Getting to know
What’s it like to work for Liberty? Keighley Shepherdly lets us in on how the design team creates the iconic British label’s fabrics
Liberty Fabric designer Keighly Shepherdly
The name Liberty Art Fabrics has been synonymous with beautiful, cuttingedge design ever since Arthur Lasenby Liberty first opened doors on London’s Regent Street almost 140 years ago. Collaborations with creative masterminds of the day, such as William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, helped establish it as the place for artistic Victorians to shop, and it was instrumental in shaping design movements such as Art Nouveau.
Fast-forward to the 21st Century and the mock-tudor building – constructed in 1924 from the timber of two ships – now houses beauty products, fashion, interiors, and a haberdashery, and its famous art fabrics are used by crafters all over the world as well as in collections by brands such as Barbour and Nike. Liberty’s in-house design team continue to create fresh collections that pay tribute to the brands’ heritage, making use of its 40,000-strong print archive and working on exciting collaborations.
With such a rich history, we couldn’t wait to sit down with designer Keighley Shepherdly and find out all about life at this world-renowned design institution. Your job at Liberty sounds amazing – how did you land it? I did a sandwich course at Central Saint Martins, studying fashion print with a year in industry. I won a design competition run by Liberty, which led me to intern there during my third year. It was only supposed to be for a few months but I ended up staying for the whole year. When I left, I was offered a permanent job after finishing my degree. Did you always want to work in print design when you were young? I was always creative and I did Art and Textiles A-levels. I actually found a drawing I did when I was little recently – it was of a dress with a pattern on it, and the words ‘I want to be a designer.’ I also used to sew with a child’s sewing machine. How does the creative process work at Liberty? We have a core team of six designers, including Emma Mawston, the head of design. Every six months Emma will reveal the next season’s brief to us, which is then broken up into sub-briefs for us to work on individually. By the time the new briefs come around, we’re so excited and can’t wait to get started on something new. She gathers us together and gives us the briefs in Liberty-print envelopes.
‘We’re so excited by the time the new season briefs are revealed to us’
Can you tell us about some of the past seasons’ briefs? Spring/Summer 2014 was all based on the physical Liberty store, and we were each given different rooms in the store to create designs inspired by. One of mine was the Bath Shop – I was really inspired by the Nesti Dante soaps we sell and their beautiful floral packaging, and created a design based on them. I also had the Beauty Hall. For this I found a floral print in our archive that really inspired me, then I went round the store trying out the makeup as drawing instruments. I looked a bit strange! It was actually really pleasant working with makeup – foundation gives a lovely smooth base layer.
Previous briefs have included the senses for Autumn/Winter 2013 and children’s illustrators for Spring/Summer 2011. You also work on collaborations – can you tell us about a few of these? Each season’s collection will contain four or five designs created with outside collaborators. For the Autumn/Winter 2013
collection, which was based on the five senses, we collaborated with Jamie Oliver for “taste.”We took him to see the archive so he could pick out designs he liked, and it was great to meet him. He’s just like he is on TV – really lovely! In the end he created a print using his ingredients – like a potato print – and we made it into a digital design. For “touch” we worked with a tattoo artist called Mo Coppoletta – he created three designs inspired by Liberty that also work as tattoos.
For Spring/Summer 2015 we asked jewelry designer Alex Monroe to work on a print. He drew a beautiful dragonfly garden, which we turned into a design. Can you tell us a bit about the Liberty archive and how you use it? We mostly use the digital archive, which our archivist has created. It’s kept very secret, and you can only look for a few designs at a time – she searches keywords for you, such as types of flowers. The physical archive is based near Bicester and is amazing – it’s full of huge drawers full of beautiful handdrawn original artwork. What’s you favorite Liberty print you’ve ever designed? That’s difficult because we get so attached to them all.We also name them after people we
‘I just have to go home and spend the weekends sewing with Liberty fabric’
know, which makes them extra special. For Autumn/Winter 2013 I created one based on “sound” – I listened to Country Gardens by Percy Granger and surrounded myself with art materials, then blindfolded myself and started drawing in time to the music. My brother came home and thought I was mad, so I named the design after him, “Joshua Graham,” as he loves music. It’s one of my favorites. I’m also very fond of “Sheree,” named after my Auntie, from Spring/ Summer 2014, which was inspired by Nesti Dante soaps. Do you also work on personal projects in your spare time? I don’t get a chance to do much drawing outside of work, but I do make lots of things out of Liberty fabric. We’re surrounded by so much beautiful fabric that I just have to go home and spend the weekend sewing with it! I make gifts for people or clothes, such as skirts, for myself. Who are your creative heroes? When you work on different briefs you always discover new heroes. Some of the
most inspiring people to me are the rest of the Liberty design team – it’s wonderful being in the studio, surrounded by people producing amazing work.We all love different things and are inspired in different ways, so it’s great to see what everyone’s working on. Every single day is inspiring at Liberty! Where do you like looking for inspiration outside of work? For me, inspiration can come from anywhere. Flowers and nature are a favorite, but I can be walking along and suddenly spot a cobbled wall or a great color that could work in a print. I love going to galleries to research briefs too – recently I visited both the Tate Britain and Modern, and on the walk between them I saw someone blowing bubbles, and the colors were amazing against the sky. Finally, what’s the best piece of creative advice you have been given? I can’t remember whether this was advice someone gave me or advice I gave myself, but when I returned for my final year at university I realized that I’d been doing work to please my tutors. I decided to just do what I loved, and after that, I enjoyed my degree so much more. Do what you love, and someone else will love it, too.
01 Keighley made her own skirt using “Penelope,” a furnishing fabric from the Liberty Jubilee collection. 02 Liberty’s haberdashery department is a treasure trove of delights for crafters. 03 Inspiring bits and pieces are pegged up in the design...
01 A shirt by Sessun made from Keighley’s “Jess and Jean” fabric, from the Spring/Summer 2014 collection, hangs in front of other Liberty print shirts. 02 The design process always starts with drawings or paintings. 03 Prints are finalized and then...
01 Keighley stands outside the front of the iconic Regent Street store. A fresh florist’s stall greets shoppers daily. 02 Silks and swimwear garments from the upcoming Spring/Summer 2015 collection. 03 Keighley’s original drawing for “Sheree,” her...
01 Keighley in Liberty’s Bath Shop – one of her sub-briefs for the Spring/Summer 2014 collection – with the Nesti Dante soaps that inspired her “Sheree” design on the table. 02 “Sheree” (on table) and “Jess and Jean” fabrics from Spring/ Summer 2014.