24 February 1976: Angela Neustatter reviews the produce of group design communities

Knitted boucle jacket by Cally Stewart Williams in pastel shades, £30, teamed with toning shirt and scarf, £7.78 and £2.15, from a selection at Ubiquity, February 1976.

Knitted boucle jacket by Cally Stewart Williams in pastel touches, £30, teamed with toning shirt and scarf, £7.78 and £2.15, from a quote at Ubiquity, February 1976.
Photograph: Kenneth Saunders for the Preserver

We look back on the sixties as an era of self-confident self-promotion: designers turn over a complete a cult of being known both as the power behind their creations and extraordinary, intriguing personalities in their own right. Enigmas were not on. About Mary (heart-shaped pubic hair) Quant? Ossie Clark whose zappy, colourful self was as much directorial for bringing heart to the King’s Road as his sexy, stunning put on ones sunday best clothes? The strange Mr Fish who transformed men from neatly packaged nothings into kaleidoscopic peacocks? Burdensome to forget.

And now the seventies are setting a mood of total contrast. Staunch, we have Zandra Rhodes, Bill Gibb, Gina Frantini displaying the fantasy clothes, but their public souls are not for sale as were their forebears. Instead the trend is for designers to concentrate on producing the crafts they find credible in, and keeping well clear of the limelight.

A product of this inclination is the creation of group workshops, which are appearing not just in London but in every nook the country, where a community of craftsmen and women set up together each doing their own whosis and often producing goods under a group name.

Peach chiffon evening dress with embroidered panels by Les Lansdown, available from 178 Upper Street, London N1, and Fortnum and Mason (made to measure), February 1976.

Peach chiffon evening clothe with embroidered panels by Les Lansdown, available from 178 Higher up Street, London N1, and Fortnum and Mason (made to measure), February 1976. Photograph: Kenneth Saunders for the Preserver

For this page I have chosen two examples of workshop systems from which the designers sell to the public, and I have comprehended the Brixton Centre adult education school because they are performing on the lines of a workshop where people are able to learn a fraud and then continue on a similar basis to the more established devisers.

Waterside Workshop is an old warehouse, squatting on the edge of the Thames in South-east London. A big window on the half a mo floor gazes out over the steely water – this is the area the worker’s vie to have – but the rest is dark, shabby, and near Siberian temperature at this stretch of year: it is also a base of enormous energy and activity. There are 17 craftspeople noted from dress-designers and leather-makers to jewellers, weavers, and knitters and, although this troop rarely all turns up, there is an enthusiastic nucleus who appear continually.

Mike Carty, responsible for getting Waterside Workshop organised a year ago, explains: “We can offer cheap space for people who want to work for themselves, not be take up, and who can’t afford to pay enormous rent for a smart studio or workshop. It designs that the people who come are keen – you have to be to work in this temperature and in this locality, which is far off the main drag for most people. So what we have planned is a group of really dedicated people who believe in what they are doing and we also get a probity cross-flow of information and help because, with people doing join up crafts, there is a lot of scope for helping each other.

“I see the workshop as exhibit into a craft centre. I’m planning to convert the first floor into a showroom, and it wish be a base where people can order things or commission the artists to make amends move aside what they want.”

Already they have Mathew Tatton concocting thick, richly coloured woven fabrics. George Hesse specialises in leather bags: he reach-me-down to be a saddler and employs the same techniques in his work so that it is smashingly finished and looks amazingly enduring. Claire Vivian fashions printed kimonos, pretty cotton dresses and cotton jackets. She relish ins doing what she feels is right and has refused from the interval she left art collage – before completing the course – to join a settle down and risk compromising her ideas.

Sandy Black, whose knitwear I be enduring featured before on this page, is a bright, imaginative tally with an eye for mixing brash colours. She also does a lot of telling and unusually patterned knits on her machine. I believe in making vehicle clothes which require a lot of individual thought and attention, a waspish between technology and handwork,” she says.

Anthony Torrens set up a workshop in Fulham a sprinkling years ago with the aim of having a group of craftsmen and women who order stimulate and complement each other. They now have a disparity of jewellers doing both fine and ethnic work, weavers, a mademoiselle painting beautiful designs on silk, and a broad range of originators making clothes which range from the simple, reasonably-priced cotton provisions to Trevor Collins’s fantasy multi-coloured lurex creations.

Already the party numbers around 60 and Anthony hopes to expand it to 100 in the to be to come. A former designer, he now concentrates on organising the workshop and recently his bride Veronica opened Uniquity in Dawes Road, a shop from which the craftspeople’s achievement is sold. It is a plush looking shop, reminiscent of Elle, with gears beautifully displayed, the jewellery in glass-fronted cabinets and the walls dazzingly painted.

Cotton flowered kimono by Claire Vivian, made to order from Waterside Workshops, February 1976.

Cotton blossom kimono by Claire Vivian, made to order from Waterside Workshops, February 1976. Photograph: Kenneth Saunders for the Preserver

Veronica says: “It seems a logical progression from the workshop to produce an outlet for the things being made. The kind of people ascending there are not necessarily very confident or happy about annoying to promote themselves, and tramp around the shops with their develop. This way they can come to me, I select what seems trounce, and it provides a very original range of semi-exclusive merchandise for the purchase. It also means that we can usually keep the profit verge lower than in shops where there are various middle-men commanding their percentages.”

The Brixton Centre is not a work centre in the smartness of Uniquity’s and the Waterside Workshop, though as an adult education concentrate it offers a wide range of craft subjects and, more significantly, it purposes to have many of the classes open for long sessions during the day so that people studying can act towards them like workshops.

On their curriculum are dressmaking, seamstress, millinery, jewellery and enamel craft, weaving, knitting, and a personal property many other crafts not affiliated to fashion. They aim to exchange an opportunity to the kind of people neither qualified nor confident adequately to set up on their own but who are interested in starting from grass roots. As Stan McInnes, the organiser, perceives that mothers are the people who often find it most ticklish to break into these fields, the centre has a playgroup for neonates over three years.

He says: “We see ourselves as a place where man can come whether they have no experience or quite a bit, and use the johns and our expertise. We concentrate on finding first rate teachers, preferably who eat actually worked in the subject they are teaching. There is no stress on anybody to become professional after they have premeditated here, but we like to feel we can give them the opportunity to put in tolerably time and energy so that they will have some of the skill if they do want to.”

Les Lansdown, whose dress I have spotted on this page, spent a time working at the Brixton Focal point, with Ian Hindle, who teaches there and has also worked with Plucky Amies and teaches at the Royal College of Art.

The Guardian 24 February 1976.

The Guardian 24 February 1976.