I was delighted to find a book called Australian Accent in my local library this week. It features the designs of Annan Fabrics from the 40s and 50s. The bold screen-printed fabrics of Alexandra (Nance) Mackenzie and Anne Outlaw together are Annan Fabrics. Their studio was in Mosman (Vista St) for 13 years although a recent drive by makes it hard to understand exactly where. But I love the entrepreneurial spirit of these two ladies. Starting with decorative linen neckties using block prints and stencils Nan had a network of key influences in the design world. Artist Margaret Preston and the secretary for the Society of Arts and Crafts, Anne Outlaw who later became Nan’s business partner in Annan Fabrics. This network helped establish links with David Jones and other key clients for their fabrics.

Setting up shop in a former garage / cordial factory business had its hardships. Wartime restrictions meant dyes were hard to find. Buying up old dye lots from companies and learning to mix them through experiments ended up giving them an edge. Self taught, they manually did everything. Made their own screens, mixed dye, screen-printed, fixed colours in acid baths and rinsed the fabrics.

Floral Designs Nance4

At the time there was a renewed interest in Australian imagery. So their designs where either flora and fauna inspired or based around Aboriginal motifs. Their designs were radical for the times and won awards at Society Arts and Craft exhibits. Soon gaining the attention of DJs and Myer. There was a period when Annan Fabrics could be found in some form in most homes on the North Shore and even as curtains in Parliament house. After the war Annan Fabrics gained international growth. P&O Cruises had an Australia room on one of their ships and their fabrics where featured in London and Cairo. They even went into beach fashion. But it wasn’t long before cheap American prints flooded the market and diminished their market share across the board.

In 1954, Annan had the commission for 1,500 street banners for the royal tour of Queen Elizabeth II. But as subcontractors they went unpaid when the contractors went bankrupt. Unable to recover, Annan Fabrics closed in 1955. Anne Outlaw returned to England and Nance went on to teach at the National Art School until she retired in 1974 – the year I was born!

What a great story. Sad that it was ended by cash flow but as all businesses know cash flow is everything! I look around my little studio today and love the fact that I have heroes to now pin to my bulletin board. Strong women who had a dream and wanted to celebrate Australian design. All right here in my backyard!

Nance and her fabrics

Scren Prtining