Women Designing

Alison Settle (1891-1980)

An exhibition board showcasing Alison Settle

Alison Settle¬†was editor of British ‘Vogue’ from 1929 to 1936. In 1937 she joined the ‘Observer’ newspaper as fashion editor. She was also a member of the Council for Art and Industry and worked as a design consultant.

Her journalistic career started in 1910 when she began work for the ‘Sunday Pictorial’. She worked for the Belgian Fund during the First World War and several other newspapers. She married in 1918 and had two children. Her husband contracted tuberculosis and died in 1926 so she had to support the family.

While working for ‘Vogue’ she engaged Virginia Woolf, Edith Sitwell, Colette and Vita Sackville West to write for the magazine. She also introduced features on less expensive clothing.

Settle involved the flower arranger, Constance Spry in her consultancy work for Wedgwood. They gave advice on the shape and colour of vases they thought likely to sell well and also advised on advertising material. Settle advised Wedgwood to get ‘society’ hostesses to us their tableware, which could then be featured in their advertisements. She used her expertise in anticipating fashion trends as the basis for this work. Her advice to Wedgwood was that ‘You want to be leaders and not followers of taste; you have therefore got to let the public know that you have got these things slightly in advance of them knowing that they want them. The public do not know what their taste is until it has been visualised for them.’

Settle was to be an important figure during and after the Second World War. She was always keen to promote the fashion business as a career for women by giving lectures at art schools. She was also well respected in the business bu manufacturers and designers. In 1937 she became a member of the Council for Art and Industry, a committee appointed by the Board of Trade. She helped set up the Fashion Group of Great Britain in 1939. She was later involved in the work of the Council of Industrial Design, which had been established by the Board of Trade in 1944. She was an advisor for the exhibitions programme and the setting up of the Design Centre in the Haymarket, London.


Image captions left to right from the top
1. Alison Settle.
2. Alison Settle’s office, shown in ‘Decoration’ 1937.
3. Letter to Alison Settle from Director of J. Wedgwood & Sons Ltd, 13th November 1936.
4. Samples of fabric compiled by Alison Settle to show colours coming into fashion. November 1938.
5. Letter to Alison Settle from Director of J. Wedgwood & Sons Ltd, 23rd December 1938.
6. Flower arrangements by Constance Spry. These photographs were used to illustrate an article she wrote on flower arranging for ‘Decoration’ in August 1936.
7. Press cutting of Alison Settle giving a talk to the School of Dress Design in Handsworth, Birmingham. ‘Birmingham Gazette’, May 1938.
8. Photograph depicting Alison Settle’s influence as a journalist (probably 1950s).

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Sirpa Kutilainen • November 12, 2015

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