Today I went to my favourite place for my first ever talk. The V&A to see Celia Birtwell, one of Britain’s best-known textile designers. At the moment I have been revisiting my interest and love of textiles, I am not sure why, but I have been flicking through my books on Lucienne Day and Zandra Rhodes so I was thrilled to see the V&A hosting Celia Birtwell in conversation.
Celia studied at Salford Art College at the incredibly young age of 13, where she developed her unique fashion and textile drawings. After Art college she came to London and met the fashion designer Ossie Clark. They combined his beautiful feminine clothes with her gorgeous prints and created a style, which dominated the sixties. They soon married and had two children.
Celia too hails the V&A as her favourite place to come and gain inspiration. In her talk she spoke about a particular photo in their archives of Leon Bakst's - L Apres midi d'un faune-1912, which inspired one of her first collections. She also told us of her love of medieval textiles and Jacobean embroidery. It was interesting to see how she translated these ancient designs to something of her own.
During the talk images were projected of her wonderful designs. Bold, rich prints translated from page to the figure. 'Mystic Daisy' and 'Tulips' (1972) are two of my favourites.
Of course the conversation moved onto David Hockney her great friend and she, for him, his muse. Celia has posed for him countless times but she will always be immortalized in the painting Mr and Mrs Clarke and Percy (1970) one of Hockney's most famous paintings. It was great to hear about the background to this painting and for her to share the story of Hockney's difficulty in painting Ossie's feet. So he covered them with a shag pile carpet to disguise this.
Celia Birtwell came out of the spotlight after Ossie Clarke was killed. She quietly brought up her boys and concentrated on textiles for interiors. In 2006, however, Top Shop approached her to collaborate and she then moved back in to fashion. Here she reached out to a new audience and her collections were youthful, but still had the Celia Birtwell signature. They were a big success and lasted three seasons.
Her book, which has taken two years to put together, is a beautiful account of her work and colourful life.