British textile design and fashion company
Founded: by Helen and Judy Littman, 1982; Helen Littman born in Brighton, Sussex, 1955; studied at Brighton and Hove High School for Girls, 1966-72; Eastbourne College of Art and Design, 1972-74; Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, 1974-77; founded Personal Items design company with Judy Littman, 1979. Company History: Began printing under name English Eccentrics, 1982; English Eccentrics made a limited company, 1984; opened Fulham Road, London, shop, 1987; first catwalk show, London, 1985; designed scarves for Royal Academy, London, 1989; Royal Pavilion, Harvey Nichols, and Girl Guides Association, 1990; designed scarf and clothing for Joseph, London, 1990; Exhibitions: Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Young Designer Show, London, October 1983; London Goes to Tokyo, Hanae Mori Building, Tokyo, November 1984; Innovators in Fashion, Pitti Palace, Florence, October 1985; British Design, Vienna, 1986; British Scarves, London, 1987; British Design, New Traditions, Boymans Museum, Rotterdam, 1989; British Design, Tokyo, 1990; British Design 1790-1990, Costa Mesa, California, 1990; Collectingfor the Future, Victoria & Albert Museum, London 1990. Awards: Avant Garde Designer Preis, Munich, 1986. Company Address: 9/10 Charlotte Road, London EC2A 3DH, England.
On ENGLISH ECCENTRICS:
Johnson, L., ed., The Fashion Year, London 1985.
McDermott, Catherine, ed., English Eccentrics: The Textile Designs of Helen Littman, San Francisco, 1993.
"Fabricated Fashion," in You magazine of the Mail on Sunday (London), 10 July 1983.
Brampton, Sally, "Still Crazy," in the Observer (London), 24 March 1985.
"English Eccentrics," in DNR, 25 March 1985.
Polan, Brenda, "Eccentric Fantasy," in The Guardian, 20 June 1985.
Thorpe, Brendan, "English Eccentrics in Retail Adventure," in Design Week (London), 7 August 1987.
Bain, Sally, "British Designers Preview," in Draper's Record (London), 5 March 1988.
Weibe, Susanne, "Beyond the Louvre," in WWD, 8 October 1991.
Fitzmaurice, Arabella, "Appearing in Print," in the Sunday Times (London), March 1992.
Gattemayer, Michela, "English Eccentrics: Moda Souvenir," in Elle (Italy), March 1992.
Menkes, Suzy, "From Cultural Symbols to Fabric Designs," in the International Herald Tribune, March 1992.
McHugh, Fionnuala, "Material Success," in the Telegraph Magazine (London), 14 March 1992.
Feron, Francesca, "The Eclectic Eccentrics Whose Designs Got to Your Head," in the Glasgow Herald, May 1992.
Davis, Maggie, "Fashion Notebook One," in the Observer, 9 November 1997.
Moin, David, "Saks Showcases British Style," in WWD, 26 August 1998.
"English Eccentrics," in Footwear News, 3 January 2000.
"From Ralph Lauren to Chanel: Crystals Line the Runways," in PR Newswire, 18 September 2000.
"Final Word on Fall, available online at Fashion Planet, www.fashion-planet.com, 29 September 2001.*
I believe that all women have their own beauty and that striving to look like the stereotyped images in our media can undermine this. However, I feel there is no reason why we should not enjoy using beauty products and I think dressing well is a great pleasure. We dress to enhance our appearance, and my aim in designing is that the clothes and accessories we produce are fun to wear and help to make any woman look wonderful be she overweight, over eighty, or a fashion model. I am always conscious of the body as the final showplace for my designs.
Named after Edith Sitwell's book of the same title, English Eccentrics established an international reputation for its distinct printed textiles since they were first sold at a stall in London's Kensington Market in 1984. The company was founded in 1982 by sisters Helen and Judy Littman when they began printing their designs onto fabric on the floor of their studio in Wapping. Helen Littman, the creative inspiration behind the company, trained as a textile designer at Camberwell School of Art, while Judy, who studied painting, controlled the business and promotions side.
The Littman sisters and their quirky company name were timed perfectly with the emergence of London as the most happening fashion center during the early 1980s, when the likes of John Galliano, Katharine Hamnett, and Vivienne Westwood were beginning to make their mark in international fashion. English Eccentrics was also mentioned in the famous article published by Women's Wear Daily (New York), when it announced in 1983 that "London Swings Again."
English Eccentrics is recognized for its use of extravagantly rich combinations of color and unusual trompe l'oeil designs inspired by a myriad of subjects, including travel, ecology, architecture, costume, and nature, which are translated onto the highest quality silks. Helen credits much of her inspiration from what she calls her own "Grand Tour," which was in fact a series of short trips abroad during which she used a sketchbook and a camera to record ideas for future designs. It is, however, the way in which Littman uses the ideas that is the key to her success as a designer.
Littman acknowledges "obvious cultural piracy is boring" and thus reworks each idea in a thoroughly modern way. Littman's treatment of her inspiration is clearly illustrated by what has become one of English Eccentric's best-known designs, called Hands. On a visit to Manhattan, Littman was surprised by the number of palmistry parlors she saw, which she found completely at odds with her personal image of the powerful city. For the design, Littman combined a handprint with elements taken from New York graffiti and palmistry diagrams. Its spiral border pattern was inspired by Gustav Klimt's painting the Tree of Life. The result is an abstract pattern printed in five colorways for scarf squares and which was also adapted for giftwrap paper as well as designs for hosiery.
The special qualities of silk have proved to be the ideal fabric medium for English Eccentrics because it enables very intense, vibrant colors as well as softer muted shades to be printed in accurate detail. Another feature of Littman's designs is that all printing is done by hand with acid dyes rather than pigment colors, which do not have the same qualities of clarity. Between 1984 and 1988, English Eccentrics also produced 10 clothing collections and translated their designs onto stationery, furnishing fabrics, and packaging.
The ensuing financial climate of the late 1980s, however, forced the company to tailor these activities, and the Littmans began to concentrate solely upon producing the silk scarf squares for which they were best recognized. These designs were also used to create a small range of classic garments such as shirts and waistcoats that incorporated the square scarf into their design. The company introduced devore velvet into their collection for winter 1993 with great success—their devore tunic became one of the season's key garments, worn by fashion editors, buyers, and film stars alike. The same season, English Eccentrics also enlarged the scarf range to include more than 60 colors, fabrics, and styles.
In 1991, Catherine McDermott, author of definitive works on Gianni Versace and Vivienne Westwood, edited English Eccentrics: The Textile Designs of Helen Littman, a lavishly illustrated, richly colored compendium of Helen and Judy Littman's prints reprising myth-based designs over the past decade. The vibrant patterns suit ties, shirts, jackets, shawls, dresses, and silk scarves, have appealed to a wide range of buyers, including Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, and Prince. For the book blurb, Littman explained the importance of travel, the women's peace movement, and environmental issues to her creativity, with which the design group Carroll, Dempsey & Thirkell permeated the text.
To Susan Weibe of Women's Wear Daily, Helen Littman elaborated on her label's individualism, "Our signature is our color sense and our imagery, which is unusual." For spring 1991, English Eccentrics showcased Elements of the Portman Vase at the British Museum for a tapestry appeal reflecting the painted imagery and abstractions of Cy Twombly, the Virginia-born contemporary artist. On exhibition in the Quai Branly tent at Paris sur Mode near the Eiffel Tower rather than the standard location at the Louvre, the English Eccentrics collection featured prices ranging from $30 to $400. Buyers from the U.S. could find Littman prints at Barneys, Henri Bendel, and Bergdorf Goodman.
For spring-summer 1994, English Eccentrics introduced its first ready-to-wear collection since 1988, which included sarong skirts, trousers, shirts, and jackets in plain linens, silks, and devore velvet combined with pieces featuring the season's new print designs on silk. Unlike many of their designer counterparts who achieved notoriety during the early years of the 1980s, English Eccentrics has managed to build upon its success while remaining firmly based in Britain. They export all over the world from England, which is, after all, the only proper base for a company of that name.
On-target choices have kept English Eccentrics current and hot. In fall 1998, Littman was showing clingy little-girl looks in button-up cardigans with scoop necks and circlets of glitter at above-the-wrist sleeves. For fall 2000, the design group incorporated a sprinkling of Swarovski crystals. Of the ideas that impact her work, Littman commented that she likes the hobo look for hand-printed dresses and chooses simple designs because—simply—she can't sew.
updated by Mary EllenSnodgrass