Liberty of London is one of the world’s most beloved brands. It is an enduring and much celebrated label, having been operating for around 150 years. It is exceptionally high quality, quintessentially English design. It really is the ‘Best of British’. Exactly why is Liberty of London such a special brand?
Liberty of London was founded by Mr. Arthur Liberty in 1875. He was a draper’s son from Buckinghamshire. In 1862 he started working at Farmer & Rogers in London, a Regent Street fabric and garment emporium. This was the era of fabulous exhibitions, and in 1862 the International Exhibition in Kensington had a Japanese pavilion, which was a huge hit with visitors. When the exhibition was over, Farmer & Rogers purchased many of the Japanese items and they opened their own ‘Oriental Warehouse’, which Arthur was tasked with managing. Soon this section of their business was to become the most profitable. London celebrities of the day, socialites, artists and other wealthy and glamorous people were customers. Arthur Liberty began to move in these circles and counted as friends well known creatives such as William Morris, the famous designer. Arthur visited artists at their studios; he was known for his keen eye and his advice was sought after. So, when he left Farmer & Rogers to set up his own enterprise, those customers faithfully followed him.
Arthur Liberty opened a shop just down the road at 218A Regent Street, called ‘Liberty of London’. He put on 3 staff and very soon he was printing the first ‘Liberty’ fabrics. A legend was born.
Liberty designs reflected the style of the times but they also directly influenced the era’s artistic movements. Liberty of London was closely connected with the evolution of the important ‘Aesthetic’ and ‘Arts & Crafts’ movements in those years. It was an epoch of great changes with art, design and fashion. The heavy, stuffy, conservative Victorian look was out. Beautiful, light & bright, East-inspired fabrics and textiles were in. Liberty developed a house style which was a fusion of Eastern & Western styles and production techniques. They experimented with new types of fabrics. Liberty soon became best known for its elegant silks; its products were immensely popular and they branched out into dressmaking and furniture.
So said Arthur Liberty, famously. The firm stuck to this mantra. By 1880 Liberty was considered the most fashionable store in London. Customers included who’s-who around town, and well-heeled visitors from abroad would make a point of visiting. The ‘Pre-Raphaelite’ artist-rockstars of the day were regular clients and continued to have close ties with the brand, its designs and image.
During the next decade, Liberty formed unique relationships with leading and influential British designers. The company was synonymous with superlative quality, avant-garde beauty and spectacular design. Liberty of London was sitting pretty on the throne at the height of fashion.
In the early days, Liberty of London had made a name for itself as an importer of fine oriental fabrics, then as demand increased, they shifted to bringing in undyed textiles and hand-printing them in England. They had an important partnership with the favourite son of British design at the time, William Morris. He designed numerous amongst the most recognised Liberty of London prints. Archibald Knox was Liberty’s number one designer, considered one of the leading figures of the ‘Modern Style’ movement of the late 19th century.
Liberty went from strength to strength, and an enormous new Emporium, in the Tudor Revival style, was commissioned, due to be completed in the early 1920’s. It was a massive project; sadly, Arthur Liberty died in 1917 and never got to see his dream completed. The building is an iconic London heritage landmark.
In the 1920’s Liberty bought out the range of fabrics featuring small abstract, floral and paisley designs, which was received extremely well and these became known as ‘Liberty Prints’.
During the Roaring 20’s, head buyer William Hayes Dorell travelled to Africa where he came across a particular type of cotton - a variety of Egyptian cotton - which he named after Lake Tana in Ethiopia, the place where it was grown. The silky, lengthy staple threads were spun into a gloriously smooth fabric and printed with bold vivid colours in England. The qualities of this lustrous textile were super luxurious. Tana Lawn is a supreme material and a masterpiece of fabric technology. It is durable yet has a cool, delicate and silk-like touch: the perfect textile for Liberty to use for showcasing their designs. The company has been fine-tuning the fabric and the printing process since then, and continues to do so. Highly prized Tana Lawn is still considered the finest fabric in its class. Liberty of London is still finding new ways of refining techniques in order to maintain its prime position as the world’s number 1 producer of printed cotton.
1950’s – PRESENT
After the war and through the fifties, Liberty of London continued to fuse fashion and art to come up with bold new designs whilst their traditional products remained much admired and in demand. They took on new designers, moved with the times, and built new stores.
In the 1960’s Liberty re-released many designs from its archive, as Eastern-influenced and flamboyant designs were back in vogue.
Through the 1980’s and 1990’s and into the new millennium, Liberty collaborated with designers such as Cacharel, Jean Muir, Yves Saint Laurent and Vivienne Westwood, always innovating; always blending inspiration and imagination.
Currently Liberty of London has an archive of around 50,000 prints and has a stable of passionate creatives who draw and paint by hand designs for new pieces. Thousands of metres of fabric are printed every day in Como, in Italy. The process has become more technical recently and includes both traditional screen printing and also contemporary digital printing techniques.
Their company’s commitment to fresh, clever design is unwavering. Liberty does not compromise when it comes to quality. Their reputation as a business is the envy of others in the industry. Liberty of London fabrics will always be right on trend yet classic as well. Liberty has never been faddish fashion; its style endures. The garments allow you to play around a little with your own personal style when you wear them.
Liberty of London has been able to evolve incredibly successfully for well over a century, staying relevant and holding fast to crucial style elements; it remains an iconic, special brand today and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
One of Liberty of London’s famous clients, celebrity writer Oscar Wilde, once observed that, “Liberty is the chosen resort of the artistic shopper”. At Hare & Thistle we stock a choice range of Liberty products, so come and indulge your inner artist-shopper with us.

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