Portraits: Women Designers


Introduction: Women Designers

A digital resource to accompany the display ‘Portraits: Women Designers’, Fashion and Textiles Museum, London,  in collaboration with the University of Brighton Design Archives, 16 March – 16 June, 2012.

Compiled by Leah Armstrong

The portraits in this display form part of the photographic library of the Council of Industrial Design, (CoID), which is now held at the University of Brighton Design Archives. The CoID was set up in 1944 ‘to promote by all practicable means the improvement of design in the products of British industry’. While the Council promoted a particular way of seeing industrially designed products through the photography it commissioned directly, its portrait photographs were acquired from a number of other sources including independent studios and agencies. We can study the portraits for clues as to how women designers presented themselves or were presented by others in the post-war period.

Many of the designers in this display enjoyed great commercial success and some, such as Lucienne Day, became household names at the time, while others are less well known.This digital resource is intended to provide contextual and biographical information on all of the women in the display. It will also make some suggestions about how we might read the portraits to learn more about the construction of their professional identities. Judith Attfield noted the ‘importance of not ignoring the seemingly trivial, the small signs through which new meanings are brought into existence’, (Attfield,1995). With this in mind, this text will focus on three ways in which these identities were fashioned in the portraits: dress, context/environment and body language. 

This display has been partly informed by my own PhD research on the construction of the professional identity of the British designer, (1930-2010). Where possible, I have indicated where to look for further reading on the issues outlined. However, if you have any other questions or comments, please email me or comment via my blog, www.designatlas.wordpress.com.

Further Reading:

  • Catherine Moriarty, ‘A Backroom Service? The Photographic Library of the Council of Industrial Design, 1945-1965, Journal of Design History, Vol.13, No.1, (2000), pp.39-57.
  • Judith Attfield, Review: Women Designing: Redefining Design in Britain between the Wars by Jill Seddon and Suzette Worden, Journal of Design History, Vol.8, No.1, (1995), pp.64-67. 
  • Lesley Whitworth and Elizabeth Darling (eds.), Women and the Making of Built Space in England, 1870-1950, (2007). 
  • Jonathan Woodham, Oxford Dictionary of Modern Design, (2004).
  • Jill Seddon with Suzette Worden, Women DesigningRedefining Britain Between the Wars, (1994). 
  • Lesley Jackson, Twentieth Century Pattern Design, (2007).

An important resource that helped with the compilation of the individual entries is: Design Profiles (DP), a biographical dictionary of modern designers, crafts people, artists and architects.

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