Eduardo Paolozzi furnishing textile printed rayon
Eduardo Paolozzi furnishing textile printed rayon

Dovecot Studios Edinburgh: Mid-Century Modern – Art and Design from Conran to Quant

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Until 31st December 2020 at earliest.

Many will be familiar with the Pop Art movement in post-war UK and the work of Edinburgh’s own Eduardo Paolozzi. But you might be surprised to find out the significant and direct influence Paolozzi had on the aesthetic of Mid-Century Modern design. Paolozzi and The Independent Group of avant-garde artists, architects, intellectuals and critics bred the UK’s Pop Art movement and subsequently pop culture’s influence on textile design and fashion.

Paolozzi’s influence helped designers lead the way in pioneering a new style aesthetic for the young – optimistic, taking its cues from both past and future, and drawing inspiration from international influences. This new attitude was cultivated in the art schools of London with young designers, photographers and musicians blossoming in the fertile ground of free access to higher and further education. Youth-filled coffee bars and Italian-influenced hangouts embraced a more multi-ethnic and multi-cultural youth scene. A strong desire for change and a democratic approach to art and design inspired the so-called ‘Chelsea set’, the main focus of Mid-Century Modern, Art & Design from Conran to Quant.

Habitat display Mid Century Modern at Dovecot Studios
Habitat display, Mid Century Modern exhibition at Dovecot Studios


The exhibition is framed by a loose timeline narrative around clusters of interiors and fashion mannequins and display cases, yet leaving enough space to find your own connections. Dovecot Studios successfully balances a sense of history here with re-creating the fresh look of designed objects that are at least 60-years-old. Well-preserved textiles and items of clothing are carefully placed alongside accessories, furniture and homeware. Even a humble table mat gets an airing and is credited as one of the first items of Pop Art designed for homeware (by Laura Ashley).

Laura Ashley table mat
Bernard and Laura Ashley, table mat c. 1953-56, screen-printed cotton


Mary Quant opened her boutique Bazaar in November 1955, and the pop culture generation was born. Terence Conran designed Quant’s second Bazaar boutique shop in London’s exclusive Knightsbridge in November 1958. The interiors had modern light fittings and imported goods from Italy. Conran’s early style was heavily influenced by modern Italian design, but especially Surrealist artist and designer Piero Fornasetti.

Conran set up his own brand, Habitat, in 1964 with the same principles in mind. Conran knew Paolozzi as a tutor, friend and mentor at Central School of Arts and Crafts. Chelsea-based design duo Laura Ashley and Bernard Ashley also took some influence from Fornasetti.

Chequers Terence Conran printed cotton
Terence Conran, ‘Chequers’ c.1949,  printed cotton


We learn that pop culture design owes a debt to food-themed travel writer Elizabeth David and painter John Minton – who illustrated her books in the mid-1950s. As well as interesting influences and connections, this exhibition aims to get across just how much the designers changed the shopping habits of a new generation and kicked textile manufacturing into the modern age and to a wider consumer demographic.

Elizabeth David book covers
Elizabeth David book covers


As ever, Dovecot Studios adds extra flavour by highlighting the connection with Scottish textile design of post-war 1940s and 50s, such as print designer Robert Stewart who worked with Dovecot in the early 1950s and whose designs were used by Liberty, Pringle and Donald Brothers. Textile designer Bernat Klein‘s fabrics were made in Galashiels and used by international fashion houses such as Chanel. Both designers were motivated to make good design accessible to all. Also, Bute Fabrics textile manufacturer produced post-war modern tweed designs supporting Scottish weavers.

Mid Century Modern at Dovecot Studios
Mid-Century Modern at Dovecot Studios


Dovecot Studios has opened up the space to create a one-way flow around the exhibition encouraging physical distancing. You are asked to wear a face-covering to the exhibition – and also by law in the retail space. Staff wear masks or keep behind a perspex booth and there’s a hand-sanitiser station. If you need further assurance, Dovecot has the ‘Good to Go’ logo, an industry standard for ensuring that Covid19 public health measures are in place.

Mary Quant banana split minidress detail
Mary Quant, Banana Split jersey minidress 1967 (detail)


However, there are still plenty of opportunities to get up close enough to see textures and fascinating details of zips, cuffs, stitching and pockets. Arrows on the floor suggest a one-way system but with choices that make it easy to change direction if necessary – unlikely as there is an advance ticketing system to control numbers.

10 Infirmary Street
Edinburgh EH1 1LT

July, Wed-Sat 10am to 5pm.
August, Mon-Sat 10am to 5pm

Image: Eduardo Paolozzi furnishing textile – printed rayon

With grateful thanks to Julie Boyne for this review.

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