Just before the Fringe Festival started in Edinburgh, I found myself in the Scottish capital and made a beeline for the Dovecot Studios. In association with the Fashion & Textiles Museum, the Dovecot was hosting a celebration of the most acclaimed fabric company in the UK, if not the world, Liberty. Featuring over 100 garments and fabrics spanning 140 years, this exhibition explores how textiles brings art into everyday life.
When founder Arthur Lasenby Liberty dreamt up his vision for a London Emporium in 1875, he wanted to metaphorically dock a ship in the city streets, with the store to be a celebration of fabrics and luxuries from distant lands. The success of the store was soon established as Liberty’s collection of ornaments and fabrics from around the world were irresistible to a society at the time intoxicated with Japan and the East.
Liberty’s influence in interior and fashion style was profound, so much so that the Art Nouveau period in Italy became known as ‘Liberty Style’. The exhibition is a historic retrospective, showing fashion through the ages.
Fashions of the time period are reflected in the designs, like these children’s smocks worn by both boys and girls in the victorian era and give a nod to the arts & crafts movement, but still incorporate the distinctive Liberty print.
Celebrating Scottish roots, the exhibition pays homage to husband and wife team Marion and David Donaldson who were responsible for bringing the swinging 60’s North of the border.
The couple arrived in Glasgow in 1966 from London on the back of a Lambretta with an armful of Liberty Fabrics. They had left London behind after deciding it wasn’t for them, Marion left behind her teacher training and David, who had been studying Psychology, whilst working part-time at the infamous department store, used his staff discount to purchase the fabric that would be the start of a lifelong career in fashion and textiles.
Marion set to work on her Singer machine, a gift from her mother for her 21st Birthday and secured a wholesale order of her designs to a local boutique, from there her popularity grew exponentially. They designed short A-Line dresses in psychedelic prints, there was nothing else like it. The couple made the leap from hand sewn to manufacturing as the success of the brand snowballed and fabric agents began to approach them. The pair retired in 1999 after building a brand with as much gravitas as Laura Ashley and Mary Quant.
Surface design could seem superficial, but the example of these Clarks x Liberty Collaboration is a reminder of how powerful repeat patterns can be in spreading a little joy into the everyday. These shoes are certainly enough to put a spring in your step and make the draftsmanship of Liberty print accessible.
Liberty’s signature style can be both timeless and contemporary. All these garments wouldn’t seem out of place today, they are instantly recognisable from across the room. Yet Liberty continues to push boundaries and aim to be progressive in design decisions.
In 2016, Liberty collaborated with St Martins student and winner of the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II award for British design Richard Quinn. He was picked up during his graduate show, where Quinn had blown up Liberty Prints and subverted them and printed them on to foils. The collaboration continued with a line of clashing prints and highly saturated designs.
This exhibition cemented my love of all things Liberty, (you’ll spot some hand sewn Liberty table cloths made for our wedding) it reminded me how timeless the designs are, solidified the power of the signature style and emphasised the need to constantly push the boundaries.
Luckily i’ll be in London next month and if you need me i’ll be getting lost in the haberdashery floor of Liberty with a new appreciation for this cloth.
All for now.
Claire & Co.