Design and the formation of taste in the British printed calico industry, 1919 to 1940
This thesis examines the process and structures of the formation of taste and activation of fashion change within the British printed calico industry, from 1919- 1940. The approach taken was to analyse the style trends, economic conditions and strategic policy of a number of case study companies. These case studies are contextualised by analysis of the broad structural and economic conditions in the industry, the interventions of Government and the contemporary ideological construction of pattern design. The thesis tests several historiographic views relevant to the structural analysis of taste formation. The assertion by the Balfour Committee in 1928 that the industry was divided into separate market and design style sections is investigated. A commonly held view that British interwar design was reactionary and regressive, and the general assumption that Modernism came to Britain in the 1930s as a Continental influence, is challenged. Definitions and perceptions of Modernism are closely examined. A range of contradictory claims regarding the sources of design innovation and fashion leadership in the industry are assessed. In addition, claims that the British interwar cotton industry was not innovative in its response to economic conditions and theories of a link between macroeconomic conditions and innovation are considered. In relation to the formation of taste, the thesis concludes that there was a separation in the fields of taste construction for furnishing and dress fabric, with different sources of design production, markets and design styles, although textile production for both sections could occur within the same company. In the case studies analysed, the main source of innovation and taste construction in printed textile design appears to have been company design studios, rather than freelance artists, architects, designers or Parisian design studios. The influence of the economic context was evident in the impact of specific cost rises, alteration of print processes used and changing market demand due to macroeconomic conditions and international competition. A switch in the basis of mass market demand from durability to fashion in textiles and clothing during the interwar period promoted a production structure of short production runs, small orders and a wide design range. A relevant factor in the construction of taste Was the Modernist educational aims of the British Government during the interwar period, particularly in the impact on general and designer education. It switched to a policy of promoting exhibitions of innovative Modernist design as a basis for creating demand in the 1930s, from a strategy that emphasised vertical integration of the textile industry to increase efficiency. The British printed textiles industry was innovative in its response to severe economic conditions, in terms of design, product development and the strategies of national printed textile industry organisations. A significant finding is the active role of the British printed textiles industry in initiating debate, producing exhibitions and developing designs that by 1919 had established a Modernist approach and visual language of decorative design. This version of Modernism was related to art-based concepts of form and expression, while also considering the design criteria of fitness to function. Dress fabric design - not hitherto seen as significant in the historiography of Modernism - was shown to have been strongly Modernist in emphasis in the case study companies examined. Modernism in pattern design appears to have been popular during the interwar period, rather than - as generally assumed - restricted to a small group of consumers with highly educated aesthetic tastes. These conclusions arise from and are substantiated by extensive empirical investigation of the design style and business history of case-study companies, supported by structural analysis of the industry.
- PhD