Style Crush – Florence Broadhurst

Style Crush

This style crush is all about Australian designer Florence Broadhurst.

Florence Maud Broadhurst (28 July 1899 – 15 October 1977) was an Australian designer and businesswoman whose 1977 murder remains a mystery.   Born 1899, in Mt Perry, QLD a remote country town where she lived on a rural cattle station.  She rose to great notoriety mainly resulting from her compulsive ability to exaggerate as she claimed to descend from English aristocracy, she was charismatically fearless.  She was a flamboyant and fascinating character who reinvented herself with new hair colour, accent and new history.  She had a design brilliance that captured the world.

Florence’s career began as a singer where at the age of 16 she won a singing competition.  A talented musician and actor she founded the Broadhurst Acadamy in Shanghai in 1926 where tuition was offered in violin, pianoforte, voice production, modern ballroom dancing, musical culture and journalism.

In 1933 she moved from Shanghai to England and reinvented herself as “Madame Pellier” where she ran a dress store on Bond Street, London and proudly dressed the rich and famous.

She was also known to travel a lot through Asia and England, where she performed professionally on stage, exhibited as a painter and befriended royalty.

A decade later, Florence returned to Australia and settled in Sydney as an aristocratic English lady; an entrepreneur, society figurehead and landscape painter.  In 1959 she established Australian Wallpapers Pty Ltd., hand printed wallpaper which later became Florence Broadhurst Wallpapers Pty Ltd, advertised as “the only studio of its kind in the world”.

Florence was known for her brightly coloured geometric and nature-inspired oversized designs and these designs were all hand printed. Technical advances made in her studio included printing onto metallic surfaces, the development of a washable, vinyl-coating finish and a drying rack system that allowed her wallpapers to be produced in large quantities.

By 1972, Florences wallpapers reportedly contained around 800 designs in eighty different colourways, while by the mid-1970s she monopolised the quality end of the Australian market and was exporting worldwide.

In October 1977, aged 78, Florence Broadhurst was brutally murdered in her Paddington studio.  These events horrified and captivated national media, yet her murder remains unsolved still to this day.

Broadhurst’s library of wooden silk-printing screens and film positives was sold to Wilson Fabrics and Wallcoverings in 1978, just one year after her death. However, the decline of wallpaper as a popular form of home furnishing in the 1980s saw the collection languish, and it was later re-sold to Signature Prints Pty Ltd. Signature Prints in turn was purchased by a conglomerate led by current CEO David Lennie in 1989. Lennie had previously run a small wallpaper company in Auckland, New Zealand and briefly met Florence Broadhurst before her death.

In the late 1990s, Chee Soon & Fitzgerald, a small but influential Sydney design store, held the wholesale and retail distribution rights for Broadhurst wallpaper. This led to some popularity in Sydney design circles but little media attention. In the early 2000s, Signature Prints made a conscious decision to promote Broadhurst’s designs overseas, specifically in the UK. This effort, coupled with an international resurgence of interest in wallpaper, greatly increased the designer’s profile and led to distribution deals being struck for both the UK and the US in 2003.

530 Broadhurst designs are in the company’s collection but only a small proportion are printed by the company as wallpaper and fabric. The company retains strict control over the designs and insists printing take place in its inner-city Sydney factory. Some licences have been granted for other uses, such as high-end fashion pieces by designers Akira Isogawa, Nicky Zimmermann and Karen Walker. In late 2008 a rug collection featuring ten Broadhurst designs was released in Australia and the US.

Today Florence has left a rich heritage of design prowess.  The fame of her designs are admired world wide, the American fashion label, Kate Spade, now uses a number of the Florence Broadhurst patterns across their textile range.  A book has been written to mark this fabulous Australian Icon entitled, “Florence Broadhurst:  Her Secret and Extraordinary Lives” by Helen O’Neill.

Here are a few things that the design world has had to say about Florence Broadhurst’s designs:

“Her patterns are exceptional. They exist on the cusp of a paradox,” says British designer Ilse Crawford. “Every time you think you can sum them up, you can’t.”

To Deborah Lloyd, creative director of global luxury brand Kate Spade, the Florence Broadhurst archive is quite simply “ground-breaking and sensational” – “one of the most creative things that has come out of Australia.”

And behind each image is the woman herself, an endlessly restless spirit. Her eye was exquisite, her appeal fascinating, and her approach at times very naughty indeed.

Florence has been the subject of a multi award-winning, internationally published biography as well as a documentary directed by acclaimed director Gillian Armstrong!

So what made Florence Broadhurst the designer, a success?  I would say the key to Florence’s success was her daring nature.  She was willing to push the boundaries, she experimented with design and colour and didn’t comply to the usual path.  In saying this good design has repetition and this can definitely be seen in her wallpaper designs.

How can we apply the Florence Broadhurst design footprint across our interior design?  I think the key is boldness, choose what area of the room you are wanting to play up and do it boldly.  Use repetition throughout the room to create harmony.  Let your room evolve into the best version of itself.

She is a life, an enigma, a legend and a legacy. Florence Broadhurst – the story is not over yet.

Now, go and get some Florence Broadhurst into your home/life today!

Reference:  Wikipedia, Florence Broadhurst website, Australian Design Review.