Lucienne Day (1917 – 2010) influential textile designer

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Lucienne and Robin Day

Influential British Textile Designer

Lucienne Day (1917 – 2010) established herself as one of the most influential British textile designers in the postwar period. 

Lucienne Day her Early Years

Lucienne Day was half-Belgian, an English mother (Dulcie Conradi) and a Belgian father (Felix Conradi), who worked as a reinsurance broker. She was born in Coulsdon, Surrey, England, and reared in neighbouring Croydon. She was schooled at home until 1926. She went to Woodford Education in Croydon and then to the Convent of Notre Dame de Sion in Worthing, Sussex, for boarding school from 1929 to 1934.

Education – Lucienne Day

Lucienne Day studied at Croydon School of Art when she was 17 years old, where she furthered her passion for printed fabrics. She went on to the Royal College of Art, where she studied from 1937 to 1940, to specialise in this discipline. During her second year, she was assigned to Sanderson. She worked in the company company’s enormous wallpaper studio for two months. “The reality of working in a factory was an eye-opener for Day, who, with her burgeoning taste for modern design, found it difficult to adapt to the conservative aesthetic of the company,” writes Lesley Jackson.”

Biography

Marriage and her early career

In March 1940, during her final year at the RCA, Lucienne met her future husband, furniture designer Robin Day. He shared her enthusiasm for modern design. Following their marriage on September 5 1942, the couple set up home at 33 Markham Square in Chelsea, London, furnishing their flat with Lucienne’s hand-printed textiles and Robin’s hand-made furniture.

World War 2

Due to wartime constraints on textile manufacturing, Lucienne could not pursue her career as a designer for several years. In the interim, she taught at Beckenham School of Art. Still, as soon as the war was over, she began practising as a freelance textile designer. Initially, the main openings were in dress fabrics, where her clients included Stevenson & Sons, Argand, Pasman Fabrics, Silkella, Horrockses and Cavendish Textiles.

Lucienne’s long-term goal was to create fabrics for furniture. Therefore she jumped into this field as soon as she could. The Edinburgh Weavers, who produced two screen-printed furnishing fabrics in 1949, was her first important client. Heal’s Wholesale and Export (formerly known as Heal Fabrics), the textile-producing subsidiary of the London department store Heal & Son, commissioned her to design a stylised flower shortly after. Fluellin (1950) was the beginning of her lengthy association with Heal’s, which lasted until 1974.

Fluellin, furnishing fabric, Lucienne Day, 1950
Fluellin, furnishing fabric, Lucienne Day, 1950

Festival of Britain and Calyx

The Festival of Britain, a landmark exhibition held on London’s South Bank in 1951, proved a decisive turning point in Lucienne Day’sDay’s career. Seizing the opportunity to showcase her talents, she created several textiles and wallpapers displayed in various room settings in the Homes and Gardens Pavilion. Her most famous design, Calyx, was created as a furnishing fabric for an interior designed by her husband, Robin Day. Hand screen printed on linen in lemon yellow, orange-red and black on an olive-coloured ground, Calyx was a large-scale abstract pattern composed of cup-shaped motifs connected by spindly lines, which conjured up modern painters and aesthetic sculptors, such as Alexander Calder and Paul Klee. Her 1950 Calyx design for Heal Fabrics Ltd. received prominence at the 1951 Festival of Britain.

Calyx fabric designed by Lucienne Day, 1951
Calyx fabric designed by Lucienne Day, 1951

Although Heal’s were initially sceptical about Calyx, it proved a success, selling in large quantities over many years. Also exhibited at the Milan Triennale in 1951, where it won a Gold Medal, this design generated a new school of pattern-making known as the “Contemporary” style. Calyx was widely emulated by other designers both at home and abroad.

Lucienne also designed three wallpapers for the Festival of Britain: Provence, block printed by John Line & Son, and Stella and Diabolo, screen printed by Cole & Son.

Textile Designs of the 1950s and 1960s

Following the popularity of Calyx, Tom Worthington, managing director of Heal Textiles, commissioned Lucienne Day to design up to six new furnishing fabrics each year. Lucienne created more than seventy designs for Heal’sHeal’s throughout their 25-year partnership. Her textiles for Heal’sHeal’s comprise the centre of her creative oeuvre. They include a succession of patterns that typify the forward-looking postwar age, such as Dandelion Clocks (1953), Spectators (1953), Graphica (1953), Ticker Tape (1953), Trio (1954), Herb Antony (1956), and Script (1957). (1956).

Dandelion Clocks Lucienne Day
Lucienne Day (1953) – Dandelion Clocks

Lucienne’s textiles of the time were distinguished by frenetic rhythms and a spidery, doodle-like design style. Despite appearing to be spontaneous, her creations showed tremendous technical competence, particularly in colourways and repeats. She began working with abstract textile designs and was instrumental in popularising this textile style in England. She typically made stylised organic patterns with motifs like skeleton leaves, spindly stems, feathery seed heads, butterflies, and pure abstracts.

Lucienne’s designs for Heal’s were more obviously painterly and much more prominent in scale later in the decade, responding to emerging creative trends such as abstract expressionism and the architectural fad for floor-to-ceiling picture windows. Full-width patterns with trees, such as Sequoia (1959) and Larch (1961), and rugged textural abstracts, such as Ducatoon (1959) and Cadenza (1961), show a considerable shift in style.

Lucienne began to use brighter colours and simpler expressions in the 1960s. She created a series of startling geometrics, including Apex (1967), Causeway (1968), and Sunrise (1969), that draw comparisons with Op Art, in addition to crisp flat florals like High Noon (1965), Pennycress (1966), and Poinsettia (1966), which are reminiscent of Flower Power.

Lucienne developed textiles for Liberty’s and British Celanese. Their acetate rayon fabrics were marketed by Sanderson throughout the mid-1950s, in addition, to Heal Fabrics. She also reconnected with Edinburgh Weavers and Cavendish Textiles, which she had previously worked with. The John Lewis Partnership was the source of her dress fabrics for the latter.

During this time, another significant client was Thomas Somerset, for whom Lucienne designed tea towels and table linen. On the other hand, her tea towels were more humorous than her tablecloths and napkins, with motifs like Jack Sprat and Too Many Cooks (1959).

Wallpapers, Ceramics, Carpets

Lucienne was also very involved in the carpet industry in the 1950s and 1960s, cooperating with three major British companies: Wilton Royal, Tomkinson’s, and I. & C. Steele. In 1957, her debut carpet design, Tesserae, a mosaic-like pattern created by Tomkinsons, won a Design Centre Award. Lucienne chose the colourways for Wilton Royal’sRoyal’s Architects Range as a colour consultant, and in 1964 she launched her collection of solid geometric designs. Steele’s Studio 3 carpets from the 1960s were also intended for contract use.

Lucienne Day continued to design wallpapers for the rest of the decade after dabbling in the area during the Festival of Britain. She partnered up with the progressive Lightbown Aspinall branch of the Wall Paper Manufacturers Ltd. Their goods were together marketed under the tradename Crown to reach a broader market. Despite being aimed at architects, Lucienne’s small-scale abstracts were available for home usage to the general public. They were far cheaper than her previous wallpapers for John Line and Cole and Son since they were machine-printed rather than hand-printed.

Lucienne’s collaboration with Rasch, a German firm that sold her wallpapers as a part of their international artists’ collection, allowed her to reach a European audience. Her wallpaper designs were quieter and more recessive than her textiles, with smaller patterns and more straightforward compositions, and were printed in just one or two colours with a purposefully limited palette. 

Lucienne was also very involved in the carpet industry in the 1950s and 1960s, cooperating with three major British companies: Wilton Royal, Tomkinson’s, and I. & C. Steele. In 1957, her debut carpet design, Tesserae, a mosaic-like pattern created by Tomkinsons, won a Design Centre Award. Lucienne chose the colourways for Wilton Royal’s Architects Range as a colour consultant, and in 1964 she launched her collection of solid geometric designs. Steele’s Studio 3 carpets from the 1960s were also intended for contract use. 

Working overseas for designers is commonplace today, although it was uncommon during the postwar period. Rosenthal, a German ceramics business, was one of Lucienne’s European clients. From 1957 onwards, she produced a series of dinnerware patterns for Rosenthal. Eventually, she became a member of the panel of foreign artists that monitored the Studio Line.

Lucienne Day consultancy work

Lucienne and Robin Day converted the interiors of 49 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea into a “Contemporary” design model after moving there in 1952. The mansion, which was decorated with examples of their art, was featured in various periodicals. For nearly five decades, the bottom floor operated as the Days’Days’ combined studio, even though the pair rarely worked together outside of their advisory work for BOAC and the John Lewis Partnership.

From 1961 through 1967, the Days worked as joint design consultants for the British Overseas Airways Corporation, designing interiors for various aircraft, notably the VC10 and Super VC10. Lucienne developed patterns for the bulkheads and window surrounds and picked textiles, carpets, paint colours, and laminates.

The Days oversaw the development of a comprehensive new ‘house style’ touching every part of the company’s design, from interiors to stationery and packaging, as joint design consultants at the John Lewis Partnership from 1962 until 1987. A similar concept was devised for the increasing network of Waitrose supermarkets after it was launched out across JLP’s network of department stores.

Silk Mosaics and later career

Lucienne Day left the field of industrial design in 1975. Many of her long-time acquaintances had lately retired, and she was no longer in touch with current trends. She created one-of-a-kind silk mosaic wall hangings to find a new outlet for her creativity. Silk mosaics were created using graph paper, and little strips or squares of coloured silk stitched together, hence the name. These brightly coloured hangings — some abstract, others with stylised themes such as zodiac signs – were displayed in places such as the National Theatre in London and the Röhsska Museum in Gothenburg throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Aspects of the Sun by Lucienne Day
Aspects of the Sun by Lucienne Day

Even though the silk mosaic format was more limiting than her earlier textile patterns, Lucienne liked the challenge of working under this self-imposed constraint, allowing herself to experiment freely with colour interaction. She was able to deal with architecture more directly and ambitiously than ever before through commissions for specific interiors, such as Aspects of the Sun, a vast composite hanging produced in 1990 for the new John Lewis store in Kingston. In September 2016, Aspects of the Sun, originally made for the café, was re-hung in a different portion of the structure.

Lucienne Day formally retired in 2000 after relocating to 21 West Street in Chichester, Sussex. Many of her designs had long been inspired by plants. Later in life, she avidly followed her passion for botany and gardening. At the age of 93, she passed away on January 30, 2010.

Awards for Lucienne Day

Despite receiving international recognition at the 1951 and 1954 Milan Triennali, when she received a Gold Medal and the Gran Premio, respectively, she also won accolades in other fields, including carpet design. Between 1957 and 1969, she designed tableware for Rosenthal, including the Four Seasons set of 1958. In 1962, she was named a Royal Designer for Industry, and from 1963 to 1968, she was a member of the Royal College of Art’s Council. She worked on aircraft interiors for the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) alongside her husband Robin Day between 1963 and 1967.

Lucienne Day (1917 – 2010) established herself as one of the most influential British textile designers in the postwar period. 

Sources

Wikipedia contributors. (2021, June 20). Lucienne Day. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 00:39, July 23, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lucienne_Day&oldid=1029453470

Woodham, J. M. (2006). A dictionary of modern design. Oxford University Press.

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