In 1875, when Arthur Lasenby Liberty, the son of a draper, founded his eponymous London emporium of imported goods from the East, he embarked on what was to become a long relationship with Japanese culture.
“Arthur and his wife Emma took a trip to Japan in 1889,” says Ffion Griffith, Senior Designer for Liberty Fabrics. “And that trip deepened their love for the country’s unparalleled artisanship and creative heritage.”
Back then, the store’s objets d’art included fabrics from Japan and drew customers fascinated by the exoticism of Japonisme and other Asian influences on 19th-century decorative arts. Today, as one of the U.K.’s most famous textile designers and department stores, Liberty not only houses many Japanese brands, but it also has its own Tokyo-based team.
“The Liberty Japan design team was founded in Tokyo in 1988 and now there are four Liberty Japan designers who work closely alongside the London-based fabrics studio,” says Griffith. “A significant part of their role involves creating colorways that are appealing to the Japanese market and helping to produce Japan-specific capsule collections, which often involve artists or character collaborations such as Hello Kitty.”
The latest project to come from such collaborations is From Japan With Love, Liberty’s first full capsule collection of textiles and fashion and stationery goods featuring prints designed by eight Japanese contemporary artists.
“All 23 members of our Tokyo office were invited to bring suggestions of artists to the table,” says Griffith of the project. “This ensured that a wide range of graphics, textiles and fine art mediums were represented – from woodblock printing and kanji typography, to manga and ultra minimalism.”
Diverse as it is colorful, unexpected motifs abound in the lineup. Sprightly carp and playful dogs in Nana Shiomi’s woodblock prints seem to leap out from a window pane pattern, while illustrator Takahiko Noritake’s signature boy character curls himself around giant polka dots. Delicate drawings of gramophones, animals, hands, ears and more by Ai Teramoto are scattered among zodiac constellations, while Face Oka, known for his illustrations of figures with simplistic smiley faces, offers an even more eclectic assortment of unusual imagery.
Some prints highlight minute details. On textile designer Yuri Himuro’s skyscape of planes and birds, fine yarns that were snipped away to reveal motifs below on her original fabric are visible. The wood grain of Daijiro Ohara’s typography, which was originally carved into skateboard decks, also adds visual texture to his design. Others, including Yuko Kanatani’s psychedelic geometric patterns and Tetsuya Niikura’s otherworldly underwater botanical photographs of Masaaki Kawaguchi’s flower arrangements, share wild kaleidoscopic iterations of vibrant colors.
“Adapting the artworks into wearable textile prints was a significant challenge,” recalls Griffith. “We were keen to pay homage to each artists’ original artwork, so we kept details such as the texture of Ohara’s work, the cut thread details of Himuro’s jacquard artworks and the uniformity of Shiomi’s series of square prints.”
Other fabrics, Griffith adds, involved manipulating motifs to give them more “energy and movement.”
“For Norikake, the artist kindly granted his permission to fill his iconic, minimal black line drawings with bright colors,” she says, “which is something of equal importance as pattern is at Liberty.”
At first glance, it’s hard to imagine these elaborate designs sewn into garments, but Liberty’s capsule collection of shirts, dresses and stationery show how carefully chosen hues and skilled tessellation and montaging make the motifs more subtle than you might think.
“One of the most exciting things about creating prints at Liberty is not knowing where they will end up,” says Griffith of the textiles, which can also be bought by the meter. “We have customers all over the world and our designs are used on a multitude of products from dresses to spectacles, handbags to luggage. It is quite a wonderful thing to know that a design will live on beyond its creation.”
Though the fabrics are on sale in Japan, the product lineup is only available via Liberty London website, which has international delivery.
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