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Beauty and the Beasties: Dark Spins

It's not hard to pick out the Timorous Beasties boutique from the chip shops and seedy tea rooms surrounding it in the commercial section of Glasgow's Great Western Road. Even in the context of the city's hip West End, the Scottish superstars of design would stand out with this clean, white shop, set back a few yards from the street like an amused sibling. It's this confluence of classic, high-brow sensibilities with contemporary urban aesthetics that has made TB's Alistair McAuley and Paul Simmons the darlings of the product design world.

Just inside 384 Great Western Road, fabrics hang from the ceiling: prim and proper laces in flowery patterns; shadowy red-and blue-colored fabrics and wallpapers; lampshades slung over art-deco lights. But look closer, and the prim turns grim–that's not a rose at the center of the Devil Damask, it's Satan. Those flowery lampshade patterns aren't daffodils, but microscopic views of moths and insects. And while Toile de Jouy, a classic 19th-century textile, typically depicts scenes of pastoral and agrarian life, the Beasties' London and Glasgow toile patterns show a more contemporary British life. "Factories eventually began creeping in [to the 19th-century style]," says long-time Beasties collaborator and employee Sally Johnston. "Our [prints], of course, are a bit more modern, with junkies, prostitutes, and goths."

The Toile series has made the Beasties a household name in design circles, giving them the prestige and drive to open a second showroom in Clerkenwell, London. Nonetheless, the Beasties remain egalitarian, reflecting Glasgow's love affair with design. "People are much more aware of design now," says Johnston. "They know Timorous Beasties, and they want to get a wallpaper, or fabric for [covering furniture]–people want a little piece of it all."

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