Liberty & Co Exhibition

Liberty KimonoThis week I visited the Fashion at Liberty & Co exhibition at the Fashion & Textiles Museum in London. And what a treat it was!

The Exhibiton

Beautiful clothes and textiles were exhibited dating back from the late 1800s, showcasing the elegant designs and luxurious quality of Liberty fabric.  There were no display cabinets around most of the exhibits and it was a real challenge to restrain myself from reaching out to touch the soft, silky kimono sleeves!  I’ve included some photos here, although these do not do the exhibits justice.

I was surprised to learn that Liberty do not keep their own textile archive, and so visiting this exhibition really was a rare privilege.  Most of the items were on loan from private collectors who have kept them in immaculate condition.

Liberty SmockingThe exhibition journeys through Liberty’s styles of fabric and fashion throughout the ages, including wonderful examples of Eastern prints, iconic smocking and ornate kimono dressing gowns.  It draws to a close with examples of present day designers, such as Anna Sui, who continue to use Liberty fabric in their collections.

The Influence of the East on Fashion at Liberty & Co

I was fortunate enough to be able to hear a free talk, given by the curator of the museum, entitled The Influence of the East on Fashion at Liberty & Co. which was very informative. Here’s some interesting information that I picked up…

  • Although Liberty & Co originally imported goods from Japan, it had to broaden it’s Eastern horizons to keep up with demand.  Therefore, goods were also imported from other countries such as Persia.
  • Textiles were originally all imported.  However, often these fabrics were, although beautiful, Liberty Floral Dressnot always very colourfast or durable.  Liberty began importing fabric and then dying it in Britain, and sometimes importing wool which was then woven and dyed in Britain.  This meant the textiles they were selling became more practical and durable
    for the buyer.
  • The Tudor style building on Regent Street was built in the 1920s, and was designed to emulate a row of small buildings.  The store was admired by the public, but derided by critics.
  • Although dressmakers and the public were buying fabric from Liberty to make up into their own clothes, Liberty felt that the garments being made were not always fulfilling the potential of the prints and textures they had so carefully chosen and designed. They thus began their foray into fashion, and created garments with their own textiles.  They were innovative, and endeavoured to provide an alternative to current popular trends.  This was especially true when clothing trends were very structured and formal, as liberty embraced a more relaxed and decorative style.

The talk touched on many other areas, such as oriental design features and artistic movements at the time of Liberty’s beginnings, which was extremely interesting.

The exhibition is open until the end of February 2016, and I would highly recommend a visit if you have the opportunity.  The museum is operated by Newham College, and there are lots of talks and and hands on learning opportunities, as well as exhibitions.  They also stock some useful books in their little shop, and have a lovely cafe!



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