Fun fact. The woman who revolutionised British print design with some of the most iconic patterns for public transport was in fact a distant cousin of Karl Marx. Her name was Enid Marx, and in 1937 she was selected by the London Passenger Transport Board to design the moquette seat fabrics for the London bus and tube seats. Her mission was to design patterns that could hide wear and dirt but also avoid the “dazzle” problem – the potentially nauseating effects of a pattern in motion. In light of the often nauseating political climate as of late, particularly for Britain, I thought we might help provide some comfort by revisiting some of London’s oddly alluring public transport textiles…
Let’s start with Enid Marx’s iconic “shield” pattern that was used on the London Underground for decades. Her designs added a cheerfulness to the daily commute, particularly during the war when the British people were in desperate need of distraction from the grim reality of the London Blitz.
The city’s often ignored moquettes were first applied to London transport seating in the 1920s, and the designs have been mass-produced in thousands of metres of identical fabric by the same company since the 1830s.
Versatile and overlooked works of art in fabric form, the vintage patterns can evoke all sorts of emotion and nostalgia, triggering fond memories of journeys made around London over the years.
At the 2019 London Design Festival, public transport moquettes of yore were officially back in style, with a refreshingly candy-coloured twist. Inspired by designs from the Transport for London fabric archives (dating back to the 1930s), British textile brand Kirkby Design recreated seven heritage moquette patterns featured on the city’s Underground tube seats.
These overlooked designs have long accompanied generations of Londoners and visitors around the city on one of the oldest subway systems in the world. And with the current mood in Britain, we hope they might provide a just a little bit of comfort for some.
Vintage images courtesy of the Transport for London Archives.