Liberty Art Fabrics and Fashion
Opened in 1875 by Arthur Lasenby Liberty, the London store originally sold imported silk fabrics from the Far East. Subsequently, these silks were dyed using colour fast media and designs were block printed on to them at Liberty’s dyeworks in south London. By 1947 this was replaced by silk screen printing and later patterns were machine printed. Liberty traded not only in silks but also woollen and other woven goods and later, cottons.
This exhibition was a collaboration between Dennis Northdruft of the London Fashion and Textile Museum, and Anna Buruma who is the Liberty Collection Archivist. It has been adapted for the Edinburgh gallery space by Kate Grenyer the Exhibitions Curator at the Dovecot Gallery. Many items on show were on loan from the private collection of Marc and Cleo Butterfield. Acting as an historical survey it comprised over 100 garments and fabric pieces spanning 140 years. It included shoes from the collections of Cacharel, which used the well known Tana Lawn cotton and from a collaboration between Clarks shoemakers and Liberty.
Over time Liberty has collaborated with the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Vivienne Westwood and recently Richard Quinn from his 2018 catwalk collection. Pieces also represent the art trends of Art Nouveau, Bauhaus and Pop Art. In 1966 Marion and David Donaldson brought a suitcase of Liberty fabric from London to Glasgow and used them to create their design business under the Marion Donaldson label. The business was successful in the 1960s and 70s and they were one of Liberty's biggest customers for fabric at the time.
Liberty designers such as Bernard Nevill, Susan Collier and Sarah Campbell were well represented. Famous pattern elements such as the 1875 peacock feather, the Hera print, shown on a magnificent robe, and the Cottage Garden and Kasak designs were also represented.
Liberty fabrics were for everyone from high end designers to high street shoppers who could buy skirt lengths with sheared elastic waists which just needed a side seam to create a Liberty garment.
The range of fabrics included cottons for day dresses and silks for kimonos and romantic garments or for formal wear. Liberty fabric remains popular with quilters.
The exhibition was well lit and laid out so that many garments could be seen from the front and back. The exhibition displayed items grouped by era, showing the smocking of the early 1900’s, but revived in the 1970s, William Pooles’ Lotus collection in shocking pinks, greens, purples and vivid hues, beautiful satins with embroidered accents from the early 1900s and more.
Katrina Balmer, Edinburgh Guild