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Barbara’s Blog #3: Venturing Out

Suddenly we were all locked in with no going out. “Oh no,” thought I – along with many other London art and design lovers with an exacting show list – “now I’ve missed it.”

What joy to find, as creaking locks were somewhat oiled and eased, that so many museums and galleries had put their shows in mothballs and were now extending the viewing dates – with bossy booking and draconian distancing of course. (Why it’s “social” I do not understand when the obvious intention is to keep people apart.)

My first hit was Picasso and Paper, filling 11 rooms at the Royal Academy – “try and pace yourself,” said the attendant, from behind a scary visor. What I loved most was the huge mural Picasso had made of wallpaper. I think this would appeal to all makers of wall art, collage, appliqué and pattern in general. Femmes à leur toilette (Women at their Toilette, 1937-38) was commissioned as a tapestry design but, although huge at four metre wide, Picasso hung on to it for most of the rest of his life. It’s famously made from wallpaper – but rolls were bought specially and it’s not an artful assembly of offcuts. I love the way banal renderings of brick, tile and parquet are jammed against florals, damask, baroque and stripes. Get the shears out pronto.

Also at the RA is Gauguin & the Impressionists (until 18 October), a much smaller affair. The story is intriguing. There was this very rich Dane called Wilhelm Hansen, who’d made money in insurance, and he began snapping up the Impressionists in 1916 when prices were depressed by the first world war. The result ultimately was/is the Ordrupgaard Collection now on view, and the name of the district near Copenhagen where the Hansen’s had their home. I loved the section on “Impressionists and Women,” shedding light on Berthe Morisot, a founding member of the movement, and Eva Gonzalès, an exhibiting artist apparently much admired by Manet. It made me think how little women are represented in our great art museums – but how many gifted female makers we have in Design-Nation!

Which brings me onto one of the most accomplished and inspirational women in design: Tricia Guild. Her retrospective celebrating 50 years of her brand Designers Guild also has extended dates and will run at the Fashion & Textile Museum until 21 February 2021. I know all will love it who are using pattern and/or colour in their work, but it’s also encouragement for any fledgling entrepreneur.

Being suitably old, I’ve been writing about design in parallel with Tricia’s burgeoning business selling wallpaper, fabrics, paint and more – though she now has a global brand with showrooms in New York, Paris, Stockholm and Paris, and I remain a solo operator.

From the very beginning in the early seventies, Tricia’s King’s Road shop was a magnet for lovers of colour and pattern – the only décor windows in the capital that made you get off the bus. Recently, Tricia enlarged this store, creating one flowing space not only for her wallcoverings/fabrics exported worldwide, but for furniture, bed linen, towels, china, glass, napkins, candles and even – a typically idiosyncratic touch – a table with restored vintage radios.

In the early days this holistic approach was revolutionary. “Yes, in the 70s,” she recalls, “you had to shop for fabric, furniture, and lighting in different outlets.” Her first textile collection was based on Indian block prints and she called it Village. She covered a sofa, made a lampshade and cushions, added ceramics and books. “My aim was/is a total look.” You could say she invented the concept of #lifestyle.

Trace this story over the decades in a series of settings in her show which is entitled Out of the Blue – yes, blue is a Guild trademark; you’ll find her often dressed in indigo, and it’s the colour of her famous ombré walls and voiles. “But you also have also to remember that I came literally out of the blue…” Elegant outfits and a near-shy demeanor conceal an unerring eye and a steely resolve. “I design and decorate intuitively.”

See the aesthetic amalgam of multiple inspirations – maybe in a single collection – from an ancient Indian textile, an Italian damask, to a Gustavian wall panel. Admire the huge panels of florals and botanicals, displayed in “rooms”, but equally explore the extensive “plains”, for linen, velvet, taffeta, tweed, chenille, voile, satin and felted wool – “because someone somewhere will be desperately searching for that perfect shade of alabaster or stone, or maybe even Delft blue.”

Browse the trappings of the studio, and listen to Tricia’s mesmeric voice-overs. Collaborations have been numerous – she even cajoled acclaimed artist Howard Hodgkin into doing abstract tulips in 1986. And Kaffe Fassett did Kaffe’s Pots for her in the nineties. And to whom did the royal family turn for The Royal Collection inspired by their sumptuous homes? Tricia indeed – perhaps the ultimate accolade.

Tricia Guild was awarded an OBE in 2008.

By Barbara Chandler, who also took all the pictures.

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Liz Cooper


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