Career-spanning collection of Boho Chic fashion innovator Marian Clayden at the Bonington Gallery

From designing textiles for free love musical Hair to creating unique haute couture dresses worn by cinema's biggest stars - Marian Clayden is the fashion innovator who brought 'Boho Chic' to the world.

From designing textiles for free love musical Hair, to creating unique haute couture dresses worn by cinema's biggest stars, Marian Clayden is the fashion innovator who brought Boho Chic to the world.

Beginning her art career in Nottingham, where she studied painting at the Nottingham School of Art, Clayden went on to create a comfortable and richly decorative design style that drew on her experiments with tie-dye techniques and global travels in the 1960s and '70s.

The resulting style, now labelled as Bohemian Chic, first came to prominence in 1968 when Marian was commissioned to produce the textile designs for nine tours of the massive Broadway hit Hair. "They wanted wild fabrics - the wilder the better", Marian recalls.

On the back of the musical's success, Marian began producing richly decorative textiles that blurred the line between art and fashion and reflected inspirations that included Japanese Kabuki, Grand Opera and the markets and bazaars of Iran.

In 1981 she moved into haute couture, setting up Clayden Inc which went on to produce four celebrated fashion collections a year.

Marian's limited edition handmade dresses and accessories, which have been described as 'art to wear' and 'wearable art that never goes out of fashion' were stocked by the likes of Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York and worn by stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Meryl Streep and Lisa-Marie Presley. Whitney Houston, in the film The Bodyguard, wore Marian Clayden.

"The real thrill of clothing design was making a successful combination of all the elements – body style, fabric, drape, dyeing, and how it moves when worn – so as to create a garment that makes the wearer feel she is enclosed in something as valuable to her as a work of art," says Marian.

"In America a Marian Clayden dress was regarded as the definition of understated elegance which is why they were worn by film stars on the red carpet; they were almost a secret weapon of elegance," says Mary Schoeser, curator of a new exhibition of Marian's designs and fashion garments which had its launch event at Nottingham Trent University's Bonington Gallery on Wednesday, 30 April. It is part of a series of events this year celebrating the 170th anniversary of art and design education in Nottingham.

The gallery is a fitting place to open the exhibition since Marian first worked as a teacher in Nottingham, at St Ann's Wells Primary School and studied painting at the School of Art which is now part of Nottingham Trent University. Clayden also met her husband Roger, a physicist, at a jazz club in the city before they emigrated to Australia and then to Los Gatos in California where Marian has had a studio since 1967.

Nottingham Trent University paid honour to Marian's roots in 2012 when she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Art degree in recognition of her outstanding contribution to international textile art and design.

The new exhibition, titled Marian Clayden: a Dyer's Journey Through Art and Fashion, brings together nearly 60 design and fashion garments spanning Marian's successful career. Although examples of Marian's designs are possessed by institutions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum and The Smithsonian in New York, this show offers one of the few opportunities to see such a large number of designs from across her career in one place. The exhibition will later tour to Preston, where Marian was born, and London and after that the items will be returned to Marian's family.

Items in the Nottingham exhibition are arranged chronologically. The first section deals with Marian's experiments with tie-dying and the work that led to her commission on Hair.

The second part deal with her increasing reputation in America and around the world in the 1970s and 1980s which included a year living in Iran and the later beginning of her atelier fashion business Clayden Inc.

The third section records the expansion of the business and her continual innovations which included textile designs made with household objects such as sandwich toasters. By 1988 Clayden Inc was producing four haute couture collections a year, the dresses and accessories being designed by Marian at Los Gatos and made in France. Marian produced her last full collection in 2005.

The final section of the exhibition reflects the global sensibilities of Marian's life and career which have drawn on living on four countries, her travel, inspirations and lasting reputation as a designer who has fused art and fashion.

"Life has brought many riches," says Marian. "Meeting so many interesting and exciting people; travelling to the far corners of the globe; and experiencing the similarities and the differences in the many textile techniques of our world. ...My work also opened many doors...and it has been very satisfying to be able to help textile workers is less fortunate conditions."

Marian Clayden: a Dyer's Journey Through Art and Fashion can be seen until May 16 at Bonington Gallery, Dryden Street, Nottingham which is open Monday to Friday 10 am to 5 pm.

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Career-spanning collection of Boho Chic fashion innovator Marian Clayden at the Bonington Gallery

Published on 2 May 2014
  • Category: Press; School of Art & Design

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