In focus: Morris & Co. - the William Morris legacy
There are few names as synonymous with wallpaper and fabric design as William Morris’, but the heritage of the Morris & Co. brand – and of the man himself – goes much deeper than that. Born in 1834, Morris is widely regarded as one of the key figures of the Arts and Crafts movement, but he was also a poet, philosopher, typographer and political theorist. In 1861, he joined forces with a group of friends to apply his talents to home décor, forming decorating business Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. – now known simply as Morris & Co.
Evidence of Morris’ other talents can be seen throughout his work, with intricate, flowing designs that are instantly recognisable today. Although his primary focus was on interiors following the foundation of the company, he still found time to write his poetic morality play, Love is Enough, in 1873; and even this piece of work was reimagined for interior design purposes after his death. In 1877, the first Morris & Co. retail shop opened on Oxford Street, followed closely by the acquisition of the Merton Abbey Printworks four years later.
Much of Morris’ inspiration came from his occasional home at Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire, which is where he created perhaps his most iconic design: Strawberry Thief. The print has been reproduced in innumerable different fabrics and textures, and remains one of Morris & Co.’s most popular designs to this day.
Following Morris’ death in 1896, his legacy continued – though it was not all smooth sailing. Despite having been granted the Royal Warrant by King George V in 1927, the company fell upon hard times following the First and Second World Wars. Thankfully, the company was bought by Sanderson in 1940, and soon after Morris’ designs began to find their way into other mediums – first fabric, then fashion – with 60s icons including George Harrison sporting Morris’ prints.
Today, Morris & Co. prints are omnipresent in the design world, with co-ordinating fabric and wallpaper collections for interiors and collaborations with high-profile fashion houses. Its collaboration with high street label H&M in 2018 introduced the brand to a whole new generation of design-lovers, with re-imaginations of classic designs taking centre stage. While the brand has evolved over its 150+ years, the designs themselves have retained that timeless William Morris touch.
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