To Liberty and Beyond

To Liberty and Beyond

I feel like the succession of posts here is fast condemning me to a particular sector of women who get pre-occupied with the placement of bed ruffles and not much else, what with yesterday's House of Hackney antics.  The opening image here should clue you into what's to follow but I promise there is a point to the bucket load of lovable rich textiles here.  It's that time again when Nike drops another Liberty fabrics collaboration and it's the largest collection yet with the Air Force 1, Blazers (both mid/low styles) and Dunks all getting the Liberty print treatment with five different print stories.  There'll be none of that "limited quantities" fuss either as they'll be produced in larger runs as Liberty, online and in-store gets the first drop exclusively for one month before they go into Office stores and other selected stores worldwide from the 1st May. 

It seems Nike are a fan of telling stories behind the collaboration – last time I went up to the Outer Hebrides to see the process behind Harris Tweed and this time round I stayed on home turf and went to the design studio of Liberty Art Fabrics to meet Emma Mawston, head of design to discover how the famous textiles are created.  Who am I to turn down an opportunity to take about a bazillion pics of Liberty print fabrics, sketches and lookbooks (I had an agonising time sifting through them, not wanting to strike images off a post…)


I think I sounded a bit like a dunce asking Emma some plainly obvious questions but given that this was my first visit to a textiles design studio and that I don't know a great deal about how fabrics are sold, pressed out in contrast to fashion collections, I *THINK* I've SORT OF got the hang of it.  At Liberty, they have a seasonal collection, labelled as S/S 11, A/W 11-12 etc much like fashion collections and in addition they have their Classics range, including those ditzy florals that everyone associates with Liberty fabrics, and it is from the seasonal collection that the Nike prints have mainly been taken from.  What I ultimatley found though was that the diversity of fabrics as well as Liberty's ambition to grow the fabrics division, are far greater than what I expected…  


We first took a look at the sketches and foundations of the prints that were chosen for this third collection of Liberty x Nike shoes with the first being a S/S 08 print called 'Umbel' which is a design that's meant to have the feel of a wood block and is drawn from umbelliferous plants.  Don't worry if you had to Google that word – I did – but that's because anything that's remotely umbelliferous that comes into my life instantly shrivels up with dehydration.  Best to stick to printed trainers me thinks…


Quite a few of the shoes' fabrics were chosen from the S/S 11 collection, themed wonderfully around childrens' books illustrations, whereby illustrators such as Quentin Blake and David McKee were asked to draw something for the Liberty design team to then interpret and be inspired by tocome up with fabrics.  They then rendered the original drawings with the resulting fabrics to form a lookbook that is used to sell in the 'concept' of the collection.  It was interesting to learn from Emma that for each collection, the team are set a theme or a concept to work around.  Shame on me for even thinking that Liberty prints were mainly archive revivals.  The design team all draw original designs, decide on colour palettes and seem to work independently, only for it to all come together as a collection under the umbrella theme.  The starting point for the S/S 11 collection was David McKee's Mr Benn books and resulting TV show, who is seen here clad in an outfit that I wouldn't mind getting my mitts on…


One of the more striking designs from the Liberty x Nike collection is the Tom's Jet print, which was derived from Brian Wildsmith's 'The Wonderful World of Words' seen here.  With little airplanes (complete with a pilot called Tom, named after one of the design team's boyfriend at the time) dotted all over the fabric, it makes for a shoe that Steve was hankering after – tough luck though as the shoes only come in women's sizes (up to UK9), something that I'm sure will change given their popularity with the boys (Phil Oh of Street Peeper is a particular fan of the Nike x Liberty shoes and squeezes his feet into a UK7…) 


I love the way the original drawings are almost all enhanced by the addition of the Liberty print colouring-in…


The mighty Quentin Blake also kindly gave a drawing to the team and after it had been 'Libertified', he wrote this in reaction… "I've always wanted a pair of socks like that…"  A cue for the Liberty team to knit him up a pair of socks me thinks!


The Quentin Blake drawing, also inspired a pattern called 'Kara's Tree' which delicately speckles the trainers with a subtle pointillist leaf pattern that again for me is fairly unisex… if you look closely, there's supposed to be depictions of fence and pebbles along with trees but it's barely detectable…


The drawing was derived from an archive wallpaper book that Emma bid on…


I also got a sneak peek of the prints that will be gracing the next A/W11-12 batch of Liberty x Nike shoes including this Kate Ada rose print, again inspired by the Quentin Blake illustration…


Another forthcoming pattern is this 'Eb's' pattern made up of hanging stripy ties or strange tower blocks depending on how you look at it, inspired by Brian Wildsmith again…


I had a bit of a magical rose-tinted moment when I saw this Jane Ray drawing of Snow White and Red Rose (not to be confused with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves) as it's a fairytale that I had a really beautiful illustrated book of the tale as a child…


These Liberty print infused illustrations that form the S/S 11 lookbook almost deserve an exhibition in their own right, especially when paired with the original drawings as seen here in this beautiful Thumbelina drawing by Sally Haysom…


My Hong Kong roots embarrassingly showed as I squealed over this Hello Kitty Liberty print, part of an ongoing collaboration with Sanrio…


Another way of presenting the collections are these colour books where it depicts how colours are derived from the original inspiration source of both illustration and an accompanying quote.  It never occured to me how many steps there were to presenting a collection of fabrics but from the many MANY colour palettes, it does show that one seasonal collection has a wealth of patternation and colour ranges to choose from.  That's why I get stuck on 4th floor of Liberty often perusing fabrics with no intention of buying…




I had to get my head around the number of seasons that the team have to deal with at any given time.  I thought it was bad enough that I'm wearing A/W 10-11 or S/S 11 clothes, writing about A/W 11-12 collections and looking forward to S/S 12.  For the Liberty fabrics department, they're selling S/S 11 designs at the moment, selling/producing A/W 11-12 fabrics for delivery to fashion houses, stores etc, finishing up S/S 12 fabrics ready to be sold at tradefairs such as Premiere Vision, in the process of designing A/W 12-13 and then also thinking about S/S 13… that's A LOT OF SEASONS.  How Emma and her team keep it all together makes the mind boggle and how crossover between seasons with 40 designs in every collection doesn't happen is also miraculous. 

For Emma though it's very clear that with each new design, the buzz of getting it produced NEVER wears off despite the fact that she's probably seen thousands of Liberty print fabrics.  It's a live and breathe mentality here where the team wear Liberty print, love it genuinely and really know it inside out, from how it looks and places on the body when it gets turned into garment form to believing in the potential of this wealth of pattern and print (there are a few exciting developments going on that can't be talked about but will hopefully take Liberty fabrics to new possibilities).  This certainly isn't a design team that is resting on the laurels of the archive prints and the ditzy florals that is so intrinsically linked with Liberty, as the breadth of designs as well as their projection for the use of prints is most definitely ambitious.  Nike is one notable open collaboration.  Target is one recent mass-market one.  But of course we see Liberty fabrics consistently popping up in collections from young designers such as Michael Van Der Ham and J.W. Anderson to Chanel and Louis Vuitton (of course these ties aren't fully publicised).  Perhaps the house most faithful to Liberty print of them all, Cacharel will turn back to Liberty now that Cedric Charlier, the creative director of the past few seasons has left.     

These are some of the A/W 11-12 designs where they have worked with musicians to design or pick out prints…



Here are the S/S 12 fabrics which are just about to be stowed away to make way for A/W 12-13.  Emma picked out a few of them to show us and it struck me much creative freedom the team had to go in their own directions.  From drawing trips in country houses, any thing can eventually end up as a print – photographs of caves are turned into superimposed and coloured-in prints, a tea-cup that they saw during afternoon tea turns up on a print – everyone is given time to draw independently to start the process of inspiration-to-print. 






Back to Blazers and Dunks though… and as I finish up this post whilst i'm in Iceland, Liberty and Nike have already had their bash last night with pretty installations, Eliza Doolittle DJ-ing and plenty of trainers of course. 




It goes without saying that hi-lo contrasts with trainers are right up my street.  This post written by Layers and Swathes sums up my relationship with trainers perfectly.  There's a certain kind of relaxed 'swagger' that sets in when I'm kicking about in trainers and I suppose legions of people have Lily Allen to thank for the dress with/ trainers combo but I can attest that floaty slip dresses and trainers were the staples of my youth that gave me the confidence to step up to other footwear when I could a) afford it and b) work out which shoes wouldn't kill my feet.  

The use of this Tom's Jet print in this Dunks style is clearly and strategically aimed at people who aren't into the girly girly florals and it has worked a treat because I've already had a couple of dudes look at them, wishing they came in men's sizes…

(With H&M jacket, TBA dress)


I'm still in favour of the Liberty classic though as this Tatum print, derived from an archive print in the 1930s, graces this Nike Blazer style that I couldn't help but pair with the heavily slouched sequinned Ralph Lauren trews.  Incidentally Eliza Doolittle who herself is a Nike trainer freak, commented on these vintage Ralph Lauren trousers when I first met her in New York and bunged them up on her blog

(With Monki Jacket, vintage shirt, vintage Ralph Lauren Trousers)


I believe the styles of trainers are being released over the month slowly so the Tatum blazers and Tom's Jet Dunks above are not available at Liberty yet.  Follow their Twitter or Facebook for updates.  I'm a little confused as to why EVERY style is showing up as sold out on the site but I think Londoners best get down to the store in person to see what the real shoe situation is.  Like I said though, from the 1st May, the styles will be released worldwide in selected stores and in the UK, in Office stores. 

**UPDATE** Hah, so a little birdie told me there were queues outside Liberty – fess up – who went down there this morning?  The site has also now been FIXED and some of the Umbel and Kara's Tree print styles are now available to go up on site (I love being able to reel of the names of the prints… !).  Again, the other styles are being released over the month so keep checking Liberty.  They also ship internationally too!


Leave a comment
  1. piril

    2011-04-01 at 10:29 AM

    love your combinations,u look great as always

  2. I V Y

    2011-04-01 at 10:29 AM

    insanity. i love this.
    ∆ blog
    ∆ twitter
    ∆ zebra and meerkat shop

  3. Jo

    2011-04-01 at 10:35 AM

    What inspiring images! Thanks for sharing!

  4. EJ

    2011-04-01 at 10:42 AM

    Glorious post, Lau. I have to get my hands on a pair of those trainers, I still kick myself that I didn’t get the ones you got first time around (I can see the pattern of them in the bottom right of the first picture). The Hello Kitty print is absolutely fantastic. I’ve got such a soft spot for Liberty- they even did a Ray Harryhausen liberty print once. What’s not to love?

  5. Maris

    2011-04-01 at 10:47 AM

    oh, prints heaven! lovely!

  6. Dee

    2011-04-01 at 10:58 AM

    Just purchase my pair today! I love the fact that Nikes CAN look pretty : D

  7. Ruby

    2011-04-01 at 10:59 AM

    Prints are so lovely . Checkout Beeton’s Needlework.


    2011-04-01 at 11:11 AM

    What I love the most in your outfit posts Susie, is the fact that you don´t need a wonderful forest behind you to create an statement with your ensemble.

  9. Nino

    2011-04-01 at 12:10 PM

    I love Liberty and everything that they do is so inspiring

  10. olivia

    2011-04-01 at 3:08 PM

    these are INCREDIBLE. working on the Liberty design team is probably my number 1 dream job. everything they come up with blows my mind.

  11. margief

    2011-04-01 at 5:01 PM

    ooo common. i dont care what nike put on their trainers i still hate trainers. Its a shame they ruined the prints by putting them on trainers!

  12. Mila

    2011-04-01 at 5:24 PM

    Love it! Amazing post! Those sneakers are soooooo cute!!!

  13. Natalya

    2011-04-01 at 6:03 PM

    Wow, great post, and beautiful prints! XOXO,

  14. Beauty Is Diverse

    2011-04-01 at 11:38 PM

    Loving the prints.

  15. Jennifer

    2011-04-02 at 7:46 PM

    this post made my day! It is SO awesome that you were able to go to their studio and see everything and learn the inner-workings of the way they do things.
    I’m dying to find a pair of those blazers! Do you have any idea where I can find them in the states? or order them online?
    Check out my blog!
    p.s. you look great in the shoes! I love those outfits!

  16. Mel

    2011-04-02 at 10:28 PM

    i am completely in love with the plane print, it’s just so lovely. also really love the h&m jacket, is it current season? might try and hunt it out if it is! xx

  17. AngelaQ

    2011-04-02 at 10:31 PM

    I was searching for these and i thought that i had missed them, can’t wait when these gorgeous shoes going to hit shops.

  18. Charlotte

    2011-04-03 at 3:04 PM
  19. Nia

    2011-04-03 at 7:33 PM

    I AM SUCH A SNEAKER-HEAD. So you have no idea had bad I am slivating over these sneakers right now. I love your style but it’s normally to expensive or unavailable in the US. FINALLY something which answers both of my woes! Thanks Susie!

  20. Nadia

    2011-04-03 at 11:42 PM

    Great post Susie and the trainers look fantastic, but I was most struck by those sequinned trousers! They are incredible! You are one lucky lady

  21. Lucy

    2011-04-05 at 8:21 PM

    I’ve been in that rooom! Hehe, I used to work at Liberty in VM and got shown around like you did – its SO fascinating! I wanted to just sit down and start designing myself, it seemed a perfect working environment 🙂 Also, if you happen to go into the store Haberdashery dept, I made the 3 outfits out of Liberty fabric at the end of the room. I couldnt cut the fabric so they’re all pinned!
    SO have to get the Tatum print ones, thats my fave print! (have it on a scarf but need matching trainers!)

  22. Nicola Talfor

    2011-04-06 at 2:14 PM

    Truly an amazing work of art — from making the patterns to creating the actual fabric and cuts. I can imagine the amount of labor and love poured onto these gorgeous pieces.. ALL FOR FASHION!
    LOVE! <3

  23. pinar

    2011-04-21 at 4:46 PM

    the outfit is so lovely w the RL trousers.

  24. Lunet_Cheap Clipping Paths

    2011-05-04 at 8:18 AM

    I love Liberty and everything that they do is so nice . the outfits are really cool . thanks for sharing

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