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Thursday 4 August 2011

The Fabulous (18)50s: The Orphan Arms

Don't tell anyone but I seem to have become a little ... Victorian ... in my tastes. Once upon a time, I would have been lusting after some 1950s florals, patterns and very bright colours. Recently it's been all about the 1850s: I have been lusting pining delicately after a moralising soap dish, some melodramatic bags, and now the work of The Orphan Arms.

Elaborate pen and ink illustrations, vague sounding product names that hint at a sordid underbelly, references to some of my favourite nineteenth-century artists: all part of their designs. And they manage to look pretty, rather than pretentious - no mean feat, I'm sure you'll agree. For example, this Smitten Hearted Poet's Club t-shirt is perfect for all the helpless romantics out there. It's £25.

I saw their work on the arm of Cait over at Wayward Daughter who took their Keep Lovers Not Friends tote bag on a visit to the National Museum of Scotland. With an illustration that reminds me of a slightly creepy waxed flower display, it's surely the perfect bag to take to a museum that was founded in the 1850s. All their bags cost £6 each - if Victorian murder and mutilation is to your taste, the Whitechapel Boys Club one is also worth a look.

Other designs contain references to William Blake, Edgar Allen Poe and, my favourite, William Morris, as shown here (selling for £20). I've seen this pattern reproduced on so many tea towels, mugs and place mats but somehow The Orphan Arms have succeeded in making it look fresh and appealing again. The same could be said of most of their pieces: turning expectations of nineteenth century design on their head, to produce something quite twenty-first century desirable.

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