Tag Archives: Liberty of London

Updates – The Rest of the Story

Image courtesy and copyright of Beth Walker.


Some time ago I posted about how a lucky reader had found three Brooke Cadwallader Christmas scarves.  As luck would have it, Cadwallader’s great-nephew, David Noyes,  recently commented on the post:

Brooke Cadwallader was my great uncle. I worked with him in his factory, Casa de los Gallos S.A. as a teenager.  I hand-inked the opaques for the silk screens. He was a meticulous craftsman who insisted on perfection from himself and from everyone else, but he was also a kind and generous man who infused everything he did, including his art and his business, with wry humor. He treated his employees like family.

He never copyrighted any of his designs and they were freely imitated -if not stolen- for decades. Leopard skin print? Originally by Brooke Cadwallader. Rattan print? Originally by Brooke Cadwallader. Toile wallpaper print? Originally by Brooke Cadwallader.

When he lost his factory and business due to bureaucratic laws and a crooked accountant, he burned all of his screens, stock fabric and most of his designs before vacating the premises.

When he passed away some 30 odd years ago, I settled his estate (being the only one in my family with Spanish) and I have all of his sample books, many neckties and a number of shirts made from his fabrics.

It was a delight learning more about Cadwallader from someone who actually knew him.

Images copyright and courtesy of Suzanne Williams


Here’s another look at Blanche Nechanicky’s 1920s middy dress.  Reader Nancy very kindly looked for information about Blanche on Ancestry.com, and she hit the motherload!  Because of her unusual name and because we knew the year of her birth, Nancy located Blanche in census records, in city directories, and on ocean liner passenger lists.  There are even yearbook photos. According to the 1929 Iowa State University yearbook, The Bomb, she was majoring in home economics, as were all the other young women on the page.

Remember this Liberty Tana lawn blouse I made last summer?  I heard from Richard Reynolds at GuerrillaGardening.org who told me the story behind my fabric.

The fabric is a special one to me and my wife Lyla as it is actually about us, it’s a portrayal of guerrilla gardening in London with us both in it from Liberty’s spring summer 2013 collection. Liberty even called the fabric Richard and Lyla.  On the Liberty blog, and for sale online.

I always love learning more about the topics discussed here, so please email or post when you can add the rest of the story.


Filed under Rest of the Story

Currently Reading: Liberty: British, Colour, Pattern

Liberty of London is one of those companies whose products make my heart skip a beat.  Their Tana Lawn cottons simply cannot be beaten, and the scarves are some of the best in the world.  I always have my eyes open for Liberty scarves and garments made with Liberty fabrics when thrifting, as quality of this caliber comes at a price.  I also appreciate the history of the company, which has its roots in the Orientalist movement of the nineteenth century.

I can’t remember where I first saw this book, but after seeing the photos online I scurried off to Amazon to see if it were available.  This was back in the summer, and the book just arrived last week.  I spent much of that afternoon being absorbed into the world of Liberty textiles.

For those not familiar with Liberty’s history, the author, Marie-Therese Rieber, gives a good overview of it.  She tells about the founder, Authur Liberty, and how his Oriental emporium became one of the world’s most famous stores.  But the best parts of the book are the sections about the Liberty textiles and the clothing made from them.  Above you see two early twentieth century evening wraps.

An interesting feature of the book is that it is somewhat interactive.  The are several envelopes throughout that are filled with replicas of old Liberty advertising and other ephemera.  These are quite interesting, but this type of thing adds considerably to the cost of the book.  I enjoyed playing with all the little bits, but I’m not sure they actually add a lot to the value of the book.

Fortunately, there is more than enough great information in the book to make it valuable to the lover of textiles.   There was an excellent feature on how the Tana Lawns were originally block printed by hand.

In the early 1930s Paul Poiret was commissioned to do designs for Liberty.  The green and ivory gown on the left was designed by Poiret for Liberty in 1933.  Seeing all these early 1930s designs along with the fabric swatches makes me want to spend a week lost in the Liberty archives.

The peacock scarf above is in one of Liberty’s trademark prints, the Hera.  It was created in 1887  and continues to be a Liberty favorite.

In the late 1960s, Liberty prints became very popular with fashion designers, and so Liberty expanded the fabrics available to designers.  Their fabric designers like Bernard Nevill and Susan Collier called upon the feeling of nostalgia for Art Nouveau and Art Deco in their work.

The last section of the book is about modern Liberty prints and the inspirations and stories behind them.  This is the stuff textile lovers dream of.  To fully appreciate this book, you have to love textiles, and Liberty in particular.  It is not so much about fashion, and there is a small section on Liberty furniture and ceramics.  Still, there was enough material that was new to me to earn this book a spot in my library.



Filed under Currently Reading

Simplicity 4945 in Liberty Tana Lawn

I’ve been doing quite a bit of sewing lately, and have a new project to show off.   Back in the early spring when Waechter’s Fine Fabrics announced they were closing, I scurried over to take advantage of their sale and to stock up on some fine fabrics.  Among my purchases was this Tana lawn novelty print of London and the surrounding countryside.  I’d been looking at it lovingly ever since it arrived at the shop, and I knew this was my chance to buy it, and at 25% off.

My plan was to make a skirt, and I already had the pattern pieces out when it occurred to me that what I really needed was a light, cool, cotton blouse.  I went through my collection of patterns and came up with Simplicity 4954 which is from the early 1960s.  I’d made the top before out of seersucker, and it is a favorite – easy to wear, cool and comfortable.

The colors are much truer in this photo, as the top one was taken in low light with my cell phone camera.  The colors are nice and clear, with shades of blue on a white background.

Although the pattern calls for a button at the neckline, I haven’t used one.  It just seems less fussy without it.

I really love designs where the sleeve is cut with the bodice or, as in this case, with the yoke.  It’s a design element seen often in the early to mid 1960s.

From the time I decided to make this top to the minute I finished the hem was about three hours.  That is a very fast project for me, especially since I used French seams (and faux French seams) throughout.  I did save a lot of time by doing all the finishing on the machine.  And because I’d made the pattern before I did not need to do a muslin trial.

And here is the finished project, in a too dark photo.

This is my third garment that I’ve made using Liberty’s Tana lawn, and it is simply a dream to sew.  It’s tightly woven so even though I used French seams, this fabric also does well when simply finishing using pinking shears.

I’ve been trying to add a few prints into my wardrobe of solid blue, black, white and red.  My idea of a print is a nice mariner’s stripe, or for winter, a wool plaid.  Even though I love vintage novelty prints and actually collect them, I only have one example in my own closet.   Maybe it’s time to change that.

I wore it for the first time this weekend, and it performed beautifully.  It stayed crisp and cool and was perfect for a hot summer day.  My silly self-portrait makes me look as if I have a halo, but my friends and family can assure you that is a bit misleading!

Edited to show a better photo of me and the blouse.


Filed under Novelty Prints, Vintage Sewing

Cacharel and Liberty, Perhaps?

One of the must-have items for chic French girls in the mid 1960s was a Cacharel shirt.  Cacharel was founded in the late 1950s by Jean Bousquet, and by 1962 he was making the product that made his fortune – a woman’s shirt cut like a man’s, but trim-fitting and neat.

In 1966, Audrey Hepburn made the film, Two for the Road, in which her wardrobe was pulled from current ready-to-wear collections rather than her usual Givenchy designed wardrobe.  Included were five Cacharel shirts, which she loved so much that she went out and bought some for herself. (Side note: This is a must-see movie, if only for the clothes.)

By 1968 the Cacharel shirt was old hat and Bousquet started looking for a new twist.  He found it in an old-fashioned fabric – the Liberty Tana Lawn.   Under the design direction of his young sister-in-law, Corinne Sarrut, Cacharel began making the shirts from Liberty cottons.  Soon Sarrut was designing a full range of garments using Liberty fabrics.  Combined with a soft and romantic ad campaign photographed by Sarah Moon who created images similar to the ones she created for Biba, Cacharel moved into the 1970s with a look that fit in perfectly with the nostalgia trend.

I rarely find anything with the Cacharel label, so it was a pleasure to pull this shirt out of the Goodwill bins last week.  The first thing that went through my mind was that maybe this was an example of the Liberty/Cacharel shirt.

Of course, the best evidence would have been a label that read “Liberty” but the shirt only has the Cacharel label.  That alone does not prove the fabric is not from Liberty.  I’ve looked at many, many Cacharel shirts online in the past fifteen or so years, and the only ones I’ve ever seen Liberty labeling in are a new line that was released about two years ago.   If anyone has ever seen a vintage Cacharel shirt that also has a Liberty label, I’d love to hear about it and if possible, to see photos.

The label you see that is in mine was used at least in the 1970s, and into the 80s.  There were other color variations, and I’ve often wondered if the purple on white (which are colors also used by Liberty) label was not used on items with Liberty fabric.  Or more likely, I’m over-thinking that one!

Here’s a close-up of the print.  I don’t normally think of a one color on white print when I think of Liberty, but a quick search shows that they are really quite common.  The feel of the fabric is soft and cool, like known Liberty fabrics in my fabric stash.

But whether or not the fabric is from Liberty, I also needed to determine the age.  The biggest clue is in the shape of the collar.  We tend to think of longer points on collars being from the 1970s, but I found a 1968 photo of Jean Bousquet and a model wearing one of the new Liberty shirts.  The collar shape is the same as the one on my shirt.

There is one last clue:

The shirt has a small acetate tape with the international symbols for clothing care.  That was pretty confusing, because these have not been in use in the US all that long.  A quick search led me to a VFG thread on the subject, and from there I was led to a site that says the labels were in use in that from since 1958.  According to the discussion, one of the first countries to use the symbols was France, but that the use of them was not common until the 1970s.  Is it conceivable that they were used in 1968?  Yes, but that would be a very early use of the symbols.

So, I pretty much know that the shirt dates between 1968 and the mid 1970s.  Any thoughts?

This is one of those times that having just the right book came in handy.  Cacharel: Le Liberty by Jeromine Savignon and published by Assouline, tells the story and provided the photo of Jean Bousquet and the model.  Photo copyright Lipnitski/Roger-Viollet


Filed under Collecting, Designers, Uncategorized, Vintage Clothing

A Liberty Scarf, and the Value of Not Being Unusual

I bought this Liberty of London scarf at the Metrolina Flea Market several weeks ago.  I pulled it out of an overflowing box of scarves because the print was practically yelling “Liberty!”  Although it is not terribly old, it has that wonderful British Arts and Crafts-William Morris-Art Nouveau look about it.  And that is what Liberty is all about.

One thing some on-line sellers love to say about their items is that they are “rare.”  I also read the word “unusual” a lot in descriptions.  Of course most of the time the item is not rare at all.  But what about the items from a known designer or company that are truly unusual?

As an example, I love the sportswear designs of Tina Leser, but occasionally I run across a suit designed by her.  They are quite rare, but does that alone make them desirable?  For my part, I’d much rather have a well designed play ensemble than an awkward-looking suit made by a person unaccustomed to designing suits.  You don’t go to LL Bean for a bridal gown any more than you would go to Vera Wang for hiking boots.

For a person or institution who collects only garments from Tina Leser, the suit would be a very nice find, but for those of us who want an example of the designer at her best, we would rather have the more common playsuit or bathing suit.  If I have a scarf from Liberty, I want it to look like a Liberty print.

It is often the quintessential design that is most valuable.  Liberty scarves in the famous Peacock Feather print always fetch a nice sum on ebay.

If anyone knows the name of this print, I’d be eternally grateful if you would share it with me.


Filed under Collecting, Viewpoint, Vintage Clothing

Liberty, Just Because

Lisa, who owns Five and Diamond, a vintage clothing store in Hudson, New York, sent me the links to photos of three lovely Liberty of London dresses that she bought recently from an elderly lady.  I couldn’t help but think that I’ve have worn these when they were new (in the late 1960s or early 70s) and I’d wear them today.  Nothing like a fabulous Liberty shirtdress to stand the test of time, is there?

Thanks to Lisa for sending the photos my way.  As I said, she lives in New York but her mother lives right down the road from me in Flat Rock, NC.  Small world!


Filed under Vintage Clothing

Liberty of London

As promised, today’s post is a short history of Liberty of London, with a special emphasis on their fabrics and fashion lines.  Liberty of London made their reputation first by importing the finest Oriental fabrics, and later by producing fabrics of their own design. Today, over 135 years after the company was formed, they are still considered leaders in the field.

Arthur Lasenby Liberty was born in 1843 in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, England, the son of a draper. When Liberty was sixteen, he worked first for an uncle who owned a lace warehouse, and he then went to London to work in another uncle’s wine business. In 1859 he was appprenticed to a draper, but the apprenticeship was ended after two years with both parties in agreement. He then found a position at Farmer & Rogers’ Great Shawl and Cloak Emporium, a position that was to set him on the course of his life’s work.

In 1862, Farmer & Rogers opened an Oriental importation business – one of the first such businesses – and Liberty was put to work in this Oriental Warehouse. Here he gained an appreciation for and knowledge of Oriental ceramics, textiles and other arts. After being the manager of the Oriental Warehouse for over ten years, Liberty decided to open his own business selling Oriental imports. This shop, called the East India House, was opened by Arthur Liberty in 1875. The original store was on Regent Street, and they sold mainly objects from the East – rugs, fabrics and decorative objects. The East India House was likened to an Eastern Bazaar, and it came to be a meeting place for artists, and in time became an important part of the Aesthetic Movement.

Within a few years, Liberty’s Oriental fabrics were so popular that the store, now called Liberty, had a difficult time meeting the demand they had created. At the same time, the quality of goods being imported was starting to drop. Liberty began to import undyed silk, cashmere and cotton fabrics, which were then handprinted in England, in the style of Oriental fabrics. During this time the company developed a soft palatte of colors, which became known as “Liberty colors.”

In 1884, Liberty established a costume department, in which clothing was designed and made from Liberty fabrics and which was in tune with the artistic philosophy of the rest of the store. Liberty maintained their own costume workrooms in which clothing was produced. The goal was not to make clothing that followed fashion; it was to make clothing based on historical costume, reinterpreted for the modern wearer. These were not clothes for the average tightly corseted woman of 1884, but instead were more in keeping with the taste of the Aesthetic Movement.

In 1890, a branch of Liberty was opened in Paris, France, (closed in 1932) and another in Birmingham. By this time twelve cities in Britain had shops that offered Liberty products, and there were agents around the world who were associated with Liberty, including ones in New York, Boston and Chicago.

Liberty was one of the first to embrace the new Art Nouveau style in the mid 1890s. They became known for their textiles in this style, some of which are still produced today.

As the Aesthetic Movement began to lose favor, and the Belle Epoque was ushered in, Liberty saw the need to make fashions that were more stylish, but at the same time they continued to make classically draping aesthetic dresses. The catalogues became divided into two sections – Novelties for the New Season, which showed the latest fashions, and Costumes Never out of Fashion, which continued to feature the Empire silk gowns in classical style. This division of the catalogue continued at least until the mid 1920s.

In 1925, a new store was opened in Great Marlborough Street. This store was in the Tudor Revival style, and it still houses Liberty. Also in the 1920s, Liberty began to produce small floral prints that became known as Liberty Prints. The best known of the fabrics of this time was the Tana Lawn, which is still a Liberty best-seller. Tana Lawn was so named because the cotton from which it was made originated in the area near Tana Lake in the Sudan.  All the fabric swatches shown here are from my collection of Tana Lawn scraps.

By the late 1920s, Liberty was considered to be quite old-fashioned, fashion-wise. In 1926, it was noted that not even the colors of the fabric prints had changed since 1920, and they were still using the out-moded term, “Costume Department” in reference to their clothing selection. In 1932, in an effort to maintain a connection with Paris, and to up-grade the image of their fashion department, Liberty hired Paul Poiret to design for them, not realizing that he too was completely out of step with the march of fashion. He designed four collections for Liberty in 1932 and 1933.

Over the years, many of the world’s best designers have used Liberty fabrics. Jean Muir (who worked at Liberty for a time), Cacharel and Mary Quant are just a few. Many of these designs, especially those of the late 1960s and early 1970s reflected well on the Liberty legacy of romantic designs. Today Liberty is still known for the fabrics and scarves that made them famous.

To learn more about Liberty:

Adburgham, Alison
Liberty’s: A biography of a Shop. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1975.

The Liberty Style. London: Academy  Editions, 1979.


Filed under Exotic Locales