A new exhibition opens this month at the Fashion and Textile Museum, celebrating the 140th anniversary of one of Britain’s most iconic fashion brands, Liberty, and charting its history as ‘the fashionable place to shop’
This autumn the Fashion and Textile Museum presents the first major retrospective of the 21st century on the pioneering retailer and design studio Liberty. At the cutting edge of design and the decorative arts since 1875, Liberty is celebrated throughout the world both as a department store and for its distinctive textile prints.
Founded by Arthur Lasenby Liberty, the store began on Regent Street in 1875 selling coloured silks, but soon diversified into cashmere together with lacquerware, cloisonné enamel, oriental goods and then furniture, at which point the premises were expanded. Liberty & Co. soon became one of ‘the’ shops in London, and Arthur Liberty’s clients and friends included the artists and aesthetes Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Frederic Leighton, Oscar Wilde, Dame Ellen Terry and James McNeill Whistler. The Liberty dress department opened in 1884 and Liberty style soon became firmly associated with a unique ‘fashion’ look.
Liberty continued to adapt to changing taste whilst maintaining its identity. The Twenties and Thirties saw the development of the floral prints that are still associated with the company and were a mainstay of these decades. ‘Young Liberty’ was introduced in the 1950s, showcasing the best of new British and international design. A wave of young designers in the Sixties embraced Liberty fabrics and the textile design studio continued to produce up-to-date, innovative designs. Designers such as Mary Quant, Foale and Tuffin, Gina Fratini and Jean Muir contributed to the company’s key role in the fashion of the 1970s. Liberty continues to inspire fashion today as designers around the world feature the brand’s distinctive textiles.
Originated by the Fashion and Textile Museum the exhibition features more than 150 ensembles and accessories, the largest number of historic Liberty garments shown together since the company’s centenary in 1975. They range from an 1890s cape constructed from embroidered Chinese shawls, a 1930s Paul Poiret pink silk robe with embroidered neck, hem and sleeves, a late 1960s Macedonia print dress similar to the one Yves Saint Laurent famously used, as well as high-profile contemporary collaborations including Vivienne Westwood and international sports brand Nike.
9 October 2015 – 28 February 2016, 83 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XF.