Royal Designers for Industry & Britain Can Make It, 1946

Black and white portrait of Lucienne Day hand painting a plate

Lucienne Day

Black and white portrait of Lucienne Day hand painting a plate

Textile Designer (1917-2010)

Desiree Lucienne Lisbeth Dulcie Conradi was born in Coulsdon, Surrey on 5th January 1917. She studied at Woodford School, Croydon, where she was encouraged to go to Croydon School of Art (1934-1937), and there met Peter Werner, who introduced her to the ideas of the Bauhaus School and Swedish design. She continued her design education at the Royal College of Art (RCA) where she met her future husband, Robin Day RDI in 1940. She was a gifted student. The Victoria & Albert Museum Circulating Department purchased her fabric design of stylized horses’ heads while she was still at the college. To supplement her earnings she taught at Beckenham Art School until 1947, by which time she was able to set up her own practice as a freelance designer. One of her first clients was Cavendish Textiles (a brand name for the John Lewis Partnership) who brought the design ‘Bushmen’ featured in her diploma show at the RCA.

Lucienne Day later recalled that, Royal Designer for Industry (RDI), Alistair Morton had been very influential at the beginning of her career. He encouraged her to become more business-like and her alliance with Edinburgh Weavers proved to be one of her most productive. Although not officially contracted to the company, Day regularly produced successful designs for Heal’s over a period of twenty-five years. Her name became so closely associated with the company that she had to stop designing for their direct competitor, Edinburgh Weavers, although she remained on friendly terms with Morton.

Day became an active member of the Society of Industrial Artists (SIA) in 1946. As well as helping to set up the Textile Group in 1947, working along with other future RDIs, Jacqueline Groag and Allan Walton, she also took on the role of the group’s first Honorary Secretary, with Morton as Chairman. She also served on the SIA’s Fashion Design Group committee formed in 1951.

When Robin Day was invited to design a low-cost room setting for the Festival of Britain (1951) he asked Lucienne to contribute a textile design. She produced something radically different from her previous work and this resulted in her best-known design ‘Calyx’. This won her a gold medal at the Milan Triennale and an American Institute of Decorators award – the first to a British designer. A textile featuring the words ‘Festival of Britain’ and striking wallpaper patterns were showcased in the Homes and Gardens Pavilion. Wells Coates RDI also commissioned Day to design a furnishing fabric for his ‘Telekinema’ on the South Bank.

Day’s imaginative vocabulary, her eye for colour and mastery of pattern repeat led to many commissions, not only for textiles and fabric furnishings but also for wallpapers, (marketed as part of a special architects’ range in the UK) as well as the leading German wallpaper company Rasch (1954-60). She created her carpet designs for Tomkinsons (1957-62), and I. and C. Steele (1961-5) while acting as colour consultant to Wilton Royal. From 1964 she also created carpet patterns for Wilton. One of her early carpets, ‘Tesserae’, selected by a committee of four RDIs, was chosen for one of the first Council of Industrial Design (COID) ‘Designs of the Year’ awards in 1957. Another important client was the German ceramics company Rosenthal, for whom she designed tableware patterns. Heal & Son (1958) and Rosenthal (1963) both organized solo exhibitions of Day’s work.

Appointed RDI in 1962 Day was the first woman elected Master of the Faculty, and a Vice-President of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), in 1987. On her appointment she said that ‘to be a Master and a woman does seem a contradiction in terms, but I hope there will be more women Masters over the years, and this may gradually modify the meaning until it seems perfectly natural for a Master to be of either sex’. This concern for the visibility of women designers was reflected in her citation for the presentation of the Misha Black Memorial Medal in 1994 to Marianne Straub, who Day described as ‘a champion and friend of students’, and ‘she was a pioneer for women too’. In 1988 Day awarded the Master’s Medal to a young female student for her submission to the ceramics section of the RSA’s design bursaries competition that year. The RSA looked to Day to chair a Design Advisory Panel when they were planning a major development of the vaults in their headquarters building in 1990.

While they pursued their own professional careers Lucienne and Robin Day always helped and advised each other. Considered ambassadors of modern British design, they were frequently pictured in aspirational ‘home’ magazines. They collaborated on projects on two occasions – the interior of the new Vickers Super VC10 for BOAC, and the other was as joint consultants for the John Lewis Partnership (1962-87) where they oversaw the development of a comprehensive new house style.

In her mid-60s Day turned away from commercial design to channel her creative energies into a new art form, silk mosaics. Three quarters of these one-off textile hangings were sold during an exhibition in 1981 at the National Theatre, London. Two years later, with the help of her friend, Astrid Sampe Hon RDI, Day staged a solo exhibition of her work at the Rohsska Museum, Gothenburg. She received several major commissions for her silk hangings, including a design for the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre (1986). For the café of the new John Lewis department store in Kingston-upon-Thames she created a large work called ‘Aspects of the Sun’ (1988) and was then commissioned to create a complementary mosaic.

When she was eighty-nine years old Day supervised the Glasgow School of Art’s special exhibition of her work, Silk Mosaic and Early Textiles (2003). A role model for young designers and a consummate professional she was appointed OBE in 2004.

Lucienne Day died at St Richard’s Hospital, Chichester on 30th January 2010.

Britain Can Make It Exhibition Catalogue 1946

Day is featured (as Conradi) in the Britain Can Make it Exhibition catalogue as follows:

  • Group N: Furnishing Fabrics – items 17, 18

To view and search the catalogue online, please visit our digital document library.

To learn more about the work of Lucienne Day (née Conradi), her relationships with other designers, and further resources, visit the Exploring British Design prototype web portal.

Further reading

Portraits: Women Designers – Lucienne Day
Tribute to Robin and Lucienne Day Flickr Set
Andrew Casey, Lucienne Day. In the Spirit of the Age, 2014 (Suffolk: Antique Collectors Club, 2014)
The Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation


Original image reference: GB-1837-DES-DCA-30-1-POR-D-10-1. Design Council Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives.

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Sirpa Kutilainen • June 6, 2016

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