Filling in the gaps


What is a traditional Liberty of London print? A simplistic reply might be “a dense floral on cotton lawn”: but that would reduce a rich and varied identity to just one of its manifestations. What distinguishes a Liberty textile and sets it apart is a mixed recipe of colour, cloth, printing method, the rich influence of the East and fresh, contemporary design. liberty-exhibition-image4 When Arthur Lasenby Liberty opened his shop on Regent Street in 1875, his stock consisted entirely of beautiful eastern silks. Advertised as soft and flowing they were available in rich and subdued colourings. As the company grew and demand increased, Liberty commissioned Thomas Wardle to reproduce these colours, and after some canny promoting this range of hues and tones became known as the Liberty Art Colours. Prints were taken directly from Indian and Japanese sources. Of course an astute businessman like Liberty knew he couldn't rely on the oriental craze to continue indefinitely and he branched out into other areas, commissioning new patterns. Although never directly credited, designers such as Lewis F Day, Lindsay Butterfield, Christopher Dresser and the Silver Studio contributed designs. lib1 Throughout the 1880s a close connection to the oriental style was maintained. The Indian influence was there, in the floral and paisley designs; and there were Japanese inspired drooping blossoms over stylised streams. From the 1890s, the stylised shapes of Art Nouveau crept into Liberty's designs. They evolved directly from the Arts & Crafts Movement and the flowers seemed blockier than, for example, French designs of the same period. Although floral designs dominated, other themes included Persian musicians, and Japanese ladies: there were also some surprising abstracts and a number of geometric patterns. lib4 By the late 1910s the difference was more pronounced: alongside the heavy Jacobean style prints that were now printed on furnishing fabric to go with popular 'period' schemes, were bright outlined stylised florals and geometrics in strong colours made newly fashionable through the success of the Ballets Russes. During the 1920s new fashions influenced dress fabrics, both in colour, with bright highlights on dark grounds, and in fabrics which became softer and shinier. The Liberty cotton buyer, Mr Dorrell, introduced a new lawn, called tana lawn after Lake Tana between Sudan and Ethiopia where the cotton was produced. A great many new designs were commissioned for this cotton. Small pretty flowers in all over designs were printed on tana lawn and quickly created a new Liberty identity. Extract from No.6 The Blossom issue of Selvedge Make your mark on this stunning collection of patterns from the Liberty archive with The Liberty Colouring Book. Paperback £6.99 ISBN: 9780241249987 Liberty in Fashion At The Fashion And Textile Museum 9 October 2015 – 28 February 2016  

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