Friday, 5 November 2010

1001 prints | Celia Birtwell

Ossie Clarke and Celia Birtwell are synonymous with the spirit of Swinging London in the sixties. The then husband and wife team's floaty diaphanous clothes - the cut designed by Ossie, the whimsical print and pattern by Celia - had Twiggy, Bianca et al banging on their King's Road door demanding to wear them. Although I wasn't around in the sixties, I have a real fondness for Celia Birtwell's romantic prints and her signature colour palette of red, cream, charcoal, soft pink, green and blue - inspired, she says, by the paintings of Matisse and Picasso, the costumes of the Ballets Russes and the gardens of Vita Sackville-West.

Forty years on, the woman sometimes referred to as 'the face that launched a thousand prints' has just created her own website, offering all manner of homewares and accessories all adorned with her designs. I particularly love the vintage clothing section where you can buy and sell Ossie Clark/Celia Birtwell originals - each with a certificate of authentication and sketch of the garment by Celia herself. I also like that you can buy her prints in the form of fabric or wallpaper. All in all, I think the homewares and accessories on offer - ranging from notebooks and greetings cards through to mugs, plates and gardening paraphernalia including a cute pair of gardening gloves - are pretty, sweet and playful.

But although I like the new accessories, it's the frocks which always do it for me. Some of you may remember the great stampede at Topshop a couple of years ago for Celia's gorgeous printed tea dresses and blouses based on her own vintage designs. For those of you like me who did not have the patience or the elbows to see one in the flesh, let alone grab one, you still have a chance. This summer, Celia created a capsule collection of clothes, bags and homewares, exclusively for British high street stalwart John Lewis. The collection includes some lovely billowy sleeved dresses and blouses and I have my eye on this little number (below), a Rock Print Silk Dress and... well I'm going to need a lovely green, tasselled, leather drawstring pouch to go with that.

However, the other day I spied a less successful Birtwell collaboration currently selling in Boots. A bizarre mish-mash of cosmetic purses, socks and make-up brushes - Celia Birtwell eyelash curlers anyone? I can see she is probably trying to appeal to a younger generation in the same way she did when she worked with Millets a couple of years ago by creating a range of festival-chic camping gear. But for me, I think the beauty and timelessness of her prints lend themselves best where she ultimately began - clothing.


  1. Oh these are LOVELY! What pretty things, i love some of the silk scarves on the JL website, and the green pussybow dress (reduced to clear! tempted, but i know that colour will make me look ill...) is lovely. I had no idea she was still making so many things. The fabric on her site is absolutely gorgeous - I'm a sucker for beautiful ticking, and the bird print is so sweet. So much to love, thank you!

  2. I agree, the clothes look best. Some of these designer ranges for chain stores get a bit tenuous I find although I wish I had the figure for the Kate Moss Topshop stuff...


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