One of my favourite memories of my senior trip to England was going to Liberty of London. I had heard of the store before and it was on my list of must-see shopping destinations (along with Harrod's). The Tudor-style building itself is a London icon and was incredibly impressive. I was actually there on a mission to find William Morris' Strawberry Thief fabric for a friend of mine(unfortunately, I never got the chance--my friends weren't really interested in spending hours going through fabrics in the attic of Liberty!).
Sir Arthur Lasenby Liberty was born in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, England in 1843. Growing up, Arthur gained business experience working with his uncles in their small businesses selling lace and wine. Arthur's father was a draper and at 16, Arthur Liberty became apprenticed to someone in the field. Afterwards he specialized in women's fashions at Farmer and Rogers, where he quickly became manager. In 1875, Arthur opened his own store, Liberty and Co. in Regent Street, London where he sold fabrics and art objects from Japan.
In the beginning, Liberty worked with a number of popular fashions, but as time went on the store evolved its own style firmly rooted in the Arts and Crafts tradition. Later it was one of the first places to popularize Art Nouveau (in Italy, Art Nouveau was actually called "Stile Liberty"). The company's claim to fame was its large selection of fabrics that were immensely popular as dress fabrics between 1890 and 1920.
Liberty of London made Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles much more accessible. Their products were much less expensive than those of Morris and Company because they had no strong commitment to avoiding mechanized labour. Thus, although their products were still costly (Liberty was and remains to this day, one of the world's leading department stores--not exactly Wallmart!), they broadened the market for Arts and Crafts goods significantly and made qualtiy goods available to the majority of the public. I wonder how William Morris would have felt about it? On the one hand, it would satisfy part of his mission--making beautiful things available to everyone. On the other, it would mean sacrificing his commitment to humane labour, something he was never prepared to do.
The image below is from Liberty's line of new fabrics for Fall/Winter 07-08. It is so refreshing to see such beatiful textiles being produced today!
I'm personally very thankful for Arthur Liberty and his beautiful store. I think a lot of people would have never seen examples of Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau style without him.
Arthur Liberty was knighted in 1913 and passed away in 1917,just before the completion of the store's magnificent Tudor-Style building.
For more information, visit Liberty's website
Image of Liberty Strawberry Thief Fabric picture courtesy of Beth Russell Needlepoint
Saturday, February 9, 2008
Posted by Margaret at 9:33 AM