Date
5 January 2017
Reading Time
4 minute read
Tags

Power and originality: the iconic print designs of Lucienne Day

Share

Date
5 January 2017
Reading Time
4 minute read

Share

In post-war Britain, a young Lucienne Day made her name in design conveying the buoyant national mood through jubilant, modernist textiles. These patterns have now come to define mid-century print design and remain wildly popular, and are being celebrated for her centenary today. Paula Day, Lucienne and Robin Day’s daughter and director of the foundation dedicated to her parents’ legacy, believes Lucienne’s enduring influence can be compared with that of William Morris.

“The design of the 1950s and 1960s are of course very fashionable, but my mother’s work is ‘timeless’ in the same way as that of William Morris – it’s classic,” Paula tells It’s Nice That. “Most of today’s retro-style patterns look feeble in comparison. I think people recognise the startling power and originality of her work.”

Lucienne was born on 5 January 1917 and grew up in Croydon, south London. She studied at Croydon School of Art and the RCA in the late 30s, where she met her husband, furniture designer Robin Day – who himself was already establishing his impact British cultural history. For her RCA diploma show, Lucienne hand-block printed and screen printed bold repeats, which were displayed on a stand designed by Robin, with one of his chair designs upholstered with her Bushmen design. Though their work would often complement each others at exhibitions and on products in future, the couple’s careers maintained strong trajectories all on their own.

Lucienne was a resolute modernist, and looked to inject some excitement to the staid world of textiles while remaining relatable with her visual references, explains Paula. “She was influenced by modern artists such as Paul Klee, Joan Miró and Alexander Calder,” Paula adds. “From her student days drawing objects at the V&A Museum, she was inspired by the world’s great decorative traditions. And of course, plant forms recur throughout her work.”

Left

Perpetua, British Celanese (1953)

Above
Left

Perpetua, British Celanese (1953)

Right

Miscellany, British Celanese (1952)

Right

Miscellany, British Celanese (1952)

Above

Miscellany, British Celanese (1952)

Left

Fritillary, Liberty (1954)

Right

Fall, Edinburgh Weavers (1952)

Above
Left

Fritillary, Liberty (1954)

Right

Fall, Edinburgh Weavers (1952)

Above

Fall, Edinburgh Weavers (1952)

One of her most famous textiles, Calyx, was originally shown at the Festival of Britain in 1951, and is considered her breakthrough design. Then an emerging star in textiles, Lucienne collaborated with Heal’s to create Calyx, a stylised floral design mixing muted and acid colours, that represented a radical new aesthetic in pattern design. The designer said later that Heals’ fabrics director Tom Worthington was uncertain of the pattern, and “would produce it for me but only pay me half the fee of 20 guineas because he was certain he wouldn’t sell a yard”. She went on to produce around 70 patterns for the brand over 20 years, and Calyx remains in production.

From there, her patterns evolved but an underlying theme remained: the ability to abstract familiar imagery for a contemporary, increasingly design-savvy audience.

“Her style was constantly evolving,” says Paula, “as she responded to, but never just followed, changes in fashion and explored new artwork techniques. For example, many of her earlier 1950s designs, such as Dandelion Clocks or Trio, are based on quirky motifs drawn with a fine black line on a plain coloured background.

Left

Super VC10 aircraft interior, BOAC (1962)

Right

RCA diploma show (1940)

Above
Left

Super VC10 aircraft interior, BOAC (1962)

Right

RCA diploma show (1940)

Above

RCA diploma show (1940)

Left

Diabolo tea towel, Thomas Somerset (1962-63)

Right

Sunrise, Heal’s Fabrics (1969)

Above
Left

Diabolo tea towel, Thomas Somerset (1962-63)

Right

Sunrise, Heal’s Fabrics (1969)

Above

Sunrise, Heal’s Fabrics (1969)

Left

Allegro, Heal’s Fabrics (1952)

Right

Quadrille, British Celanese (1952)

Above
Left

Allegro, Heal’s Fabrics (1952)

Right

Quadrille, British Celanese (1952)

Above

Quadrille, British Celanese (1952)

“By the late 1950s, she was experimenting with a monoprint technique which involved drawing on an acetate sheet, which was then applied to a background built up of coloured tissue paper collage, resulting in an interesting smudged-ink texture, as in Cadenza and Night and Day,” says Paula. “And her large-scale architectural designs of the mid-1970s, for example Apex and Lucienne, led to her invention of the new textile medium of ‘silk mosaics’, which involved creating strong abstract patterns from one-centimetre squares of richly coloured silk."

When quizzed on her favourite of her mother’s designs, Paula says it’s an impossible choice, but one is Night and Day, a tea towel she designed for Irish linen manufacturer Thomas Somerset in 1961.

“I think she has perfectly judged the balance between the ‘moon’ half of the design – the black ink monoprint drawing of an owl is as strong and distinctive as a Thomas Bewick wood cut – and the little bits of textured paper round the sun, which hint at its rays. The division of the design into two separate halves is bold and could have been crude, but in her skilled hands it works perfectly.

“I have always thought of the piece as symbolising the relationship between my two parents. After all, one of them was a Day!”

Left

Reissue of Night and Day tea towel, Thomas Somerset (1961-62), twentytwentyone (2006)

Right

Meckanops silk mosaic

Above
Left

Reissue of Night and Day tea towel, Thomas Somerset (1961-62), twentytwentyone (2006)

Right

Meckanops silk mosaic

Above

Meckanops silk mosaic

Left

Herb Antony, Heal’s Fabrics (1956)

Right

Magnetic, Heal’s Fabrics (1957) reissued by Classic Textiles (2003)

Above
Left

Herb Antony, Heal’s Fabrics (1956)

Right

Magnetic, Heal’s Fabrics (1957) reissued by Classic Textiles (2003)

Above

Magnetic, Heal’s Fabrics (1957) reissued by Classic Textiles (2003)

Left

Parkland, Heal’s Fabrics (1974)

Right

Too Many Cooks tea towel, Thomas Somerset (1959)

Above
Left

Parkland, Heal’s Fabrics (1974)

Right

Too Many Cooks tea towel, Thomas Somerset (1959)

Above

Too Many Cooks tea towel, Thomas Somerset (1959)

Over her 60-year career, Lucienne worked with countless big-name brands including Liberty, John Lewis, Cole & Son and Rosenthal, designing fabrics, wallpapers, carpets, homeware and ceramics. To each, she brought her unique flair for colour, line, form and composition, creating a recognisable style that feels fresh decades later. Among her accolades, she was notably the first woman to be made master of Royal Designers for Industry in 1987, and awarded an OBE in 2004. She died in 2010 aged 93.

In celebration of Lucienne’s centenary, the Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation has released 100 images of her work across the century, including many that have not been seen before, many of which you can explore below. These also feature on a Lucienne Day 100 poster designed by Studio Fernando Gutierrez, available from twentytwentyone. The foundation will also be holding exhibitions, events and awards throughout 2017.

Left

Lucienne Day (1951)

Right

Lucienne Day (1997/98)

Above
Left

Lucienne Day (1951)

Right

Lucienne Day (1997/98)

Above

Lucienne Day (1997/98)

Left

Miscellany, British Celanese / Sanderson

Right

Ticker Tape, Script, Linear, Graphica, Perpendicular, all Heal’s Fabrics

Above
Left

Miscellany, British Celanese / Sanderson

Right

Ticker Tape, Script, Linear, Graphica, Perpendicular, all Heal’s Fabrics

Above

Ticker Tape, Script, Linear, Graphica, Perpendicular, all Heal’s Fabrics

Left

Strada carpet, Tomkinsons (1957)

Right

Tesserae carpet, Tomkinsons (1957)

Above
Left

Strada carpet, Tomkinsons (1957)

Right

Tesserae carpet, Tomkinsons (1957)

Above

Tesserae carpet, Tomkinsons (1957)

Left

Museum 2 silk mosaic (1990)

Right

The Window silk mosaic

Above
Left

Museum 2 silk mosaic (1990)

Right

The Window silk mosaic

Above

The Window silk mosaic

Left

Graphica, Heal’s Fabrics (1953)

Right

Ceramic plate for RCA diploma show

Above
Left

Graphica, Heal’s Fabrics (1953)

Right

Ceramic plate for RCA diploma show

Above

Ceramic plate for RCA diploma show

Above

Telekinema upholstery at Festival of Britain, Morton Sundour fabrics (1951)

Above

Flower Bricks

Above

Regent Street porcelain tableware, Rosenthal (1958) and Mitre tablecloth and napkins, Thomas Somerset (1958)

Left

Wave shirt fabric, West Indian Sea Island Cotton Association (1969)

Right

Spectators, Heal’s Fabrics (1953)

Above
Left

Wave shirt fabric, West Indian Sea Island Cotton Association (1969)

Right

Spectators, Heal’s Fabrics (1953)

Above

Spectators, Heal’s Fabrics (1953)

Share Article

About the Author

Jenny Brewer

Jenny joined the editorial team as It’s Nice That’s first news editor in April 2016. Having studied 3D Design, she has spent the last ten years working in design journalism. Contact her with news stories relating to the creative industries on news@itsnicethat.com.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.