Lucienne Day exhibition at the Whitworth, Manchester

Lucienne Day in New York with Calyx (1951), 1952 (Copyright the Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation, pho

Lucienne Day in New York with Calyx (1951), 1952 (Copyright the Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation, photographer: Studio Briggs) - Credit: Archant

The Whitworth in Manchester is celebrating a centenary of Lucienne Day, with her iconic designs on display in a new exhibition. We look back at the designer’s history and her links with Preston powerhouse, Horrockses.

Calyx (Mustard) by Lucienne Day

Calyx (Mustard) by Lucienne Day - Credit: Archant

‘My mother completed her textiles training at the Royal College of Art, London in 1940,’ said Paula Day talking about her mother, designer, Lucienne Day. A highly innovative pattern designer, Day was at the forefront of a new generation that really came to prominence in the 1950s and early 1960s.

‘She began her design career as soon as the war ended, but it was only at the Festival of Britain in 1951 that she achieved her career breakthrough with her strikingly contemporary textile, Calyx, which became a world bestseller.’

Calyx, with its stylised plant motifs and distinctive combination of earthy and acid colours, was one of many prints inspired by plant forms by Day, who was an enthusiastic gardener.

For the next 25 years she was Heal’s star textile designer, producing a whole raft of vibrant prints which have since become iconic. She was also approached by numerous other companies in Britain and abroad, including Preston based fabric makers, Horrockses.

The factory had been producing cottons since 1791 and the launch of Horrockses Fashions was a way of ensuring a stable demand for its product. When the firm started to produce items in large numbers for a ready-to-wear market, their clothes still had a distinctive look and an air of exclusivity thanks to their emphasis on good quality fabrics and custom-designed patterns from the likes of Day. Even the Queen wore ready-to-wear Horrockses dresses when, as Princess Elizabeth, she toured the Commonwealth.

Lucienne’s connection to the north of England doesn’t end in Preston. An exhibition marking the centenary of her birth in 1917 has opened at The Whitworth in Manchester, the subject of a recent £15 million renovation. Running until June 11, ‘Lucienne Day - A Sense of Growth’ is part of the gallery’s GROW project that promotes the benefits of engaging in horticultural activities to improve mental wellbeing.

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The art gallery has had a long connection with the designers. It first began to collect textiles designed by her and other innovative postwar pattern designers around 1960, and even organised the first retrospective exhibition of Lucienne Day’s work in 1993.

The research for this involved a series of visits to the designer’s then home in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, to discuss and record her career and design work in detail. The research formed the basis for the publication accompanying the exhibition, Lucienne Day: A Career in Design, and a subsequent showing of the exhibition at the Royal College of Art in London.

At the end of that exhibition, Lucienne donated a major body of work from her studio to the Whitworth which, along with the V&A in London, now holds the largest collection of the designer’s work in the world. Outside of this current exhibition, it is made available for research in the gallery’s Study Centre.

Lucienne Day - A Sense of Growth (running until June 11)

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