We discovered the work of designing sisters Susan Collier and Sarah Campbell whilst researching the design of a vintage Liberty scarf we found at a thrift shop. It had an abstract pattern of checks and swirling stripes which seemed unusual for Liberty. A few hours spent chasing rabbits down an internet hole later, we learned that this pattern (see the cushion pictured above), called "Bauhaus," appeared on silks and cottons and is the permanent collection of the Victoria and Albert museum in London. And that it was created by was created by the siblings in 1972. (A tapestry entitled “5 Choirs” by Gunta Stolzl, who worked at the Bauhaus in the 1920s and 1930s, inspired it.)
Although the mystery of its maker was solved, we delved deeper into the history of the partnership, intrigued by the working relationship between the two sisters. Born in Manchester, their love of color and line came from their somewhat bohemian parents, who encouraged their daughters' love of painting and also fostered a deep appreciation of nature.
It was Collier who first got into the textile design business. In interviews she said her greatest inspiration was Matisse, and when she realized that she was never going to be a painter, she decided to cheer up drab post war fabrics by becoming a "Matisse for the masses."
After apprenticing for various designers, Collier decided to take her portfolio to the famous Liberty of London. The company immediately purchased six designs and commissioned more. Collier then took her younger sister on as a trainee to help deal with the demand. Campbell went on to art school, and then rejoined her sibling at Liberty in 1968.
The designs represented a big break from most printed textiles at the time, which aimed for precision reproduction. Collier Campbell lines looked more like brushstrokes than prints. They made bespoke fabrics for Yves Saint Laurent's first ready-to-wear collection. They also produced textiles for designers such as Jean Muir and Cacharel and furniture collections for Marks & Spencer. Eventually, they left Liberty and started their own concern, Collier Campbell.
The designs represented a big break from most printed textiles at the time, which aimed for precision reproduction. Collier Campbell lines looked more like brushstrokes than prints. They made bespoke fabrics for Yves Saint Laurent's first ready-to-wear collection. They also produced textiles for designers such as Jean Muir and Cacharel and furniture collections for Marks &Spencer. Eventually, they left Liberty and started their own concern, Collier Campbell.
While most folks may not recognize the name (at the time, Liberty did not credit designers) if you grew up in England (or in Canada with Anglophile parents) in the 1970s, you would immediately remember the patterns. Intense and painterly, they represented a bold break from the ditsy florals of Laura Ashley and Liberty itself. And ironically, while they left Liberty to get some recognition, they never shared which sister was behind which design (though speculation is that Collier was behing the more angular graphics like Bauhaus while Campbell was responsible for flowing images of birds and flowers such as the iconic Egyptian Bird pattern pictured on the cosmetic purse pictured at the top of the page)).
Collier died in 2011, on the eve of a huge retrospective exhibition of their work and the publication of a book The Collier Campbell Archive. Campbell continues to work as a textile designer. The Collier Campbell London brand offers a selection of scarves, cushions, ceramics and stationery.