Sunday, 25 January 2009

Liberty prints


I've decided to broaden the scope of the blog a bit, and introduce a little more of what I write about fashion, given that I do it every week in my column for Stella (the Sunday Telegraph magazine). Hope you enjoy it... Here's today's, and please let me know what you think!

One of my earliest memories of fashion – though fashion seems an inaccurate word to use for the things that thread together our past – is the childhood clothes that my mother sewed out of Liberty Tana Lawn; the lovingly smocked dresses for my sister and I, with tiny versions for our dolls, made from remnants bought in the January sales.

Recently, I’ve noticed that the mere mention of the words ‘Liberty prints’ is enough to make grown women turn misty-eyed, persuading several working mothers of my acquaintance to stay up into the small hours, sewing Tana Lawn dresses for their daughters as an act of maternal devotion. Those of us with less nimble fingers, but still harbouring a continuing passion for Liberty, can choose from a new collection of the prints at Gap (skirts and shirts for £45 apiece); or Kate Moss’s forthcoming range at Topshop, based on fabrics from the Liberty archives. These include an original Art Nouveau design, updated with new colours, a cheering red poppy print, and a lilac floral silk scattered with bluebells (a fabric now christened Lila-bell, in honour of Moss’s daughter).

Who knows quite what Arthur Liberty, the founding father of the company, would have made of these ventures (or the forthcoming fabrics for next winter, designed by the Turner-prize winning artist Grayson Perry, who wears bespoke Liberty print frocks)? But one hopes he would have approved, given that his stated wish, upon opening the Liberty shop in 1875, was to provide an opportunity for customers to buy ‘beautiful and affordable things’. As for why the Liberty archive of 40,000 fabrics should now be so influential – drawn upon by Nike and Luella Bartley, amongst others – well, perhaps it’s a sign of the times; a safe haven of prettily-coloured floral nostalgia, when the future is ashen-grey.

Not that Liberty isn’t looking forward: its various collaborations include an innovative project with Central St Martin’s College of Art, where the students are designing reinterpretations of the archive floral prints. And for those of us who are old enough to remember our mothers’ handiwork, but too young to have been properly schooled in needlecraft, there’s a new series of sewing classes at Liberty, starting in early March. (The courses cost from £35).

With this in mind, I’m off to buy some thrifty remnants from the haberdashery department, because who says austerity can’t also be beautiful? That’s the theory, anyway, though if you spot me in the dunce’s corner of the sewing class, at least I’ll be wearing a readymade Gap Liberty print blouse…

11 comments:

oxford-reader said...

I've never had a Liberty dress, but the mere words are enough to make ME go misty eyed, let alone anyone who actually had one!
It's good to know that the high street has picked up on the achive prints, because although Arthur Liberty might have had a vision of affordable clothes, I've never been able to walk into the London Liberty store for fear that I will look incredibly out of place!

Quail said...

Liberty prints seem to make people swoon these days when at one time they were considered sickly. Maybe Top Gear's James May has something to do with the trend. Or perhaps not.

Gondal-girl said...

Sigh. I love Liberty, wish I could get some of the fabric here. It is one of my fav places in London, so glad it is going strong - how many other lovely places collapsed and faded - viva la Liberty!

Hope you show us the results of your labours Justine

Lou said...

Justine,I loved reading this post!It has really brought back some beautiful memories.Every school holidays,my sister and I would be packed off to the country to stay with our aunts.My Aunty Marj always made us matching dresses in Liberty Print.Aunty Marj died last year at the age of 92 and I have been left her sewing machine.Like you Justine,I am going to need some sewing lessons if I am ever going to use it.

Justine Picardie said...

Thanks for all your posts. Oxford-Reader -- of course you wouldn't be out of place in Liberty! And it's a lot less frenetic than Topshop (where I feel incredibly elderly).
Quail: have never watched Top Gear, but clearly, must start now (memo to self...)
Gondal Girl -- you can buy Liberty fabric online, by mail order. Check out the website...
Lou -- how lovely to be left your aunt's sewing machine. Even if you never use it, it has such symbolic resonance -- thread it up, and it will sew together the past and the present...

Charlotte said...

I am another of those lucky girls whose mum slaved for hours to produce beautiful smocked dresses in Liberty lawn, sometimes matching ones for me and my sister. Seeing a Liberty print now fills me with happy nostalgia (their knitting department is the best in London too). Truly lovely things never go out of style

Jill said...

I am presenting "My Mother's Wedding Dress" at bookclub this Tuesday. I am thrilled to discover your blog Justine.
It is possible to get Liberty fabric in Canada. I did visit Liberty's in London many years ago and was in heaven! As a long time sewer, reader and once student of costume design, I loved your book. I am looking forward to the discussion we will have on a cold February night. The bookclub gals are bringing photos, memories and special clothing. I have my mother's 1945 wedding suit - a silk crepe, short 2 piece, formerly "Duchess of Windsor blue" (to serve at another occasion it was dyed olive green, with the buttons painted gold.)

Nicola said...

Hi Justine,

I'm part of a team working on the new blog for Liberty at http://blog.liberty.co.uk/.

We've seen your blog and specifically this post about Liberty fabrics, and would love to feature you on a new section of our blog called 'Liberty Loves', where we will be linking to sites and people who are talking about Liberty or using our fabrics.

As a popular fashion writer who has blogged about Liberty and your memories of wearing our fabrics as a child, we would like to do a brief interview with you, and use your answers with an image on the Liberty Loves blog. Please let us know if you would be interested and able to give us some material that we could use.

I could not find an email address for you and have had to sign in to my personal account to post this, but please contact me at web@liberty.co.uk

Look forward to hearing from you soon,
Nicola

simoncadbury said...

oh yeah :) the old times....

doctorate degree human resource management | Software Engineering diploma | doctoral early education

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