Liberty in Fashion: the 1960s edit

Cotton Tana Lawn mini dress by Gerald McCann, mid-60s.

I finally got to see the Fashion and Textile Museum’s Liberty in Fashion exhibition last month, just before it closed on 28th February. The exhibition, which tied in with the iconic London department store’s 140th anniversary, took a look at Liberty’s impact upon fashion from the 19th century right up to the present day. There were some stunning costumes on display, including some gorgeous 1960s suits and dresses.

I didn’t really know a great deal about Liberty’s relationship with designers, so it was really interesting to discover that their wholesale fabric collections were used by many of the big names in 60s fashion from Mary Quant to Marion Donaldson to Foale and Tuffin. The patterns – whether they were bold, art nouveau-inspired or small, dainty florals – very much chimed with the mood of the times, particularly the interest in nostalgia, and the Liberty brand itself was desirable for its association with Englishness. Gerald McCann’s cotton Tana Lawn dress (above) is a beautiful example: the small paisley print is a perfect choice for his Regency-style mini.

Cotton velveteen mini dress c.1967 using Bernard Nevill’s ‘Lotus Jazz’ fabric (1965).

A more way out fabric was used for a gorgeous cotton velveteen dress from Through the Looking Glass – “Liverpool’s trendiest boutique in the 1960s”. The dress (right), with its fabulous leg of mutton sleeves, used fabric from Bernard Nevill’s ‘Lotus Jazz’ range (1965). The art deco-inspired circle/fan print is given a contemporary twist using acid-bright tones of pink, purple, mustard and green. This dress was probably my favourite from the entire exhibition.

Cotton voile mini dress by Jean Muir, mid 1960s.

Another designer who is strongly associated with Liberty is Jean Muir. Her dress, here on the left, is a simple babydoll shift made of cotton voile. It was made for Simpson of Piccadilly’s ‘Young and Gay Trend Collection’. Jean Muir’s design career started in the Liberty stockroom in 1950. She then went on to become a fashion sketcher, and then a designer, eventually setting up her own Jane & Jane label in 1962. In 1964, she won Bath Fashion Museum’s Dress of the Year , with an ankle-grazing, silk Liberty print dress.

Silk maxi dress by Colin Glascoe, late 1960s.

Interestingly, Colin Glascoe, who designed the dress on the right, never mentioned in his advertisements that he used Liberty fabrics – despite being a notable user! For this silk maxi, he used a design that blended art nouveau and psychedelia to striking effect!

Finally, it was nice to see a homemade creation in the collection – a sleeveless linen shift (below) made for a young woman by her dressmaker mother. The fabric has a large green and blue leafy floral print, again, clearly inspired by art nouveau design.

Homemade linen shift dress, 1966

There were quite a few other 1960s pieces in the collection, including a couple of floral Dollyrockers jackets and some Liberty own-label garments. As an aside, it was also interesting to see where 60s designers were getting their inspiration from – a 1920s smock dress with an embroidered yoke and long, bishop sleeves was pure Biba, and another 1920s item, a silk blouse with a contrast Peter Pan collar, reminded me very much of something Mary Quant might have designed.

The exhibition has now finished but there are some really good photos on Twitter of some of the other garments that were on display – search using #libertyinfashion.