Propaganda textile designs – from East and West

An upcoming exhibition in London aims to “challenge perceptions” about textile designs, by showcasing 20th century propaganda designs from both the Soviet Union and the West. We look at the selection of the eye-catching designs.

London 1944, scarf, designed by Felix Topolsky for Ascher, rayon, 1944, Courtesy Paul and Karen Rennie Collection, Folkestone
London 1944, scarf, designed by Felix Topolsky for Ascher, rayon, 1944, Courtesy Paul and Karen Rennie Collection, Folkestone

The Fashion Forward! exhibition coming to London’s GRAD gallery in July will showcase rare patriotic and propaganda textile designs from the Soviet Union, USA and UK.

Curated by GRAD’s Alexandra Chiriac and Elena Sudakova, the show will feature works by Arnold Lever, Felix Topolosky and Ludmila Mayakovskaya, sister of Russian poet Vladimir Mayaskovsky.

Soviet textiles

According to the GRAD curators, early 20th-century Soviet Union printed textiles were often decorated with symbols of collectivisation and industrialisation – such as tractors and trains, rich harvests and electrification, sportsmen and pioneers – “intended to communicate the state’s utopian dream to the largely illiterate population”.

Ludmila Mayakovskaya, Textile design, airbrushed paper, c.1920s, Courtesy Mayakovsky Museum, Moscow
Ludmila Mayakovskaya, Textile design, airbrushed paper, c.1920s, Courtesy Mayakovsky Museum, Moscow

The exhibition also showcases the work of other Soviet designers, such as Mayakovskaya, who were responding to international trends in avant-garde art.

Ludmila Mayakovskaya, Textile design, airbrushed silk, c.1920s, Courtesy Mayakovsky Museum, Moscow
Ludmila Mayakovskaya, Textile design, airbrushed silk, c.1920s, Courtesy Mayakovsky Museum, Moscow

Mayakovskaya herself experimented with techniques including airbrushing and stenciling and won prizes at the Paris Exhibition of Decorative Arts in 1925.

US textiles

The Paris Exhibition of Decorative Arts also inspired the Stehli Silks Corporation to create its “Americana” prints between 1925 and 1927 which has patterns such as skyscrapers, railways, stars and stripes or tennis players.

Helen Wills, Textile design, printed silk crepe de Chine, 1927, given by the Stehli Silks Corporation, Courtesy Victoria & Albert Museum
Helen Wills, Textile design, printed silk crepe de Chine, 1927, given by the Stehli Silks Corporation, Courtesy Victoria & Albert Museum

The Stehli designs were created by artists, designers and celebrities such as the tennis player Helen Wills and the photographer Edward Steichen.

Charles Buckles Falls textile design, printed silk crepe de Chine, 1927, Given by the Stehli Silks Corporation, courtesy Victoria & Albert Museum
Charles Buckles Falls textile design, printed silk crepe de Chine, 1927, Given by the Stehli Silks Corporation, courtesy Victoria & Albert Museum

Stehli’s artistic director claimed that these designs were “for modern American women by modern American artists, reflecting the modern American scene”.

British textiles

The GRAD exhibition showcases World War Two textile designs that were emblazoned with patriotic messages and political slogans.

Happy Landings, scarf, designed by Arnold Lever for Jacqmar, silk, 1940s,Courtesy Paul and Karen Rennie Collection, Folkestone
Happy Landings, scarf, designed by Arnold Lever for Jacqmar, silk, 1940s,Courtesy Paul and Karen Rennie Collection, Folkestone

The war brought about a boom in textile production, with firms such as Mayfair-based Jacqmar creating a series of patriotic designs.

London Wall, scarf, designed by Arnold Lever for Jacqmar, rayon, c.1942, Courtesy Paul and Karen Rennie Collection, Folkestone
London Wall, scarf, designed by Arnold Lever for Jacqmar, rayon, c.1942, Courtesy Paul and Karen Rennie Collection, Folkestone

The exhibition also showcases designs commissioned by firm Ascher, for whom artists including Herny Moore and Felix Topolsky created scarves, which were displayed in the 1946 Britain Can Make It exhibition.


Fashion Forward! Textile Design: East and West, runs from 1 July-17 October at GRAD, 3-4a Little Portland Street, London W1W.

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