Designers Guild: The Early Years

Designers Guild was conceived in 1970 when Tricia (b.1946) and Robin Guild (1938–2006) purchased David Bishop’s decorating company, based on the corner of Paultons Square and King’s Road in London, an area with a somewhat tarnished shopping ambience. Here they launched Proposals in March 1971, a showroom for contemporary Italian furniture by Saporiti. Meanwhile, struck by the simplicity of a selection of imported Indian hand-block prints in Bishop’s shop, Tricia set about recolouring and reinventing them. An article by Hilary Gelson in Design magazine, in June 1974, documented this process. ‘I collected together masses of different coloured embroidery threads and with Chris Halsey we produced the colourways of our first collection’, Tricia explained. ‘The initial production programme also involved rejecting quantities of strike-offs to achieve the right balance of pattern and intensity of colour and finally the collection was ready for the opening of Designers Guild in November 1971.’

Located at 277 King’s Road on the site where Robin’s mother had sold antiques, Designers Guild was an immediate success, credited by Design magazine as ‘primarily responsible for initiating [a] revival of shopping interest in the lower end of King’s Road’, now ‘a centre for leading design entrepreneurs in London’. Nearby were Osborne & Little, Tamesa and Habitat (the last to arrive, in 1973). In addition, Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song recording studio had just opened nearby, as had Manolo Blahnik’s first shoe shop around the corner on Old Church Street. All the stars popped into Designers Guild, including Cilla Black, Anna Ford, David Jacobs, Felicity Kendal and Joan Collins, among others. When Tricia and Robin parted company early in 1975, Tricia put all her energies into realising her dream and Designers Guild flourished.

Designers Guild store, Kings Road, 1970s.

An Unconventional Approach

The first Designers Guild interiors were indeed an eclectic mix and displayed Tricia Guild’s unique decorating style. Included were handprinted wallpapers, hand-woven plain cloths, cane furniture and natural coir flooring, together with vintage ceramics and contemporary paintings, ceramic lamps and 1920s French beaded lamps, patchwork coverlets and tablecloths. The ‘Village’ prints were sought out for their rich colour palette and informal modernity — their small scale and easy coordination perfectly capturing the spirit of the time and offering an alternative to the designs of the day.

Examples of early designs, including ‘Village’ prints as seen in Out of the Blue: Fifty Years of Designers Guild.

This was in contrast with the prevailing trend for hard-edged primary colours in striking geometric patterns. Heal’s, where Guild’s parents had often shopped for interiors, specialised in these bright bold patterns, while Sanderson – then leading in exports of wallpapers and textiles – ran the gamut from bold Art Deco and Art Nouveau designs to children’s fabrics, Japanese wallcoverings and classic chintzes. Since 1962 Sanderson had pioneered mid-priced exactly matched textiles and wallpapers, accompanied by a textural paper to form their Triad ranges, but did not release additional coordinating furnishings until 1974. Was this, perhaps, their response to the half-dozen colourmatched patterns for which Designers Guild was becoming known? Following her instincts and questioning established styles and tastes that had existed for decades, Guild was unwittingly causing a stir in the interiors world.

Artists in the Room

Between 1975 and 1978 Tricia Guild launched three collections of fabrics that were designed with artist-designer Kaffe Fassett. Room sets developed with the aid of moodboards and shown at the London Design Centre in 1978 and 1980 included his ‘Geranium’. Designed in 1975, this became something of a signature fabric, which was available and featured in the press for another decade. During this time, Tricia collaborated with various artists – sometimes friends whose paintings she admired. Among these were Lillian Delevoryas, with collections released in 1977, 1979 and (re-released) 1985; and in 1986, painter and printmaker Howard Hodgkin and ceramicist Janice Tchalenko developed collections.

Tricia Guild in Kaffe Fassett, 1970s.
Geranium Collection, 1976.

With larger, watercolour-like designs such as ‘Grandiflora’ (1987) to balance the smaller ‘Village’ patterns, as well as bold plaids and plain fabrics; the Designers Guild house style now included a dynamic variety of room sets, table accessories and other items. In 1981 Louise Bootes-Johns in Harpers & Queen summed up the type of customers who were to seek out Designers Guild throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s: New Romantics, Sloane Rangers, First-Homers (‘they don’t always shop at Habitat’) and Home-Lovers (‘Broke-but-in-lovewith-home’).

Grandiflora, 1987.

The Designers Guild fan was and remains someone confident with their own individuality, creating an artistic canvas from the colours, patterns and textures on offer.

We do hope you’ve enjoyed exploring the Fashion and Textile Museum online. If so, please consider making a donation, to help us continue our work during this difficult time.

Every donation will support us in showcasing contemporary fashion and textile design during our closure, and will assist us in welcoming you back to the Museum, as soon as we are able.

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