Thursday, 20 February 2014

The statuses of Liberty

London's most stylist department store is based on the principles of quality and beauty, as these remarkable images from the Liberty archive reveal

Written by Alex Curtis
Its extraordinary – and hugely colourful – story stretches back to 1875, when Arthur Lasenby Liberty opened a half-shop on London’s Regent Street, specialising in exotic goods from the Orient. The Far East was hugely fashionable at the time and Liberty burst on to the scene to become the most elegant department store in Britain, even the world.

Liberty-Feb21-01-590-NEW1. Liberty Madurai Madras is woven in India 2. The Liberty mock- Tudor façade 3.A verdant print for S/S 2003 4. Yves Saint Laurent used Liberty prints

It was no less than Arthur Liberty intended. From an early age he had planned to ‘change the whole taste of fashion and decoration’. And so it was. By the 1890s, he acquired the other half of the store and the business began to develop a look all its own, the so-called ‘Liberty style’.

Liberty-Feb21-02-590-NEW5. Liberty fabrics are carefully handprinted 6. a 1940s poster advertising eveningwear fabrics 7. an Art Nouveau design 8. A Liberty Art fabric print 9. Preparing a silkscreen for a printed design at the Merton factory in the 1950s
The store quickly expanded into exquisite British-made textiles and furnishings.

Liberty-Feb21-03-590-NEW10. A 1940s poster for daywear fabric 11. A Hardy Wingback armchair, upholstered in iconic Ianthe print 12. A sketch from the Liberty archive 13. An Yves Saint Laurent design 14. Tree Of Life scarf, 2013

Liberty’s striking Regent Street headquarters, the ‘Tudor shop’, looks like it may have been a contemporary of William Shakespeare. In fact, it was only built in 1924, seven years after the death of Arthur Liberty, an enthusiast of the mock-Tudor style. Nevertheless, it remains one of the most iconic structures in London, an Aladdin’s cave of the beautiful, the crafted and the rare, far removed from the increasingly homogenised high street.

Liberty-Feb21-04-590-NEW15. A sketch of a ready-towear day dress from the early 1930s 16. Susanna pattern, 2005 17. The Felicite design, 1933 18. The Iseult design, based on a 14thcentury French evening gown 19. While working on a repeat design, a printer wears an apron to protect the print from smudging as he positions the woodblock on to the fabric


Liberty: British Colour Pattern, by Marie-Therese Rieber, is published by Goodman Books, priced £35.


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