Iconic Artistry

Spanning back to a time that exceeds living memory, Arthur Lasenby Liberty, the son of a draper, embraced entrepreneurship by leasing a small shop after being refused a partnership at the Farmer and Rogers fashion house. The year was 1875 and the fledgling storefront was Liberty & Co. on Regent Street in central London. His avant-garde approach to recreating a colorful Eastern Bazaar changed how Londoners viewed homeware and textiles, establishing Liberty as a prestigious department store for the imaginative shopper.

In a world with a growing taste for nowness, historical depth is by no means a guarantee for future success. Liberty of London views their 140-year run as a way to further refine a tradition of eclectic designs. A prominent facet of the business that continues to be innovative while drawing from the past is the vast Liberty Art Fabrics program. In the mid 1880s, with the help of Edward William Godwin, Arthur Liberty challenged the runway fashions of Paris, placing such fabrics on prominent display. Being a huge proponent of the multifaceted Art Nouveau movement of the time, he fostered relationships with English designers — an ethos that contributes to the storied emporium’s culture today.

“Liberty of London views their 140-year run as a way to further refine a tradition of eclectic designs.”

After World War I, fabric buyer William Haynes Dorell introduced the lightweight cotton Tana Lawn fabric, naming it after Lake Tana in East Africa. Joined by high quality Silk, soft-touch Cord, Jersey and more, Tana Lawn continues as Liberty’s best selling fabric. It’s also the vessel for a wide range of floral and graphic prints, all of which are meticulously maintained in a vast archive stretching back to the 1880s. Fabrics are hidden from light in acid-free boxes, artwork securely placed in Melinex polyester sleeves and paper conservation is routinely being performed in conjunction with the Camberwell College of Arts. Amongst the pattern books, original drawings, product samples and fabric cuttings, over 40,000 prints are cataloged. Although Liberty’s network of designers are known to create compelling new artwork, the archive is constantly being referenced in order to offer fresh seasonal interpretations of classics. And in true Liberty fashion, a unique print name — either descriptive, named after their creator or someone special — precedes the fabric type.

As an introduction to the Fall 2015 Women’s Collection, Herschel Supply carefully selected the Liberty archive-influenced Deborah and Donna Leigh floral prints to compliment a partnership offering of backpack silhouettes.

Detailing Tana Lawn cotton, the Deborah artwork draws from a pattern book initially sourced at Merton Abbey Mills — a former textile factory that produced dyed and printed hand-woven fabrics for Liberty from the late 1800s until the early 1970s. The 1940s Deborah print sits amongst pastoral themed designs, with bouquets, garlands and accurately drawn flowers reflecting an interest in new plants entering Britain from around the world. The Donna Leigh, printed on Tana Lawn and tactile Cord fabric, was inspired by a William Kilburn design from the late 1700s. At the time, he regularly produced artwork for Muslin cotton that featured dark backgrounds with contrasting flowers. The renewed Donna Leigh maintains Kilburn’s original aesthetic, incorporating watercolored floral detailing.

These updated Liberty classics are amongst an anthology of lively printed fabrics — each connecting us to a considerable visual history that’s updated to suit a lifetime of approaching seasons.

Written by Frank Daniello
Photographed by Stephen Wilde

The Journal is published bi-annually and complimentary copies are available at Herschel Supply stockists worldwide.

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