Petal Power

Modern Times, New Opportunities

In the nineteenth century the private world of the home was considered to be women's only natural domain. In the early years of the twentieth century modernising attitudes and necessity of circumstance brought new opportunities for women to work and to play a more visible role in public life. The Suffrage campaign raised awareness of women's right to vote, and in department stores and offices women were increasingly accepted as shop-floor workers and typists. In the arts, the perception that women intrinsically understood the material aspirations and desires of female consumers opened new opportunities for women to become designers for products and advertising. The Silver Studio designed decorative patterns for furnishing and fashion textiles and wallpapers. The names of seventeen women designers appear in the Silver Studio Daybooks, including Miss Simms, Miss Gilbert and Miss Fahey. In some instances only first names have been recorded, and the designs which survive in MoDA's archives are the only record of the time these women spent working as designers for the Silver Studio.
  • Advertisement for a London advertising agency, Commercial Art, 1923

    This rakish depiction of a woman designer reinforces interwar perceptions of women working in the arts as independent and fashionably modern. Before the widespread introduction of fashion photography in the 1930s, women were employed to produce the fashion illustrations needed for advertising and for articles on fashion in women's weeklies and other household magazines.

  • Grafton's Sales Catalogue, 1920s

    This advertising brochure shows how colourful floral fabrics in a range of styles were marketed as ideal for sewing the latest styles of fashionable clothing. The firm F.W. Grafton specialised in roller-printed cottons. As a key customer of the Silver Studio many of the designs offered to Grafton's buyers would have been designed by the Studio's women designers.

  • photograph of Miss Mold, around 1912

    Winifred Mold was the first woman to work as a staff designer for the Silver Studio. She was employed by Rex Silver as a learner in 1912. She produced hundreds of designs for fashion and furnishing fabrics before leaving the studio in 1935. This photograph shows her seated in her home studio. Unlike the new advertising industry, design for textiles was a long-established, traditionally male, profession which embraced women designers only reluctantly at first. 'Miss Mold' and Rex Silver communicated by written correspondence although Rex sometimes delivered supplies and work to her at home.

  • Design for a dress silk, Winifred Mold, ca.1915 (SD10239)

    This early design by Winifred Mold employs a dense arrangement of simplified floral forms in the bright colours associated with fashionable orientalism. Its painterly style combining pink and black would have worked to striking effect in the saturated tones possible when printing on silk.

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