Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
New Ideas
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water


Comments (1) Posted 12.03.12 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Alexandra Lange

Reintroducing the Tilletts


Custom fabric with strié. Designed by D.D. and Leslie Tillett (All images courtesy Tillett and Rauscher Inc.)

I was late to visit “The World of D.D. and Leslie Tillett” at the Museum of the City of New York, but as luck would have it this small, gorgeous exhibit has been extended through February 3. If you are interested in textile design, mid-century style, or creative partnerships, I would urge you to go.

If you have been reading this blog you know I am obsessed with all three, so I was surprised I had never heard of the Tilletts before. The biographies of the Tilletts (she is D.D., he is Leslie) read like an amalgamated version of my research into other 1950s life/work partnerships: a dollop of Alexander Girard’s sure hand with color, a sprinkling of the Jacqueline Kennedy pixie dust that worked for Design Research, more than a little of the Eames gift for self-promotion. She was working for Harper’s Bazaar as Doris Doctorow when, on a shoot in Mexico, she met Leslie, already a textile designer. They married and moved to a former carriage house on East 80th Street, with a retail shop on the ground floor, workshop above, and home up top, all strikingly documented by photographer Samuel Gottscho. Like so many of the design couples we know better – the Thompsons, the Rapsons, the Weeses – they were living the lifestyle they designed and promoted, so their house, their shop, their relationship becomes part of the package. It is not every couple that has their portrait taken by Irving Penn. (Additional Instagram images I took of the installation are here, here and here. More exhibit photos at Femme et Fleur.)

Leslie and D.D. Tillett, ca. 1947

Leslie’s designs were often inspired by nature, and the exhibition includes a number of his expressive drawings and sketches, as well as illustrated books. D.D. also drew, and their popular abstract chrysanthemum pattern, which covers one wall of the museum, is from her paintings. (The exhibition was curated by Donald Albrecht, Phyllis Magidson, and Phyllis Ross.) Their fabrics were used in the living quarters of the Kennedy White House, as well as for dresses worn by Jackie of the same simple, cotton, graphic quality as her more famous Marimekkos. The exhibit includes a note from Jackie after Caroline Kennedy’s wedding, where Tillett fabrics were used for all the tables to give it proper Cape Cod flair.

D.D. also sewed her own clothes, and one side of the gallery is taken up with a display of her own wardrobe, all of which uses swaths of patterned fabric in striking, hard-to-date ways. Because of the flowers, the fish, the plaids, the fabrics are closer to classic upholstery than those of Girard and Maija Isola, and worked within the updated traditional style of decorators like Parish-Hadley. The patterns read as more avant-garde on the many, many fashion products that used Tillett textiles, from a necktie subscription service to fabulous 1950s bathing suits. The Tilletts designed for both men and women, or rather, their graphic prints could go either way.

Custom fabrics with chrysanthemum pattern and strié. Designed by D.D. and Leslie Tillett

A fascinating side project: in 1969 Jackie Kennedy recruited the Tilletts to launch Design Works, a textile studio in Bedford Stuyvesant for which the Tilletts trained local residents in their techniques and collaborated on designs. Design Works was known for large-scale, ethically-inspired patterns and lasted until 1978. The exhibition includes a sample of a photorealistic fabric made by Design Works and based on an African mask at the Brooklyn Museum, that reminds me of Herzog and de Meuron's Ricola factory exterior. As a community development idea, this still appeals.

As a holiday note, the museum shop is carrying a selection of merchandise made from the Tilletts’ own fabrics, manufactured by the Nantucket mills that created the originals. I was particularly taken with a large watercolor-tartan pouf. Less pricey fabric-covered journals and spools of Tillett-designed ribbon are also for sale.

Living room of the Tillett home and workshop, 170 East 80th Street, New York City, 1951. Photograph by Samuel H. Gottscho


The house's label in the 1940s and 1950s (for my #thriftbreak followers)

Share This Story

RELATED POSTS


Accidental Mysteries: 07.01.12


Accidental Mysteries, 03.25.12


[MB][BT] In Phone, In Fashion


Demedicalize Architecture


Accidental Mysteries, 09.09.12



RSS Subscribe to Comment Feed

Comments (1)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

Alexandra
What an absolutely lovely article. And yes their fabrics definitely "went either way"
Thanks,

Linnaea Tillett
linnaea@tillettlightingdesign.com
linnaea tillett
12.03.12 at 01:26



LOG IN TO POST A COMMENT
Don't have an account? Create an account. Forgot your password? Click here.

Email


Password




|
Share This Story



Alexandra Lange is an architecture and design critic, and author of Writing about Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities. (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012). Her work has appeared in The Architect's Newspaper, Architectural Record, Dwell, Metropolis, Print, New York Magazine and The New York Times.
More >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









BOOKS BY Alexandra Lange

Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities
Princeton Architectural Press, 2012

Design Research
Chronicle Books, 2010

More books by contributors >>