I had the opportunity to preview the "The World of D.D. and Leslie Tillett" at Museum of the City of New York on Tuesday. The show is the first retrospective of the work of textile designers D.D. Tillett (1917-2008) and Leslie Tillett (1915-1992), who were an important husband-and-wife design duo in post-war America. Perhaps most notably, Jackie Kennedy used the Tillett's boldly patterned textiles to fashion her sundresses as well as decorate her household interiors. (Other celebrity fans included Greta Garbo, Gary Cooper, and President Harry S. Truman.) Their patterns seem to explode off their cloths, as their son Seth Tillett described to The New York Times. I found their designs for women's and men's clothing especially vibrant; these items, shown below, are on loan to the MCNY from the Tillett family and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
I was most impressed by the timelessness of the Tillett's designs. The duo often adapted traditional patterns by rendering them vivid colors; decades later, these patterns remain as fresh as the day they were created (especially in a sea of museum goers clad in all black). Not only is the show visually powerful, but the curators' exploration of the Tillett's contributions to mid-century modernism is powerful as well. Unfortunately, the contributions of many textile designers, particularly those from the mid-twentieth century, have been omitted from the design canon (the Tilletts included). As Seth poignantly noted at the opening, the exhibition helps add his parents' names to this important list, and allows a new generation of designers and design enthusiasts to be inspired by their work.