the collier campbell archive

How a pair of british sisters changed the history of textile design.


The next time you stroll past a shop selling brightly coloured duds in kaleidosco­pic patterns, you might pause to consider how that vibrant, whimsical aesthetic was at least partially pioneered by Sarah Campbell and her late sister, Susan Collier. The artsy pair worked together for five decades, forming one of the world’s most notable textile design studios, London’s Collier Campbell. From the 1960s onwards, Sarah and Susan produced hand-painted textile designs for a slew of big-time clients, including Liberty London, Yves Saint Laurent and Jaeger.

Though they were never really household names, their creations were everywhere – Sarah and Susan’s work could be found from the high street to the runway, on couches, curtains, sheets, wallpaper, dresses and scarves. Somehow, despite their productivi­ty, they managed to avoid any relationsh­ip-ruining rows that might arise from working closely with a sister – a feat anyone with siblings would find truly admirable. “There was a sort of natural accord between us,” says Sarah, who now lives and works under her own name in South London. “At one end you have your difference­s, but you also have a tremendous closeness, an unspoken language and an understand­ing.”

Presumably, that common language was a love for colour, pattern and painting. Their designs were all hand-painted, before being engraved and rolled or screen-printed onto cloth in a traditiona­l process that Sarah still prefers to digital printing. They insisted viewers be able to see the stroke of the painter’s brush, which gave an honest, free-wheeling quality to their designs – clean and simple was never their vibe. “The designs we’ve done that have become classics have been ones that are in no way retiring and beige,” Sarah says. “They’re very outspoken, they’re present, and they’re generous.”

Susan and Sarah were raised by their actress mother, Patience Collier, and scientist father, Harry Collier. Though not artists themselves, the Colliers encouraged their daughters’ natural creativity, and their love of painting and drawing. “We weren’t expected to be bank managers, and they probably would have fainted if we were,” Sarah says. Susan, who left home first, wound up working as a freelance textile designer after noticing the glut of stuffy, old-timey prints on fabric store shelves. In 1961, she sold six designs to Liberty, the fancy-shmancy British department store (whose lush fabric selection and haberdashe­ry is a crafter’s nirvana, by the way). It was a career-launching moment. Sarah started helping her older sister during school holidays, and finally joined her in an official capacity in 1968. Susan became the design and colour consultant for Liberty fabrics, while Sarah worked as a designer.

The sisters’ relationsh­ip with Liberty produced some pretty iconic motifs, such as Cottage Garden, a pattern with flowers arrayed “hither and thither”, according to Sarah. “It might look very convention­al now, but at the time, the people in the furnishing fabric department at Liberty said they would never sell it.” Not one to indulge in self-doubt, Susan bet the furnishing­s buyer 10 shillings that Cottage Garden would outsell William Morris, the 19th-century granddaddy of textile design – and it did. Though Morris’ revolution­ary designs were nothing to thumb your nose at, they were “extraordin­arily formal” by the groovier standards of the ’60s and ’70s, Sarah says. She and her sister preferred to

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