the borrowers


Have you heard the one about the composer who hit a creative block and couldn’t write a note for weeks?

One night he had a dream – at last he’d managed to write something; he jumped up in the morning, rushed to his piano, played his new piece straight through, all the way. It was then that he realised that what he’d invented in his sleep, note for note, had already been composed by Chopin sometime earlier! It’s a true story (I caught it on BBCRadio3 recently, though I may have mistaken the name) and it tells how easy it can be to ingest work, to sponge it up, to commandeer it, to forget the source. It did shift his block by the way.


This is a montage showing one of Susan’s and my most well-known designs – ‘Bauhaus’. It was commissioned by Blair Pride, the design producer at Liberty of London Prints, in response to the 1968 Bauhaus exhibition at the Royal Academy – the first retrospective of that short-lived but hugely influential movement. We took our lead from Gunta Stolzl’s silk tapestry Red/Green. We made a painted design, first for a printed scarf panel and then as a repeating fabric, interpreting the shapes in our style and our colourways. We always acknowledged the source, as the name itself manifests. It wasn’t until we were writing the book 40 plus years later that I learned that Liberty paid the Bauhaus archive a sum of money for the use of the name in this instance.

Over the years Susan and I were knocked off many times; we viewed this simply as the slings and arrows of outrageous commerce – the natural and expected price for being original and influential. We managed occasionally to force the most blatant replicas off the market or to be recompensed financially – once or twice even both – but it was an impossible and thankless task for us as independent designers to be constantly on patrol.

For a while in the ’80s there were even a pair of female designers who made it their business to emulate our hand-drawn style and colour philosophy, and seemed to follow us from customer to customer!  In the States our look became a design category, as they said, in the bedlinen industry.

These days I’m frequently sent pictures of patterns by people who are sure they’re ‘one of yours’ and would like to know the name, date etc. Often they aren’t, they’re lookalikes, but because we stood for colour and pattern they are, by association, what I now call ‘sub’ the original Collier Campbell. I always answer the emails by the way!

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 07.10.36

In my opinion an up-to-date example of this style-echoing is currently sitting in the windows of Oliver Bonas, as quite a few friends have pointed out, eyebrows raised; and some familiar leaves are sitting pretty over at Monsoon Home! It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; it may indeed underline the fact that one is on the right path, but it’s infuriating to have done the work, having taken the risk, only for someone else to take inspiration, credit and appear to make a turn.

We all know that within the fashion industry the pressure to copy the catwalk – ‘but not exactly’ – is intense. And then there’s the zeitgeist – if something’s in the air designers will wave their antennae and suddenly there’ll be a rash – of drawings like Frank Gehry’s sketches for instance, or silhouettes of flamingoes. The process is a continuum; a convenient and excusing phrase that’s often used is ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’, even if to a particular designer it seems like, and maybe is, a personal discovery.



We ingest ideas with the air – inspiration means an intake of breath – and they feed us in all sorts of ways, conscious and less so. But recently I have been surprisingly upset, shocked, angered even, by something different – a piece of chiffon! To a recent silk-painting course came two students, friends, who, before the day, had tweeted how excited they were to be coming, implying that they held me in high regard. One, whose designs hitherto were very controlled precise ‘computer’ geometrics, was particularly entranced, it seemed, to find a new way of hand-painting. I even tweeted her work (anonymously) as an illustration of someone having a happy creative time! To see a student making discoveries is the joy of teaching, isn’t it?

fabriic bag

I think I am open, encouraging and generous as a teacher, schlepping bundles of my hand-painted and printed cloth for the students to see and discuss as examples of different techniques and practice.

sarah painting

I give demonstrations, we all practice mark-making. As I say, she took to it like a duck to water, spurred on by my foambrush for-instances. People ask to take pictures and up until now I have said yes, for personal use. It seems this student made a little composition of her own at the class showing a selection of my one-off fabrics, including this silk chiffon scarf painted with indigo and black strokes and a tiny vibrant pink border, one of my trade marks. Some weeks later she posted it on Instagram, though I didn’t see it. It’s shown below.

Imagine my surprise when I suddenly saw, on Twitter, this chiffon scarf, tied in a bow, offered for sale from her new online shop! It looks very very like mine, the one in her picture – the nature of the marks, the use of colour, the particular device of the popping pink edge.

To me this is too close for comfort – it appears to be blatant copying. So far she has resisted all attempts at contact and discussion, both from me and the college (putting the phone down on them), and has even blocked me from her twitter account – as though I am at fault! This contributes to my feeling shocked, bouleversé and more put out than I would have imagined – or would like. It seems so personal, an abuse of trust and my good nature. It’s certainly made me wary of teaching; from now on a very clear and uncompromising talk about intellectual property will begin each session. Pinching, and then selling, ideas from the rough and tumble of the public domain is one thing, but from classroom transactions is quite another. I’ve spent much time, thought, emotional energy on the matter, including discussions with ACID. What do you think?


Interestingly on her website she gives the names of some women artists by whom she’s influenced – my name is not among them!

I seem to have been much concerned with education in the last few days: looking at a selection of graduate textile students’ work I was surprised how many times I thought, and asked, ‘But did you not consider that…?’ I did feel that many students seemed let down (by their teachers?…the course?) in the important matters of the real exploration and application of creative thinking in design. Not for the first time I felt that art and design education is being undermined and dumbed-down by the tyrannies of, shall we call it, ‘funding’. How and where can I voice these concerns effectively?

Real brilliance is rare, and in any event needs hard work to bring to fruition. The doctor who attended William Morris at his death aged 62, recorded “His disease was simply being William Morris, and having done more work than most 10 men”.

william morris

Albertina Sisulu dress

I was at the WMGallery to catch the last day of the Social Fabrics show – contemporary fabrics with messages from East and South Africa. These had very particular missives and sometimes serious and political information to convey; this dress  belonged to Mrs Albertina Sisulu – I liked it a lot. Textiles have long been used to tell us all sorts of stories and histories. Funnily enough I have just been working on a commission to produce some designs with the subject of Aung San Suu Kyi. Of course I have looked at the very famous graphic representations that have now become part of our visual language – such as Shepard Fairey’s posters.

The exhibition at Pallant House of John Piper’s textiles told a different story. As I’ve written before, a particular fabric of his played an important part in my own development, though I didn’t think about it at the time. He was first and foremost an artist, not a designer like me.

john piper

The skill of translating a painting into a repeating pattern has been a longstanding interest and pursuit of mine. But for me, the pieces for tapestry were the most arresting in this exhibition. These were paintings made expressly for interpretation into stitch, and the results are thrilling. The textures of the woollen yarns give such profound richness of colour, the hues well up to the surface and burst with vivacity – an invitation to approach, to immerse in their warmth and intensity. I so admire the weavers, particularly Penny Bush  and Valerie Powers at the West Dean Tapestry Studio who wove these glorious textiles.


I saw this screening of Simon Godwin’s current powerful production of Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre – another compelling interpretation. Paapa Essiedu is the young prince, speaking those famous lines in a re-rhythmed, re-thought way that tells us his struggles anew, funny, painful, surprising. Seeing the live action up close was wonderful; hearing it as if for the first time was a triumph.

living necklace

This blog covers some serious concerns of mine. Here’s a more cheerful shot – complete with a living necklace making its way under my collar! I painted that shirt ages ago, and by now it seems more patch than pattern. One of the students at the last workshop at Bradness planned, painted and made this sweet – and original – pinny; we have one place left on the July 12-13 course.






Thanks to Molly, Steve, Peter, Linda, Stafford, Neil, Julie, Fred and my family.

Thanks too to Celia and the Fashion and Textile Museum for including me so generously in this piece in last week’s London Evening Standard.


33 thoughts on “the borrowers

  1. Mad about your Bauhaus fabric for Liberty! Pursuing a pair of curtains on eBay as I write: ). I know they’ll make me happy every time I see them. And that is wonderful design x

  2. Pingback: some sweet uses of adversity | Sarah Campbell Designs

  3. It was a mean and small minded thing to do and she should be pursued as much as you feel able to or care to. What makes me cross is how it may effect your feeling about teaching for the students to come. As someone already booked onto a course with you in Sept and very, very much looking forward to it I hope that this person’s actions have not spoiled your enjoyment of passing on your experience and knowledge.

    Eagerly awaiting Sept
    Bridged H

    • Thanks Bridged – it’s made me feel cautious and we now make a clear statement about IP etc at the start of courses. But I still like running workshops – had a good time at Bradness Gallery this week – and look I forward to seeing you in September.

  4. A sad but riveting read, Sarah. Commiserations. I know so many people who smile and nick my stuff. I stopped showing my folio around town long before the advent of digital and still only give out my website on request.

  5. Yes, it is blatant plagiarism, but your work is art, and hers is not. She would say it is ‘in the style of’, pointing out how much darker it is, how much brighter the border (which actually makes it less tender than the original). People who copy art works, calling them influences, simply do not understand the lifetime it took to get to your original scarf. There is a Picasso quote here I think.
    From experience, there is probably a careful calculation of the cost of legal fees for you to pursue this; she knows this and is hazarding that you won’t take it through to the end. However, your reputation, background and following is such that a case would probably be settled out of court in your favour. I doubt she has the funds to pursue it to the end.

    • Thank you Stephanie for your generous, thoughtful and considered comments. I’m hoping to instigate a seminar/discussion on the subject of IP, inspiration, influence and plagiarism, and the various implications, both legal and creative…

  6. Dear Sarah – I was so sad to see what this blatant copyist had done and hope you will eventually be able to successfully take action against her. I still get great pleasure from wearing my clothes made from the Collier Campbell fabrics. The fabrics continue to be admired even by the chaps, which at my very ripe old age says a lot for the fabric designs!! I do so love your blogs and admire the way you have blossomed … please continue and don’t let this get you down. Copying has always existed in the fashion and creative world – I remember two very famous young designers both copying exactly the same dress from the pages of Elle at the same time many years ago, but at vastly different prices even though they were made from fabric from the same supplier! Love Shirley

    • How lovely to hear from you, Shirley – thanks for getting in touch, and for that great story. Glad you’re still wowing the boys! And thanks, too, for your really lovely words of encouragement. My nature is ‘onward’, so that’s where I’m heading! xx

  7. Dear Sarah – What an absolutely outrageous story…Having as I do, wonderful curtains (some converted into blinds) of Bauhaus, and other Collier Campbell designs, still going v v strong after ( TRULY!) 42 years, I never lose the pleasure of having such especially beautiful and unique companions to daily life..
    Naked plagiarism and greed.will reap their own negative harvest in the long run. (And the shorter run if you get her into court!)
    with love, Sally

  8. Callous plagiarism of the worst kind, Sarah! If there is a saving grace in this, it rests in my belief that for every action there is a reaction. This thieving woman will know her share of betrayal in due time . .. yes, I am angry! But somehow love will overcome all. A wonderful post – thank you. xx

  9. So sorry to hear that you are the latest to suffer at the hands of those without the energy, originality or talent to create their own designs and therefore decide to steal them from others. Two of my local friends Eloise Renouf (illustrator and textile designer) and Katrin Moye (ceramicist) have suffered similarly. And I had the experience of spotting one of my recent designs in a photo of one of my followers’ wares (she denied it when I commented on the similarity). It is a common problem in these days of internet sharing of images. But I am particularly shocked at a student of your exhibiting such behaviour. Do you know someone who could send her a “legal” letter? It might not do any good, but might make her think twice in future perhaps?

  10. I BET THAT WOMAN WOULD NEVER DREAM OF SHOPLIFTING. I do hope it doesn’t put you off teaching and sharing. I gained so much from the two workshops I attended.

    • Thank you Grania. I’m sure I’ll go on teaching, if invited. This is an unwelcome exception; most students want to get on with developing their own style and interests – as you know – and it’s wonderful to see so many different and surprising outcomes.

  11. But that is pretty much NO DIFFERENT AT ALL from your design. I think if you took it to court you would win, hands down. Intellectual property theft is real and must be called out! Really! Obviously it is not accidental. Led Zeppelin had to pay out millions to many of the blues artists that they were … ahem … “inspired by”. On another note, a friend of mine who illustrated a series of books called the Girlfriend’s Guide To… told me that the author was successfully sued by a LAWYER who made money by coming up with clever titles and registering them and then suing people who inadvertently used the same name.

  12. I hope that this now resolves in a mature and positive way with a sincere apology and a withdrawal of the design. At Bradness we would be truly sorry to ever lose you as a teacher as we have had such fun in your classes, learnt so much and been so inspired. I am glad to say that the offence was not from classes here but it is so sad because you are truly generous with your knowledge and we have such wonderful feedback form the students who come.

    • Thank you Emma, you and Mike have been very supportive in this matter. I always have such a good time at Bradness and am looking forward to teaching the next course in July – perhaps we’ll get some summer outfits painted…!

  13. The Collier Campbell designs have given so many of us decades of joy – and unfortunately success sometimes breeds horrid envy. The theft you describe is outrageous, and I hope that it is punished. But please do not let it stop your generosity in teaching. Good teachers are more valuable than gold, and each generation needs inspirational springboards.

  14. Dear Sarah, how horrible for you and how right you are to be enraged by such behaviour after giving your time and energy to this women. What a nasty piece of work she is. You are a much much better person than her in all respects, generous and original. She will sink eventually, you never will. Love. Rohan

  15. I feel so outraged on your behalf Sarah. Trying to rise above the ‘thief’ – after all, that’s what the little copycat monster is – and if she had a conscience she would have to acknowledge that too, is still HARD! In the end, we all know inside ourselves when each of us is the real author of an idea, a design, a product, whatever, which is all that should count.
    And I truly believe that wickedness like this has to be paid for, and even if you will not know how, rest assured, it will.
    There is a court case involving a famous rock band at the moment alleging they ‘stole’ a chord from another band, yonks ago. That’s far more tricky, and I think it sounds quite different….. music sounds are trickier than visuals.

    LOVE your blogs.
    hugs, Veronica B.

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