Lesley Miller studied at the University of Glasgow and the Courtauld Institute of Art before moving to Brighton Polytechnic, where she was awarded her PhD for a thesis entitled ‘Designers in the Lyons Silk Industry, 1712-1787’ in 1988. She taught History of Design for over 20 years before moving into textile curation at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), London. Her most significant publications have focussed on aspects of design and commerce in the eighteenth-century French silk industry.

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Brighton College of Art in 2009, she wrote of her experiences in the 1980s.

“Little did I think how much Brighton Polytechnic would change my life when I first crossed its threshold as a Research Assistant in January 1983. Coming from a traditional background in Humanities, I had never set foot in an art school. At Brighton I encountered one of the most creative undergraduate fashion textile design courses in existence and a new design history course, and learnt not only much about historical research but also about teaching practice. My PhD supervisor, Lou Taylor, took me in hand with immense generosity, ensuring that my external supervisors complemented her own considerable expertise in textiles and dress. I was encouraged to engage productively with archives and museums in France, and my thesis is still the bedrock of my professional practice, its subject matter a deep and abiding passion.

“One of my biggest challenges was convincing practice-led students to appreciate history. Encouraging analytical skills and communicating the joy of research figure large in my own professional development, and led to the realisation that objects are the perfect vehicle for bringing people with different skills together. At the V&A I was later responsible for parts of the national textile collections, involved in research and interpretation and in promoting the study and conservation of the products of one of Britain’s most important industries. The biggest compliment I ever received at that time was when a practitioner comes up to me after a talk and says ‘thank you for giving us a voice’. In brief, twenty years on, I recognise how much I learnt at Brighton about people and things, about history and design, about our multi-faceted British education system, and about the rewards of hard work. The most important lessons were to be rigorous yet flexible, to dare to be ambitious without being callous, and to consider the world my oyster.”

Lesley Miller, 2009