Pat Albeck: Legendary textiles designer

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I have a worrying obsession with the fashion brand Horrockses. Last Friday I had the opportunity to go and see the Horrockses exhibition again, this time at its new location Basildon Park near Reading. Connected with exhibition there was a special talk by Horrockses print designer Pat Albeck. Not only was Pat lovely, she was completely inspiring and despite not really being a print designer it gave me a desperate desire to get designing!

As soon as I entered the room Pat spotted me, coming up to me and saying “That’s one of my designs!”. I was wearing one of my many Horrockses dresses, although I have to say the one I chose is one of my favourites. She asked me if she could touch it and said about how lovely the dress still felt after all this time, asking me to come up and do a twirl for the audience! I had a feeling that the dress I had chosen to wear *might* be one of her designs but I was very glad that my suspicions were correct!

Pat began her career with Horrockses whilst she was still a student at the Royal College of Art. James Cleveland-Belle the then Director of Horrockses was keen to use the design skills of some of the students from the college and spotted Pat’s work. Cleveland-Belle went on to become a great friend and also one of Pats inspirations. She says she remembers the magical feeling when Cleveland-Belle signed off one of the sketches JCB meaning it would go into production.

The first design which Horrockses bought from Pat was this iconic pattern which has been used again recently by the V and A for a new range of Horrockses based textiles. Whilst at the Royal college Pat had two of her designs commercially produced by Horrockses. The Royal college of Art felt it was important for their students to work within industry encouraging Pat to spend one month at college and one month working for Horrockses.

Pat also remembered a dress which she owned before working at Horrockses ( a member of the audience piped up that she remembered Pat wearing it and looking beautiful in it!). The dress was lemon yellow with stripes and little egg shapes with flowers inside.

During the five years Pat worked for Horrockses she designed a wide variety of different prints drawing inspiration from all sorts of things around her. Employees at Horrockses were encouraged to used their holidays to inspire there work and Pat remembers a holiday in Venice which particularly inspired her work. Pat found that she drew anything that grabbed her, buildings, kitchens, gardens, flora and fauna.

Pat felt that the luckiest thing was that she was designing fabric for actual dresses which she would see made up. Her designs were not to be sold as fabric to be made up by the general public. She liked to have a specific dress design which she knew the design would be used for and the knowing precisely what her fabrics would be used for. One of her oddest requests for a print design came from John Tullis (who designed most of the “specials” and evening dresses). The design had to incorporate a lobster. I have to say this is probably one of my all-time favourite Horrockses prints, and I love the way the lobster is softened by its combination with the butterflies and flowers.

Pat also said about the amazing reputation Horrockses had in the 50’s it was THE big company in the U.K. and was widely copied. Horrockses dresses (back then as they are now) were highly sought after and she says that the dresses did wear out because people wore them so much (this makes me feel a little big smug about my ever growing collection!)

After 5 years with the company Pat left in 1958 with Cleveland-Belle gone Pat felt it was time for her to move on too.

I will write further about Pat’s later career in my next blog post.

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