This is a little story about serendipity. Just before nipping home after the Vintage Festival on Saturday, a friend suggested I go see a free Collier Campbell exhibition currently on display at the NT. Timed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of two sisters’ design partnership (established in 1961 with commissions from Liberty of London), the exhibition contained beautiful pieces of original gouache artwork from the archives, plus examples of the final fabrics. What bliss!
I can’t go further without first confessing my ignorance. I’d heard of Collier Campbell, but didn’t realise the name referred to a pair of designing sisters, Susan Collier and Sarah Campbell. I knew that the name was behind one of my favourite Liberty patterns (log-cabin-ish Kasak, which used to grace the cafe tables at Liberty’s London store, and with which I bonkersly covered the seats of my 2CV to celebrate passing my driving test). But I was truly delighted to discover at this expo that the pair were behind Elysian, one of my all-time favourite Tana Lawn designs.
Now, Elysian is the queen of florals, if you ask me, managing to be delicate but in yer face at the same time. But now I’m confused, because a quick google of ’Elysian’ ‘Liberty’ and ‘Collier Campbell’ didn’t dredge up anything meaningful. And Liberty’s own site claims that Elysian was designed in the ’20s. Elsewhere it’s described as ‘at least 100 years old’. Did the sisters design it from scratch or maybe rework it? If anyone happens to know more, please leave a comment or get in touch because I’m burning with curiosity.
The exhibition made it clear that the sisters have prided themselves on being jobbing designers, anonymously bending their talents to the needs of of the customer, whoever that might be (they’ve worked variously for Liberty, Yves Saint Laurent, Cacherel, Jaeger, Habitat, M&S, House of Fraser). Their delicious sense of colour and exuberance of line has taken much inspiration from folk art. Sadly, Susan Collier died in May, after the exhibition was instigated but before it opened. But Sarah continues the pair’s work, and you can buy Collier Campbell branded products over here and currently at House of Fraser and M&S.
The exhibition was scheduled to end on 10th July so I’m not sure why it was still up last week. If you’re hoping to see it, it might be best to call the National Theatre first to check if it’s still there. I’m beginning to wonder if it was just a figment of my imagination: a Southbank mirage on a hot July day.