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Texprint talks: Emma Mawston of Liberty Art Fabrics

25 April 2013 by Editor

...from the spring summer 2013 collection

Emma Mawston, head of design for Liberty Art Fabrics, is not surprisingly passionate about prints and the Liberty heritage.  She is also a long-time supporter of Texprint and regularly gives time to participate in the Texprint interview panels that take place each June.

As a creative company focused on design excellence Liberty understands just how important it is to look to their future heritage and drive innovation by supporting the next generation of young designers; Liberty Art Fabrics sponsors the Texprint Pattern Award.

-Emma, how long have you worked at Liberty Art Fabrics and what were you doing before?

I have worked at Liberty for nearly twenty-one years – in fact the same amount of time as Alexandra Shulman has been editor at Vogue!

While at college I had a great work placement with Nina Campbell, I then won an RSA Bursary which led to a placement with Cavendish Textiles – both invaluable experiences.  On graduating I went freelance, exhibiting at numerous exhibitions, working freelance in-house at Nigel French (design consultancy), and designing for a variety of markets under my own name.

When I applied for the Liberty role, I found out that they had asked my to interview because they liked my handwriting on the letter accompanying my CV!

-Tell us about the team at Liberty Art Fabrics?

The designers at Liberty Art Fabrics are Sheona, Sally, Polly, Robin, Keighley, Laura-Maria and Carrie.  At any one time the team are working across three areas - fashion, furnishing and lifestyle art fabrics - on different briefs, and often for different seasons. We often go on drawing research trips, have drawing days and spend time hand drawing and painting original artwork.

Also in the team are Rupal who works on special projects, and Lauren who backs us all up on everything plus creates the presentation Powerpoints, keeps the fent book*, and makes sure all design and colour files are organised at the end of every season. Holly is our studio co-ordinator who keeps things running smoothly!

(NB: each design is archived in various swatch and fent books*; artwork, fabric bases, colourways, promotional and sales material are all recorded).

Spring/summer 2013 inspired by The Chelsea Flower Show

-What is the process that takes a design idea into production and retail?

At the moment we are about to start creating sketches for spring/summer 2015. 

I love coming up with the design briefs, it’s one of the most inspirational aspects of my job.  One of my favourite tasks is to thoroughly research an idea and come up with something original each season.

Liberty Art Fabrics is a design-led company, which we pride ourselves on. While we listen to feedback from customers, agents and our sales team our design briefs are created two to three years before a collection is launched at retail so it is really important that the collections are design-led and retain the heritage and originality which makes our prints so successful.

Each season the studio creates around 43 designs in 8 colourways. We then present our work at a number of selection meetings, working very closely with Kirstie (Kirstie Carey MD of Liberty Design) who reviews the new ideas.  We whittle these down to 40 designs, all of which will be printed onto Liberty’s iconic Tana Lawn.  We also create capsule collections on a number of different base fabrics using the designs most relevant to each base.

While we aim to think as creatively as possible at this stage, there may also be other considerations – it is important that our collections are successful worldwide, so we occasionally work on special projects that cater for specific design and colour requests. We also work on childrenswear design and colour. 

-Tell us about your recent travels for inspiration and research?

While researching spring/summer 2013 we went to Tresco (Scilly Isles) – in fact nearly all the best sellers in this collection were inspired by that trip - we also went to Vienna for design research, to the Chelsea Flower Show and on the trail of Guerrilla Gardeners in London!

More recently we’ve been to Glasgow and The Isle of Bute, both wonderful.  However my favourite research trip was to Iceland for autumn/winter 2013, a truly inspirational place that will stay with me forever.

Spring/summer 2013 inspired by Tresco

Spring/summer 2013 inspired by The Chelsea Flower Show

Spring/summer 2013 inspired by Vienna

-Do you ever refer back to the Liberty archives?  

Yes, the Liberty Archive is amazing.  It is hidden away in a warehouse in Bermondsey - a treasure trove of archived Liberty prints and sketches. Every design, from tana lawn to silk satin, is documented with as much information as possible and stored safely in a digital database. 

But most exciting of course are the collections themselves - oversized books bursting to the brim with swatches, piles of neatly labeled boxes and paintings as bright as the day they were painted.

The Liberty archives

-What are your favourite inspirations right now?

Gosh, almost everything inspires me, but mainly it is my daughters Mauve and Rose Xanthe who make me laugh so much and look at the world from such a variety of different and wonderful perspectives. 

-In what ways do you work with students and what would you look for in a graduate designer joining your team?

We work on an annual collaboration with the textile design students at Central Saint Martins, and have also worked with another MA course creating colour for a recent collection. We always have work experience students in the studio, working from one week to three months at a time.

I would look for the same thing in a graduate as any designer – diversity of ideas, great sketchbooks with lots of original hand drawing, and a beautiful and varied sense of colour.  Personality is important too - someone who is very lovely and very inspiring – it is so important that they spend time in the studio and for the team to bond with them. They would also need relevant computer skills!

Spring/summer 2013 inspired by Tresco

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