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Liberty & Co Historic Costume Studio gown

Discussion in 'PUBLIC Show and Tell - Share your treasures' started by VintageMelinda, Mar 3, 2011.

  1. Hello! I am new here, but I have been collecting vintage for over 20 years. I love Liberty & Co. (my wedding dress was a 1912 Liberty gown), and I am the proud new owner of an 1896 Liberty & Co. Historic Costume Studio gown! I am so excited!! Everything I've read suggests that Historic Costume Studio pieces are quite rare, and usually in museums. What are your thoughts? I'd love to learn more about this gown and Liberty's Historic Costume Studio!

  2. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

  3. Rue_de_la_Paix

    Rue_de_la_Paix Trade Member


    The dresses of the Artistic Dress and Aesthetic Dress movements are so beautiful, and are also one of my favorite era of fashion. I thank you so much for sharing.

    And I will also ask....could we see the label?

  4. Liberty label

    Here it is! The lining is shattering, so the label is partial, but still readable:

    Liberty & Co
    Historic Costume Studio
    222 Regent St
  5. Sorry, pic was too big. Posting smaller size now. :)

    (It is easier to read in real life...hard to take a clear pic!)
  6. Jonathan

    Jonathan Trade Member

    Stylistically the dress doesn't look costumey to me but is that label referring to a department at Liberty and Co. that made up costumes for fancy dress and the stage?
  7. My understanding (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong!) is that sometime around 1890, Liberty opened the Artistic and Historic Costume Studio department (which in 1909 was renamed "Picturesque and Fancy Dress Costumes"). This department created gowns based on historical designs (from the Medieval to early 19th century) for fancy dress balls and masquerades.

    The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has a Liberty & Co. blouse in their collection, and online they state:

    "In 1884, [Liberty & Co] opened a costume department, producing garments that were strongly influenced by Rational dress theories and Aesthetic movement sensibilities. Garments like this one that bear the label of the Liberty & Co. Artistic and Historic Costume Studio are quite rare."

    I'm attaching a pic of an intact label from another gown, just for comparison.
  8. Rue_de_la_Paix

    Rue_de_la_Paix Trade Member


    I have not done much research, so this is all from memory. I believe that Liberty's use of the words "Historic Costume" were not intended to infer that the garments they designed and made were to be worn as costumes for the stage or for fancy dress balls (aka costume balls). The clothing was inspired by historic costume of past ages, especially the medieval eras. It was meant to be worn by actual women going about in their daily lives. Most often it was worn by the more artistic and literary women of means who were seeking more comfortable clothing, romantic ideals, and freedom from the rigid undergarments of the times.

    So it should be read Historic Costume....Studio. Not as Historic.....Costume Studio.

    Is it possible that part of the label is torn off? And it read Artistic and Historic Costume Studio?

    That is my take on it anyway!

  9. Hi Barbara- I think you are exactly right, the "Artistic and" has frayed off, which you can see when you compare the tag to the intact one I posted.

    I am so excited to have this gown in my collection! I love Liberty & Co, and this one seems to be pretty special! :)
  10. poppysvintageclothing

    poppysvintageclothing Administrator Staff Member

    Thank you for sharing this most interesting dress with us.
    I just wrote to the Liberty archivest yesterday. I don't know her but I had a scarf I had a question about it and thought I would try to reach her.

    If she gets back to me, I will ask her if she would like to see this.
  11. cmpollack

    cmpollack Trade Member

    There's a whole section on Liberty's "costumes", written by Judith Watt, in Stephen Calloway's "Liberty of London. Masters of Style and Decoration" (which I just got earlier this week!). A few excerpts:

    "From its opening in 1884, Liberty's Costume Department maintained its sartorial identity, uninfluenced by the couturiers of Paris. Visitors to the department would select a style of costume, which was then run up in the workrooms in Liberty fabric. From 1894, catalogues for mail order were introduced, with sections for gowns, mantles and millinery, ranging from historically based costumes to the more conventional...

    "E. W. Godwin, the architect and aesthete appointed by Liberty to run the department from its beginning, believed it was possible to adapt historical prototypes to current dress without making the end result either 'eccentric or bizarre'. The art fabrics were indeed sometimes difficult to work with, but a skilled in-house dressmaker could usually do any job quickly...

    "By 1890, Liberty catalogues were featuring different historical styles adapted for the day. 'Athene' was a gown in 'Arabian cotton with silk Himation' for four and a half guineas; the waist is unconstricted by a corset. Other styles on offer were 'Greta', with artistic smocking and medieval embroidery, 'Marianne,' with flowing lines in cashmere and brocade for nine guineas or Venetian silk and velvet for eighteen guineas. 'Valeria' has a medieval flavour with embroidery at the neck, and, as recommended by the Rational Dress Society, the weight falls from the shoulders, not the waist."

    Your gown is amazing, and I look forward to learning more about it!
  12. Wow, thank you all so much! I'm so glad to talk with folks who are as excited about this as I am. :) My husband is probably pretty tired of hearing about it! lol

    Mary Jane, THANK YOU! That would be so great. I didn't even know Liberty has an archivist! I would love her contact info, if you feel comfortable sharing.

    Carrie, thank you for the info from the book! I think I will have to get a copy. :)
  13. Jonathan

    Jonathan Trade Member

    I wonder if the embroidered flowers are supposed to be sunflowers - that was certainly THE flower of the aesthetic movement, followed perhaps by lilies.
  14. poppysvintageclothing

    poppysvintageclothing Administrator Staff Member

    I had to seek out an email for her on the internet as there wasn't one in the book I purchased by her... which is Liberty and Co. in the Fifties and Sixties - A Taste for Design.

    Her name is Anna Buruma.

    I haven't heard anything yet, so I hope she gets back to me.

    She may be a lot more thrilled with your dress than my little old scarf!
  15. vertugarde

    vertugarde Alumni

  16. Not in the U.K.; I bought it from a dealer in Texas.

    Thanks for the tip about the catalogs. I wish I were in the U.K. to check them out!
  17. Rue_de_la_Paix

    Rue_de_la_Paix Trade Member

    A complete set of Liberty catalogs?

    I am booking a flight to London and making an appointment ASAP!

    Oh.....wait. that costs money. Maybe in my next life.

    Just the thought of pouring over those catalogs makes me shiver with delight!

    I especially loved the way the Aesthetics used silk velvets and velveteens, and gold threads in their gowns...yummy stuff indeed. We had an artistic dress tea last year and some of the gowns the women made were stunning. I have a few things from Liberty, but none of them are clothing. Although I have a circa 1900-1910 scarf in puce and pomegranete (s?) that might be Liberty. You have inspired me to contact them about it now.

    Jonathan, I think you are right, they do appear to be sunflowers.

    This dress has a more traditional cut than most Artistic dress gowns that I have seen, but of course it being custom made
    would explain that. Not every lady had the nerve to go full throttle!

    Thank you for sharing this rare garment with us.

    Regards, Barbara
  18. Jonathan

    Jonathan Trade Member

    Hopefully this is the sort of thing that will be online some day so we don't have to travel to London but can look up the pages online - like we can with L'Officiel
  19. vertugarde

    vertugarde Alumni

    I'm with you on that one Jonathan!
  20. Ookoo

    Ookoo Registered Guest

    What a beautiful dress!

    Melinda, you mentioned that you were married in a Liberty gown, I'd love to see a picture of that one, too.

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