Liberty at 140: Liberty in Fashion Exhibition

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By Alannah Messett – designandcolour@gmail.com

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“I was determined not to follow existing fashion but to create new ones” – Arthur Lasenby Liberty

Founded by Arthur Lasenby Liberty 140 years ago, Liberty has been a huge contributor to the fashion landscape of Britain. Over 150 garments, textiles and objects showcase Liberty’s relationships with designers since 1875, from Yves Saint Laurent and Vivienne Westwood to Kate Moss, Topshop and Nike.

The exhibition charts Liberty’s history as ‘the’ fashionable place to shop as well as its role as the source of key trends in fashion history. The timeline of Liberty takes us from the artistic dressing of the twentieth century, through to the swinging sixties and Liberty today.

Here are some of our favourite pieces from the exhibition.

Illustration by Naomi Kratz, 2014

Illustration by Naomi Kratz, 2014

A dialogue with the East

There was a big demand for exotic merchandise in the twentieth century. Liberty’s textiles and collections at this time took inspiration from the East. The kimono was one of the big sellers, providing the basis for dressing gowns and wraps.

Kimonos, c1920. ‘The kimono style continued to be popular for dressing gowns as well as evening coats well into the 1930s.’

Kimonos, c1920. ‘The kimono style continued to be popular for dressing gowns as well as evening coats well into the 1930s.’

The Fabric of Fashion

Liberty had begun to produce delicate floral prints before WW1.

‘The 1920s’ shopper tended towards prints on a dark ground; these gave way to pastel shades on a light ground, which reflected the more romantic mood of the 1930s.’

The Tana lawn and Sungleam crepe were the more popular textiles.

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The Art Nouveau Revival

Designer William Poole redrew a selection of Liberty’s original Art Nouveau patterns, and recoloured them in vivid shades. The designs were released as the ‘Lotus’ collection.

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Kaftan, 1960. Liberty fabric print ‘Constantia’

Swinging Liberty

‘Youthful style and freedom’ was part of the fashion design in the 1960s. Liberty prints were used by many designers and large manufacturers, and Liberty fabric labels were often printed alongside their own, including the Dolly Rockers collection, produced by Sambo Fashions.

Jackets, c1968, cotton. Liberty prints designed for Sambo’s Dollyrockers

Jackets, c1968, cotton. Liberty prints designed for Sambo’s Dollyrockers

Collaborations

‘Liberty’s collaborative relationships with artists, designers and stylists expanded from the 1990s as its distinctive prints and fabrics were used by established design houses and new talent alike, who were drawn to its unique blend of tradition and innovation.’

Nike SS15 - the Nike X Liberty collaboration has now produced over 10 collections.

Nike SS15 – the Nike X Liberty collaboration has now produced over 10 collections.

Kate Moss for Topshop, 2009

Kate Moss for Topshop, 2009

The exhibition is on until 28 February 2016 at the Fashion and Textiles Museum, Bermondsey Street, London. Click here for more info.

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