LIBERTY AND CO: A Story of British Textiles

Liberty and Co. Art Nouveau Fashion. Courtesy Photo.
Liberty and Co. Art Nouveau Fashion. Courtesy Photo.

Liberty and Co’s fabrics have enticed everyone from  Mary Quant to Paul Poiret and Yves Saint Laurent.  To celebrate the  department store’s 140th anniversary, they released a book detailing its history and its more groovy moments in the 1950s and 60s.

Liberty and Co. in the Fifties and SixtiesA Taste for Design,” written by Liberty Archivist Anna Buruma is an anthology of some of the store’s greatest floral-print hits – from the 1930s-era wood block-printed Tara Lawn to the swanky Bon Ton silk of 1964.

“The 1950s were a frugal time and any retailer who wholeheartedly promoted modern design was taking a risk. It is perhaps for this reason that Liberty & Co. is not so prominent in people’s memories as a ‘modern’ store in the 1950s. In a way this was a period that prepared the business for its flowering in the 1960s,” the publisher ACC Art Books said.

The book also describes how from the very beginning in 1875, when Arthur Lasenby Liberty, inspired by Oriental design and decorative arts, opened shop, fabric has always been at the soul of the organization.

Selling elaborate fabrics, alongside elaborate ceramics and tapestries, Liberty’s textiles evolved and eventually demonstrated elements of style that became known as Art Nouveau. This was later coined the “Liberty Look” of the late 1900s.

In the 50s, Arthur’s nephew, Arthur Stewart Liberty , took over and infused a youthful edge into the boutique’s decor and clothing, as he incorporated the influences that impacted him on his journeys through the textile heartlands of Italy and the Paris fashion shows.

Until the 70s, Liberty and Co’s fabrics were printed at its workshops in Merton, where the fabrics were hand painted or silk screened.

Today the Liberty website remains a reference for young people, who are thirsty for inspiration and mentoring through its blog entries and its “How to Make” tutorials demonstrating how one can make a bomber jacket or sweatshirt by hand.

Liberty fabrics are still  very much in vogue, especially after Zara embraced its floral designs for its home decor and children’s clothing.



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