Design icon Celia Birtwell at ACHICA

ACHICA Living meets design icon Celia Birtwell: Read our exclusive interview with 'the face that launched a thousand prints' to find how she feels about being the muse in David Hockney’s paintings and discover what she thinks makes a house a home. Check out her gorgeous homewares on promotion at ACHICA next week too...
You studied textile design in Manchester, but what inspired you to take this course and to become a designer?

I went to art school at the age of 14 where we studied all areas of art and design including fashion. But it all started at home watching my mother, a competent seamstress, whip up fabulous frocks for our social events. I would show her pictures of dresses and she would start to copy them, but, probably to her disdain, I would always insist that she made certain alterations!  But, when I got to Salford School of Art I was disappointed that they didn't have a fashion course and was advised that the nearest thing to it was textile design … and the rest is history.

How does it feel to be featured in David Hockney’s Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy painting? (Celia is featured with her ex-husband and fashion designer Ozzie Clark).

At the time of the painting none of us thought it would ever be a great success – it was just another wonderful double portrait in the series David was painting at the time. It was only as the years went by that its popularity gained momentum and although I am really honoured to be in the painting I do find it all rather perplexing (and a little flattering).

David Hockney's 1970s painting Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy

Who’s your favourite artist?

David is one of my favourite artists because I love his passion and drive. He is always pushing the boundaries of new technologies and techniques and I think there are very few artists today who work so hard as he. David is a fantastic role model and his email pictures he sends me daily never fail to delight and inspire me.

What painting inspires you?

Other favourites are Picasso. Matisse and Van Gogh. I love Van Gogh’s colour and passion, in Picasso and Matisse’s I adore their ability to paint emotion.

Celia Birtwell's designs

What inspires you in your work?

Over the years I have been inspired by many things and people, however the one single thing I come back to again and again is nature. It never ceases to amaze, it always delights, it challenges, it always changes, offering and teaching you something new.

What has been the most exciting project you’ve worked on?

I have been fortunate to have worked on many exciting projects in my career.  The first was the extraordinary success of mine and Ossie’s (Clark) collaboration back in the 60s. We were young and starting out and although we really believed in our work, we were astounded at the critical response.

Gayla by Celia Birtwell 1968

And her later fashion designs exclusively for John Lewis

The second was opening my soft furnishing shop in 1984.I had been out of fashion for a while and had concentrated on being a mother, so to start my business was an empowering exercise that gave me total freedom to design.

The third was the Top Shop collaboration in 2006. I had no idea it would be such a success and was so thrilled to see how the clothes caught the imagination of younger generations.

How would you describe your home's style and what do your family think of it?

I would describe my home as stylish, yet comfortable. It’s an elegant town house painted in bold colours and filled with all the quirky and whimsical nick-nacks I have collected over the years. I think my family love it, especially the grandchildren because it’s full of tiny treasures waiting to be played with.

What makes a house a home?

A home is really created when it has been lived in for a while, allowing the style of the décor to evolve. It takes time to understand what works best in a house; how the light behaves at certain times of day, what a mirror reflects in different places, lighting, colour etc…But I couldn’t live without fresh flowers, preferably from my garden.

What trends should we be coveting in the coming months?

Gorgeous greys and charcoals are the new neutrals, throwing creams and beiges off to top spot.  Trim upholstered chairs in bright red trim and vibrant cushions and your home will be the envy of your all your friends!

Celia Birtwell's new Birdsong print in Charcoal.

What three products could you not live without?

I would not be without my George Smith sofa, which is stunningly comfortable and relaxes me every evening.

I would certainly not be without my Fornasetti clock that delights me every time I look at it.

Finally, I simply can’t do without my Candy Flower cashmere blanket, from my shop, to keep me warm during the cold months.

What’s your top tip for wannabe designers - the secret to successful designing?

I would tell everyone that they will succeed if they keep going, keep trying, keep believing, and don’t give up. At times it will be hard, frustrating and even soul destroying BUT you will be rewarded and you will get a break.

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Emily Peck, Editor

View all posts by Emily Peck, Editor