Liberty in Fashion
9 October 2015 – 28 February 2016
Celebrating the innovative designs of Liberty department store, and its impact on British fashion.
‘Liberty is the chosen resort of the artistic shopper.’ So said Oscar Wilde, a regular at the store that sought to mimic an Eastern Bazaar, while simultaneously creating a new form of distinctly British fashion.
Arthur Liberty’s original store specialised in importing exotic textiles and ornaments from Japan, India and beyond, but that quickly developed into the creation of in-house fabrics that embodied the aesthetics of the Art Nouveau movement and a continued infatuation with Orientalism. The designs proved hugely successful, appealing to leading artists of the day, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, James McNeill Whistler and Frederic Leighton.
This sizeable success among the fashionable elite saw the opening of brand-new premises by the 1920s. The distinct mock-Tudor design played on national heritage and remains one of the most distinctive buildings in London’s West End. It was constructed from the timbers of two old war ships, featuring a golden weathervane replicating the Mayflower on top of the roof, and the shields of Henry VIII’s six wives on display throughout the store.
The Fashion and Textile Museum celebrates both the unique heritage and continued ingenuity of this irrepressibly British brand in the largest exhibition of its kind to date. Key archival pieces include a 1890s cape made from embroidered Chinese shawls, a patchwork costume worn in the 1973 horror film The Wicker Man, and collaborations with contemporary designers such as Vivienne Westwood and Nike.