Great design for ordinary people
PUBLISHED: 16:27 17 March 2014 | UPDATED: 16:27 17 March 2014
Suffolk author Andrew Casey has tapped into an appetite for 50s glamour with his book on designer Lucienne Day
Bold, cheerful, abstract designs on fabrics, furnishings, wallpaper, carpets and ceramics made Lucienne Day a household name at the height of her career in the 50s, and they have held their appeal ever since.
Norwich-based greetings card company, Art Angels, produces a popular stationery range of Lucienne Day designs. John Lewis is soon to relaunch a line of Lucienne Day fabrics, and last month Woodbridge-based teacher and artist, Andrew Casey published a delicately researched account of the life and work of the designer.
“For me she epitomised 50s design,” says Casey, a design historian who has also produced books on the icons of 1930s ceramic design, Susie Cooper and Clarice Cliff. “It was brand new, striking, original and forward-thinking and she was driven by a desire to make good design available to ordinary people.”
A resurgence of interest in the style and glamour of the 50s with TV dramas such as Mad Men and BBC’s The Hour, makes this book a timely production. Published by the Antique Collectors’ Club, a company based in Woodbridge but with an international reputation, it is beautifully illustrated with full page colour reproductions of Lucienne Day designs.
Certainly, for Casey, growing up in Yorkshire, the 50s look and feel was something that grabbed his attention from a young age.
“My careers advice was to work in the pit or go on the dole,” he says, “so I left school at 15 and went straight to art college. What I heard about design made me want to go out and look for it. So I used to go to flea markets and buy cocktail-cherry style magazine racks and flying ducks! And I’d buy 50s clothes and furniture. It was so cheap. No one wanted to buy it then, apart from students.”
In 1983 he remembers buying a pair of curtains for £2.50. “Years later my mum was having a clearout of her airing cupboard for a new boiler and there they were – Lucienne Day Linden pattern curtains.”
By this time he was continuing his studies at Suffolk College and the find prompted him to focus his dissertation on Lucienne Day. As part of his research, he wrote to the designer herself asking for a meeting. She wrote back and Casey spent an afternoon with her.
It’s not surprising if Lucienne Day is perceived with reverence. Now very much an icon, even at the height of her success, she was a celebrity, opening up her home to glossy magazine articles. She was married to furniture designer Robin Day and they made a dynamic and attractive couple, appearing together in an advert for vodka, presenting it as the perfect drink to offer dinner guests.
Lucienne and Robin, while they were insistent on keeping their disciplines and achievements distinct, also acknowledged that it was their mutual support and insight that made them such a formidable team. As such, they were commissioned by Heal’s, John Lewis, Liberty and the Festival of Britain (where Lucienne launched her iconic ‘Calyx’ design), and worked with international manufacturers, which was unusual in its day.
Lucienne was pioneering in her vision and in protecting her design through to manufacture. She was determined to make her name in her own right and did not give up her career when she gave birth to her daughter, Paula, in 1954. Casey is pleased to acknowledge Paula Day’s support for his book. She gave him access to her mother’s workbooks, proofed the manuscript and contributed the foreword.
After three years of juggling writing, painting and teaching at Saxmundham Free School, Casey is thrilled at the response he is receiving. Reviews are expected in a number of national magazines and he will be contributing to a Lucienne Day study day at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Hopefully he will still find time to visit secondhand markets to discover more forgotten treasures.
n Lucienne Day: In the Spirit of the Age by Andrew Casey is published by ACC Editions, priced £30