Thursday, February 18, 2010

Give me Liberty?

Hmmm. When Target announced they were joining forces with my favorite London store to create a special limited collection, I almost fainted with excitement and made immediate plans to arrive at the West Hollywood store at 7:59am on March 14th.

Then last night during the Olympics I saw the television commercial and felt a bit underwhelmed. It's rife with colorful floral watering cans and comforters and plates and bowls and cups and mugs, but...I don't know.
(via Apartment Therapy)

Am I terrible to think such heretical thoughts?

If you go on Target's website, they give you a little preview of some of the new Liberty of London prints coming out. This bubblegum-pink one must be targeted to a younger consumer because it does nothing for me.
I'll grant you that it's whimsical, but it just doesn't have the same elegance of their Regent Store fabric line. (I know, you're thinking, "Hello, it's Target!" But I'm on the other side thinking, "Hello, it's Liberty!")

I was feeling rather glum when my eyes landed on this next fabric which, while leaving me 97% unmoved, struck a nagging chord of familiarity in me. Where had I seen it before?

I started racking my brains in an effort to recall eccentric women who would have worn Liberty prints, and the goddesses were with me because before too long I found this image of photographer and gardening expert Valerie Finnis. What a shot. I don't know where to look first: at her massive plumed hat, her lordly pug or the potting shed that's clearly escaped from the set of "Grey Gardens."
(Valerie Finnis, 1908-2006; photo by Jan Baldwin,
World of Interiors, April 2009)

But note her shirt. Aside from the colorway, surely it's a variation on the Target design?

Brief aside:
According to lore, Valerie met her husband when one day she heard a voice outside her gardening shed remark, "Goodness, she's got Gillenia trifoliata!" She rushed out and exclaimed, "You're the first person who's ever known that plant!" And presto, two lives became one. Adorable, no?

Anyway, regarding Liberty, maybe things were looking up slightly. On a hunch, I pulled out a book I purchased last year called "Garden People: The Photographs of Valerie Finnis." Perhaps I might find someone else wearing an unmistakable floral?


It was like leafing through a Liberty catalog from the 1940's and '50's. The caption for this photo must be: "Whoever is not wearing an iconic print, please see me after the lecture."
(Photo by Valerie Finnis from Garden People)

This next photo of Dame Miriam Rothschild at her estate in Northamptonshire is interesting not only for the tips we can glean from her on serving tea to the privileged classes (glass domes, heirloom silver, field of daisies), but because her shirtdress...
(Miriam Rothschild, 1908-2005;
Photo by Valerie Finnis from Garden People)

...isn't too far removed from this Target print.

And now let me introduce you to Margery Fish, a name made infinitely more wonderful by the fact that she also answered to "Lady Montagu Douglas Scott" -- have there ever been two more disparate names belonging to the same person? Margery has clearly opted to wear a sensible offering from Liberty while gathering cuttings in her rattan trug basket.
(Margery Fish, 1892-1969;
Photo by Valerie Finnis from Garden People)

Once again, this print from Target mimics the spirit of hers, don't you think?

I guess I'll reserve final judgment until I see the wares in person. As much as I applaud the fresh, innovative thinking and design-for-the-masses ideology that Target embraces, I'm not convinced that this is a perfect fit.

Go ahead, tell me I'm wrong.

Update 2/20/10: This photo, which I just found on the LA Times website, has me much more excited than I was yesterday. The shirts are lovely, lovely, as is the bicycle.


French Fancy... said...

I also am a Liberty afficiando and used to work near there for many years. I'm not mad on Liberty print per se though - I'm not a very flowery person but I just love the Liberty building itself and its side entrance behind Regent Street, with the little ship in the alcove.

As for Miriam Rothschild - she is one of my heroines and it is a fine photo of her.

pve design said...

I truly must scrounge and find the two piece, top and skirt that I sewed for myself and it was in the peacock pattern, but in the original muted tone. I loved that cotton hand. I was smitten with myself in my Liberty.
I guess Liberty is what we need now. I just wonder if Target needs Liberty.

Semi Expat said...

I bet we don't get it at the Australian Target stores.. shame.. I would like to see them but mmm, not sure they will quite hit the mark. For me Liberty is all about that tiny flower print, softly faded and well... so English...!

Sneaky Magpie said...

The Target designs look like very watered down Liberty prints. They don't even look like they were designed by Liberty team, just a cheap high street knockoffs. I am not loving it.

Dandy said...

Like Semi Expat, I think of Liberty as tiny floral prints in wonderfully fine cotton, like the fabric of the first dress I sewed with my mother's help on a tiny black and gold portable Singer sewing machine. A blue and white floral sleeveless shift that won me raves from all my teachers. Ah, good memories.

Style Court said...

It's really hard to judge, not having seen Target's things in person. In terms of color, I do like the blue-green peacock-like print you posted plus the last one. And I can see a really creative person using them to put together a great little girl's room on a budget.

For me, when a print is used over and over, as you said, on watering cans, note cards, tissue boxes, etc. etc., whether the products are high-end or economical, the print sometimes looses its appeal.

Michele said...

Wonderfully written piece, balanced, thoughtful and fair. Definitely a yin to my yang and gives me hope that I might find some balance with respect to this topic. Liberty is not just an institution. A bit like the Gemin twins they have 2 sides - the small floral prints, tana lawn and varuna wool, but also the design and fashion leadership promoting young, edgy design. Where does the derivative plastic ware come into this? Somehow I think Target (saying the name with the French pronunciation now) is seeking to give itself some class and élan. They tried this with Smith and Hawken and while the aisle had that name over the products I could see little connection with that wonderful store. The products had the feel of afterthoughts ~ cheap, watered down imitations. But who knows in this economy how Liberty might be struggling and possibly looking for a way to increase its revenue. Nevertheless, I do not love this idea. I love Target for what they do, and adore Liberty but wish this marriage wasn't taking place.

Anonymous said...

so congested.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

They do nothing for me either -they don't measure up to the original.
However -that field of daisies does! Tea on a field of daisies sounds like my idea of heaven!

jhitch said...

The line somehow reminds me of the Cynthia Rowley 'Swell' line a few years will be interesting to see - especially on a pair of flip-flops -- Im holding out hope for the bicycle, though.

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

It's great that Liberty is Targeting and smart to open up their ideas to a targeted market. I think the world in general will be a better place knowing shoppers have been introduced to the venerable brand. Reminiscent of the Morris print garden pieces that I love it doesn't hurt to use Liberty's designs en masse.Smart too that Liberty didn't give them full out Liberty! Maybe craving more, some will wander into the shirtwaist world of Margery Fish-Now I'd buy that! I think Liberty is moving into the 21st c. just a bit-thinking- Give them Liberty! (we don't choose death!)

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

French Fancy: Oh, that building with the creaky wooden staircases and soaring atriums made from the timber of old ships! In terms of their florals, I love them in theory and have purchased 3 or 4 lavender sachets in their tana lawn prints that I toss into my luggage. I also have a floral shirt from a past collaboration with J. Crew that's great because like one of the other commenters said, it has tiny flowers in muted, soft, faded hues and it just all WORKS.

PVE: Are you kidding me? You Project Runwayed yourself an outfit? Photos, please!

Semi Expat: Yes, yes, yes.

Sneaky Magpie: Watered down, yes. I'm holding out hope, though, that there maybe are some lovely faded, muted Tana Lawn prints that didn't make it into the ad or the website yet.

Dandy: What beautiful imagery!

Style Court: You're right on, as usual. They ARE perfect for little girls, actually. Bright, poppy, graphic and exuberant. I was hoping for more elegant (or even oddball) eccentric.

Michele: Totally agree with you. What makes Liberty so special is their dedication to both tradition and edginess. The pieces I've bought from Liberty over the years range from clothing by Martin Margiela, Vivienne Westwood and Ghost to Indian-painted armoires, African stools, lavender sachets, tea cozies and velvet pillows. It's that crazy dynamic that makes Liberty so amazing: you see elderly women hurrying through the revolving doors with the same passion and frenzy as the fashionistas. And yes, who knows how Liberty is doing financially these days? Far be it from me to criticize someone who is trying to branch out in order to survive. I need them to be around forever!

jhitch: They ARE similar to the Cynthia Rowley line -- was it called "Swell"? Good call.

jane said...

I think it looks great. In fact, I'm irrationally excited about it and I already have my eye on the mixing bowls, the lamp shades, the bike and a few other things. I still have the top I bought when I went to London in my jr. year of college which was a few (cough,cough) years ago. I don't think Target's prints should look *exactly* like Liberty; that's what Liberty is for. There should be a difference between the print of a dress you get for $24.99 and one you get for $200. Liberty is hard to get though unless you go to England. It will be nice to have it within a mile of me. Bring on March 14!

A Super Dilettante said...

Fabulous patterns and colours - perhaps something Sarah Jessica Parker would effortlessly carry it off in this coming spring?

Anonymous said...

I think I'm into this. The Target Liberty bike looks pretty great.

Lucindaville said...

Garden People is one of our favorite books. Valerie Finnis is a gem of a photographer and a zippy dresser!

So Lovely said...

Having been raised in England I think its fine. Target are trying to bring what's an expensive brand to people who may not be able to afford those Liberty prices but would like a little of the heritage. I like it and honestly don't feel there's anything wrong with Liberty having a collaboration with Target - a lot of other high end brands have.

Gigibird said...

I was just going to say have you seen Valerie Finnis' book, Garden People but I see you have - Some of the gardening outfits in there are such a hoot.
I am always on the lookout for Liberty in charity shops...old dresses and blouses - a good cheap way to source fabric.

Linda said...

I think you are right. These prints feel like '60's flower-power (I'm old enough to remember first hand even if you are not) rather than Liberty. Maybe Liberty in the '60's. Alas, I prefer Liberty in 1910. Sigh.

Miss Cavendish said...

I'd say that the peacock-y Liberty-Target print is based on this one:

I too was excited about the collaboration but am underwhelmed. The Target prints seem less defined, less designed, even.

The Buzz Blog @ Diane James Home said...

I too remember with fondness the pretty floral prints and soft cottons of Liberty dresses that Dad used to buy in London when I was a girl and still have a few wrapped in tissue, hoping some day to put them on my own daughter... three wonderful sons later, I think I'll keep them for a grandaughter! Taget may be missing the mark on their patterns but I do love Julian Mejia's Liberty pillows for Barney's!

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