Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim'rous beastie...


Paul Simmons and Alistair McAulay who formed Timorous Beasties in 1990 met and struck up a rapport at Glasgow School of Art. They are remembered as a joy to teach. Paul, in particular, was fascinated by repeat pattern, the more complicated the better. Their degree shows in 1988, full of vivid, lively, large-scale designs, created considerable interest but the experience of work in commercial textile studios led to disillusionment with an industry monopolised by accountants. hgf The company name, from a poem by Robert Burns, indicates their Scottish base and refers to imagery of insects, plants and animals developed as students. But there is nothing timid about their approach to business. The minimalist 90s could not have been a more difficult time to develop such a non-conformist company specialising in large-scale repeat designs. With lack of commitment by bank managers, lack of faith by former tutors and difficulty in securing suitable studio space, they often felt like “design lepers”. But rather than following trends, they trusted their own judgement and, against the odds, created a market. They have fallen naturally into partnership. They design and work individually but complement each other well. Paul, originally from Brighton, is laid back, reflective and does more designing, while Ali, a down to earth, dynamic Glaswegian has the business acumen. They remain good friends which may be due to a mutual preference for challenging, rather than being part of, the mainstream. Nowhere is this attitude more evident than in their 'Glasgow' and 'London' toiles. dgdfgdf Irritated by trite, badly drawn and poorly reproduced toiles, they looked back to the original French monochrome prints, the best of which were designed by Jean-Baptiste Huet who created pictorial designs using contemporary subjects, the latest inventions and events. True to this spirit, Paul included scenes depicting today's social and political concerns in new designs. The resulting controversy was good for business, although they admit it is not difficult to be controversial in the textile industry. One design includes a figure with a gun threatening a student and, after an MP's complaint, they were asked to substitute a bunch of flowers for the gun. fewf They treat such political correctness, dumbing down and underestimation of the public with derision but are also concerned about the wider implications for future designers, already perceiving its impact in colleges where they see too little evidence of creativity and panache and too much bending to commercial constraints. They also believe there is not enough emphasis on drawing, while students themselves appear to want it all on a plate. Recognition came their way when they were shortlisted for the Designer of the Year prize in 2005 and, in 2006, won Elle Decoration's Best Textiles for their Lace Collection and Best Flooring for their Thistle rug. In addition they have worked with Bute fabrics and Philip Treacy, and designed interiors at the Arches, Glasgow, and the London casino, 50 Piccadilly. Despite recent success and awards, they are still seen as a commercial risk, yet they continue to set themselves new challenges both in hand printing and machine production. Happy Burns night 2016! This is an extract from Liz Arthur's article in the Chromatic Issue  of Selvedge. sfsfsdf

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  • Jayne on

    I love their work, all of it!

  • Jeanne on

    The statement for industry – “work in commercial textile studios led to disillusionment with an industry monopolised by accountants” and the statement for colleges – “too little evidence of creativity and panache and too much bending to commercial constraints” says it all! This is a brilliant duo and kudos to them for bucking the bottom line, the commercially-driven institutions of “learning” and never letting these 2 obstructions stand in their way! I have always, since design school in the early 70s where the students had to be regimented into mini Calvin Kleins, felt that creativity was sacrificed on the altar of commercialism! I also agree that today’s badly printed, fuzzy-looking toiles don’t hold a candle to the antique ones!

  • Jan ter Heide on

    Their work is fabulous.
    Very different from the trendy textiles.
    Their signature is unique.

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