Liberty’s department store provides me with a haven in busy central London. I could spend hours in their haberdashery department admiring their distinctive printed fabrics or looking at the interiors of their ‘Tudor’ building . I was, therefore, delighted when I found out that The Cult of Beauty exhibition, which is sponsored by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, will have further support from Liberty.
A couple of weeks ago, as part of a press tour, I visited the store and met Liberty’s archivist who showed us some sample books containing Aesthetic fabrics .
Liberty played a vital role in popularising Aesthetic dress and furnishing fabrics. Arthur Lasenby Liberty opened his shop on Regent Street in 1875. He specialised in importing Japanese and Indian fabrics which were popular among the Aesthetes. The V&A was an early customer, purchasing this kimono in 1891.
Kimono, 1860–90. V&A: 874-1891
The kimono will be displayed in the exhibition together with this dress which was made for a member of the Liberty family.
Liberty & Co., Dress, about 1894. V&A: T.56-1976
The dress department, which opened in 1884 with the guidance of the Aesthetic designer E.W. Godwin, encouraged women to dress ‘artistically’ and wear loose fitting, medieval inspired costumes that made them look as though they had just stepped out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting.
The store also worked with leading Aesthetic designers to produce the furnishing fabrics, such as this popular peacock feather fabric, which came to define the Liberty style. You may have noticed that it is this peacock feather pattern that we have used for The Cult of Beauty banner at the top of the page.
Arthur Silver, ‘Peacock’ Furnishing Fabric,1887. V&A: T.50-1953