woman could enter unchaperoned or without the company of a male relative. Modern department stores such as John Lewis and Selfridge’s made use of new building technologies such as cast iron and plate glass to create open galleried spaces and large inviting windows filled with innovative displays, including fashionably dressed mannequins. Customers were encouraged to browse, try items on, relax and socialise in refreshment rooms. Shopping was a leisure activity and the new department store a place to see and to be seen.

Department stores offered a vast array of haberdashery goods and a comprehensive dressmaking service. They were also at the vanguard of ready-to-wear fashion production. Throughout the Victorian period clothing was made to measure but as the nineteenth century progressed, technological innovation moved the garment industry towards mass-production. Mantles and capes, gloves and hats were among the first types of women’s clothing to be ready-made and retailed in luxurious surroundings. Examples of capes, including an extravagant Poiret-influenced c.1910 opera cloak in gold and pale blue satin with Oriental motifs and embroidered silk tassels, made by Peter Robinson, were included in the exhibition alongside complementary fashion plates by Pritchard.

Department stores had large dressmaking departments with seamstresses producing outfits to order. Peter Robinson pioneered ready-made costumes with a seam left open at the back so that clothes could be adjusted to fit at home. Peter Robinson was also among the first fashion retailers to advertise in the press, taking out advertisements in the Illustrated London News for mantles and waterproofs as early as the 1860s. The second half of the nineteenth century saw an explosion in print culture and many new periodicals were aimed at a female audience, featuring columns of style and etiquette advice and, latterly, engraved fashion plates. By the early twentieth century, when Pritchard produced her drawings, the company were producing beautifully illustrated full-page advertisements. Worthing Museum is fortunate to have Pritchard’s original drawing, c.1908, of a satin petticoat, a copy of the magazine in which the advertisement was published and a near-identical example of a pink petticoat and camisole from the period, meaning that they could all be exhibited in conversation together.

Pritchard’s drawings, although they indicate subtle variations, adhere to a specific feminine type until c.1910. The fashions of the turn of the century were characterised by a dramatic hyper-femininity. Images of modish women in newspapers and advertising were shown swathed in luxurious fabrics and dripping furs. Hats were huge with ostrich plumes atop hair rolled around pads and augmented with hairpieces to increase height and volume. The increasing availability of commercially produced cosmetics and perfumes added to the general mode of theatrical artifice and exoticism, all of which is reflected in Pritchard’s drawings for a mass audience.

Ida Pritchard’s work had never been exhibited before in its own right. The Ladies’ Paradise was designed to complement the Female Voices exhibition, representing women through the collections, in the main Museum gallery. It shone a spotlight not only on an unknown female artist but also upon the subject she depicted, the fashionable woman on the eve of the First World War. Framing Pritchard’s work within department store culture of the period reveals how women were linked with modernity through the consumption of fashionable goods, and how shopping was linked to leisure and liberation (for those who could afford it). As the Suffragette banner on display in the Female Voices gallery reminds us, the period of unprecedented consumer temptations was the era of the struggle for female emancipation. This offers pause for reflection on the nature of choice, freedom and progress.

Update: As this exhibition has had to close as a result of Covid-19, a dedicated webpage including further images and exhibition texts has been provided by Worthing Museum.