Liberty exhibition in London

posted in: Inspiration | 15

I have been so remiss. I went to this exhibition ages ago at the Bermondsey Fashion and Textile Museum. When Sew2Pro suggested we might take Sewniptuck to see it I had said it was an expensive museum with shows of variable quality, so we did something else instead.  But Sew2Pro, I was wrong. It was a great exhibition. Not least because they allowed visitors to take photographs. However that means I have lots to show you. So today I will concentrate on the clothes and reserve my textile photographs for a second post.

The shop in Regent street is my (and everyone else’s) favourite London shop. The company was started by Arthur Lasenby in 1875 with a loan from his future father in law. The loan was worth about £200,000 in today’s money. He acquired half a shop in Regent Street which he later expanded. The current Mock Tudor shop was designed by Edwin S. and Edwin T. Hall (his son)  using wood from the HMS Hindustan and HMS Impregnable. They used the authentic Tudor woodworking techniques to make stairs and balustrades from solid oak and teak.

His original idea was to change the way we shop and buy things – introducing a new aesthetic of beauty, bringing goods and materials in from the East – mainly India in the first instance. He wanted people in London to have access to nice, artistic things for their homes and to wear, Oscar Wilde was an early adopted and when he visited America in 1882 he explained that his artistic dress was largely acquired at Liberty’s. Mr Lasenby became very rich as his amazing emporium and notions of style and beauty really took off and he was knighted in 1913. His gravestone was designed by Archibald Knox, one of the talented Arts and Crafts designers he had previously employed.

Anyway you want to see some pictures, don’t you?

The first is a Japanese import from around 1905 made in orange silk with a lovely cowl back. The wedding dress is from the late 19th century, again in a beautiful patterned silk. Behind the exhibits you can see Liberty fabrics displayed.

I was impressed with the examples from the 1940s, especially the one of the left. The flowers in the dress had been carefully cut out, backed, zig zagged around the edges and arranged into a necklace/collar. A great idea worth copying, perhaps? Also I really like the textiles here (in the foreground) – black really makes the colours stand out and the mid blue with yellow, red and turquoise is also very striking, especially when compared to some of the wishy-washy apron-y styles behind.

There were some great examples from the 1960s too. The oriental influence is very clear in the lovely deep pink jacket on the left. The brightly coloured dresses in the middle are set off with a matching head scarf. I like the simple shapes and bold colourways.

By the 1970s the colour palette is getting more muted and a bit too brown for my liking although I like the style of the “peasant”, “cossack” and “gypsy” clothes; the empire line, the midi length dresses and the importatnt sleeves. I also like the use of two or three different patterns.

The exhibition closes at the end of February and I would recommend it, if you are in London. Unlike the knitwear exhibition (also based on the collection of Mark and Cleo Butterfield) you were allowed to take pictures. This really makes an exhibition for me. It is like taking something away that you can refer to later. And share on Instagram or your blog.

I hope you like the pictures. Did you ever have a Liberty dress? I thought these three were special.

Liberty fashions
Children’s smocked dresses, Liberty





15 Responses

  1. Jane

    This exhibition looks well worth a visit. I particularly like that neckline detail which would be beautiful for an evening dress. The little smocked dresses are lovely – we used to have dresses like that made for us by the lady next door when we were children but unfortunately not from Liberty fabric!

  2. Linde

    There is a poem by Browning where he says that when he died if they were to open him up they would find that the word Italy would be carved on his heart. Such was his love for the place. Well on my heart would be carved the word Liberty ! Everything about their fabric makes my mouth water from the cotton lawn to the silks. Their fabric department is now a sorry miniature of what it used to be. It is just a token of a few shelves where before there was a whole floor with bales of cloth everywhere. So sad. I used to save up and be in the queue at the Sales surrounded for some reason by tiny Japanese ladies who bought so much fabric I used to wonder if they had shops back home. Nowadays I have found a few web contacts in Lancashire who supply some of the Liberty patterns.

  3. Joanne

    You have just written the post I was about to write once I get my lazy arse out of bed! Wasn’t it wonderful? For Liberty, have a look at ClothKits – they have just acquired hundreds of rolls from the warehouse which they are selling off at a good discount price.

    • fabrickated

      Thank you Clarinda. It was a good exhibition and I love that you went to the shop and met the marvellous scarf sales lady. They employ some real characters. And yes I just got an email from them! Maybe I will list suppliers in my next post.

  4. Hazel

    I was there yesterday Kate and thought it wonderful. Thank you so much for posting the photos as my one regret was I did not take my camera only my phone which is too old to take any photographs.

  5. Susan

    I had one of those gipsy dresses in the 70’s, I think I bought a kit from a magazine, and sewed it up myself. Shaukat in Old Brompton road has lots and lots of Liberty fabrics, their website is terrible though.

  6. Sue N

    Wow it was so lovely to see the children’s smocked dresses – my grandmother used to hand smock them for Liberty way back in the 1940’s/1950’s – wonder if she did one of those? Thanks for showing them!

  7. Mary Funt

    Thanks for posting this. I will be in London mid-Feburary and will definitely plan to see this exhibition. I don’t wear many prints but there are some fabulous design ideas. I especially love the cut out flowers embellishing the neckline. This could be adapted to other fabrics. Thanks for the link back to your London shopping guide; very helpful in knowing where to go and what to skip.

  8. Lynn Mally

    The Liberty fabric I see today almost always has small scale floral designs–not my favorite, although I love the hand of their cotton. I wish they would bring back some of the bolder patterns here!

  9. mrsmole

    It is a real treat to see such vibrant colors and past fashions.For those of us who cannot hop a plane to visit such wonderful exhibits, I thank you for sharing your photos and descriptions with us, Kate!

  10. Teresa

    Got to love Liberty’s! Really like the idea behind the flower-ed neckline, might work equally well just on a pocket for a more subtle look 🙂

  11. Sew2pro

    Glad you managed to make it. I haven’t, but feel I must now as I certainly have a gap in my education. I always thought of it as a shop for the well-heeled and avoided it in my younger days. Recent visits have been off-putting too as the selection hasn’t been inspiring and the prices are very high. I did make a dress for a client out of some beautiful Liberty lawn printed with sweet little parrots but it was bought in Goldhawk Road.

  12. Fashion and Textile Museum

    Thank you @Fabrickated for your considerate review and kind comments. The Fashion and Textile Museum receives no public funding and survives through the support of visitors, exhibition lenders, speakers and volunteers among others. We always need to increase our visitors so thank you for encouraging more people to visit Liberty in Fashion before 28 February. We hope you will return for Art Textiles, Missoni and 1920s Jazz Age exhibitions in 2016. Thank you again,

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