At the cutting edge of design and the decorative arts since 1875, Liberty is celebrated through more than 150 ensembles and accessories on display, charting the company’s role as the source and originator of key trends in fashion history – from Orientalism in the 19th century, Art Nouveau and Art Deco in the early 20th century and the revival of these styles since the 1950s. Highlights from the exhibition include an 1890s cape constructed from embroidered Chinese shawls, a 1930s Paul Poiret pink silk robe as well as items from high profile collaborations with Vivienne Westwood, Cacharel, Anna Sui and Nike.
Founded by Arthur Lasenby Liberty, the store began selling coloured silks but soon diversified into cashmere together with lacquerware, oriental goods and furniture, opening its famous dress department in 1884. Liberty continued to adapt to changing tastes whilst maintaining its strong identity – the 20s and 30s saw the development of the iconic floral prints that are still associated with the company, and during the 60s young designers such as Mary Quant and Jean Muir embraced Liberty fabrics contributing to the company’s key role in the 70s fashion scene.
Dennis Nothdruft, Curator of Liberty in Fashion said: “From the earliest imports and Eastern influenced and artistic dress to present day collaborations, Liberty has occupied a unique place in British fashion. Every garment in the exhibition has been carefully chosen to enable the Museum to represent the incredible range of textile designs created by the firm as well as to present an argument about why Liberty is always ‘in fashion’.”
Running alongside Liberty in Fashion is The Art of Pattern, an exhibition celebrating Susan Collier and Sarah Campbell‘s contribution to Liberty from 1961 onwards. The design duo energised Liberty’s textile collections for over 15 years – from scarves to fashion and furnishing fabrics, their hand-painted patterns include the hugely successful ‘Bauhaus’ range, ‘Cottage Garden’ and ‘Bird Stripe’, which was adapted for Yves Saint Laurent in 1971.
“We had the opportunity to work with Liberty at the very start of our careers – what luck! What other commercial company stood for such a stated commitment to the art of textile design and the colour, quality, diversity and interest in cloth? It gave us out benchmark,” said Sarah Campbell.
Over 100 painted designs, sketches, printed swatches and objects on display highlight the sisters’ painterly approach to fashion and furnishing textiles. The designers introduced a new tone and sensibility to Liberty’s house style, reinterpreting the archive and introducing the first abstract furnishing designs, and later went on to form Collier Campbell where for over 30 years they designed for clients including Habitat, Jaeger and Fischbacher in Europe as well as JP Stevens and P Kaufmann in the US.
Liberty in Fashion and The Art of Pattern can be visited from 9 October 2015 to 28 February 2016 at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London.