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You Need This... I Promise

The Liberty® Print

Sid and me in a very retro-looking Toria Liberty®

 

When I was growing up, we moved every two years or so. My mother had a little wooden plaque – that I am pretty sure she decoupaged herself – that said in cursive BLOOM WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED with a little yellow blossom pushing out of its green stem. Very 70s looking. Every time we arrived somewhere new, it was the same. The plaque would go up, we would be sent out of the house to "go and make some friends," and she would begin the unpacking with us out of the way and out of sight. All of this moving was very matter-of-fact. There were no family meetings or extra hugs or books on adjusting. No one really asked us how we felt about all of it. We just went down the street and waited until somebody noticed we were there.

Though no-nonsense, my mother was also incredibly creative (see: the decoupage) and for her, the way to feel at home was to MAKE the home. She had the sensitivity to know that this would be important to us as well, so we were given total free rein to make our respective bedrooms our own. And since we had so many, we had a lot of practice. I had an all-pink room (the shag rug was called "Peppermint" and had three different shades) and a very sweet lemon yellow room with an eyelet bedspread, but the very best was the Swiss chalet themed room. I painted faux bois wooden beams and chose a tiny Provençal-printed bedspread that looked kind of French to me, and voila – I was in Megève. Of course I didn't know the name at the time – I was 14 years old – the inspiration was more Heidi-movie-on-NBC than Conde Nast Traveler. But it was mine, and I had attempted it, and for the two years we lived in Indianapolis, I was in my own little ski lodge heaven. My brother Chris had his own theme going on that year, too. He was allowed to choose red shag carpeting, a faux fur zebra-print bedspread, and Fornasetti-inspired wallpaper with Grecian nudes. It was crazy. My mom was so proud, and would bring her friends upstairs to show it off.

But my mom had learned a lot from so much decorating, and I will never forget her taking me aside and telling me that if I was smart, I would choose one of the wallpapers – and she would show me exactly which ones – that I would not tire of so quickly. In retrospect, she needn't have worried... we would be out of there before that could ever happen... but the concept holds true. There are prints that you can see every day and never get sick of. The best decorators know this and steer you that way. This doesn't have to mean white instead of color, or quiet patterns over big loud ones, but there are ways to make visual statements more classic than trendy, especially for everyday living. To me, the fabrics from Liberty of London are a great example of this. They have been on my line since day one. We had shirts and dresses in a couple of classics – Wiltshire with the berries, Thorpe floral, Bourton paisley – that were immediately recognizable. Sid has always used them as well – Glenjade with its tiny leaves is one of his favorites, and we always offer the miniature speckled Pepper for our men's made-to-measure shirts. For nearly 12 years now, Liberties have shown up every season. We've done shirts... gently gathered shirtdresses... long full skirts... nightgowns... backless sundresses... track shorts... jewelry cases... makeup pouches... aprons... strings for bracelets... scrunchies for hair... It's become a bit like the "put a bird on it" saying from Portlandia. "Try it in Liberty." We just love all of it.

 

yardage at the factory

 

The history of this storied fabric house and amazing shop goes back to the Arts and Crafts era, when Liberty & Co. opened up on Regent Street in London in 1875. It quickly grew into a department store known for sourcing interesting and colorful items from all over: rugs, furnishings, jewelry, accessories, gifts and, of course, fabrics. They set up their own line – Liberty Art Fabrics – that celebrated the same flowers and foliage that we still recognize as quintessential "Liberty-style" today. There were many collaborations – designer William Morris and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti early on, then brands like Cacharel and YSL in the 1960s and 70s. And here my husband would want me to mention that it is actually a Liberty print jumpsuit that David Bowie is wearing on the cover of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Clearly these prints have stood the test of time.

Sometimes a bold print is irresistible, and that's okay too. You might tire of it, but put it away for a season or two and then pull it out after that little break and you will love it again. But for the comfort of every day, to me, Liberty means a happy, colorful, never-jarring print that is simply pretty. I have one daughter in particular who has great style, but is fairly unconcerned with her clothes when it comes to church on Sunday and she wants to sleep in until the last possible second. Her go-to is a simple shirtdress from the early days of the shop in a purple Thorpe Liberty print, and she throws it on ten minutes before leaving. And that is that. No matter how often she wears it, I never get sick of seeing those sweet flowers next to me in the pew.

We always pull some from the "classic collections," but every six months we go the fabric shows in Europe and pull swatches from Liberty's seasonal collections, and they never fail to inspire. We mostly use the cottons – the wonderful Tana Lawn quality that is lightweight and soft and perfect for shirting – but their silks are amazing as well. This season we did our Anabella Dress in a Strawberry Thief silk (one of the original William Morris patterns) which is a seventies-feeling maxi dress and very chic. The men have done sport shirts as well, which I adore... very cool and more unexpected than a Key West style or a true Hawaiian print. The dainty flowers appeal to all ages, and just like with the wallpaper, how you hang it – or in this case, wear it – can totally change it up. I love how my daughters will take a sweet print and pair it with black jeans and a moto jacket and make a very London punk thing happen. My mother, on the other hand, looked smart and housewife-chic with the exact same blouse, just worn with a cardigan and "slacks." And I used to sew those same fabrics into little smocked dresses when they were babies... which is the inspiration behind so many of our Kid Mashburn dresses now. I can't get enough.

This spring season, we really leaned into the Liberty thing and have an extra full line of prints. The Tomboy Popovers have been a runaway hit – the pink florals of Ros and Devon Dance are extra sweet – and I love the sportiness of a camp-style shirt like the Scout shape in Liberty. We even did a dress that mixes three different prints. All of them are just really fantastic... it turns out mother did know best. There's actually a top this season that reminds me of her, not because it's something she would have worn (it's a little too bohemian for her) but because the print shares her nickname... Jude. Even if you're not a "floral person," you just might need a Liberty print.

 

pretty maids all in a row

 

From Ann

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