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Liberty in Fashion: Up-Close with Ed Burstell

Gee's Blog, Industry Trends and News
2015
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Ed Burstell

Why fashion and business students should get together, news of an imminent big-ticket Liberty collaboration and the brand he’d most like to work with.

Tickets were sold out for Liberty MD Ed Burstell’s Q & A at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey. A chilly, rainy evening meant some empty seats, but it should have been standing room only, with the man himself on sparkling form. The event was a highlight of the new ‘Liberty in Fashion’ exhibition celebrating the 140th anniversary of the iconic company and the launch of its figurehead’s autobiography, At Liberty: From Rehab to the Front Row.
Burstell, who describes himself as quite shy despite having such a high profile in fashion and retail (both here and in the US), chose a question and answer format, with the Museum’s head, Celia Joicey providing the questions. He was good value, providing his mixed audience with insight, honesty, considered answers and a refreshing lack of corporate ‘on message’ speak.
Fashion and design students who weren’t there missed a golden opportunity to meet the affable Liberty frontman, described by the industry’s Retail Week in 2012 (he took over in 2008) as having ‘blown the dust off’ the revered house, which some thought had lost its way as a cutting-edge fashion destination.
Covert Collaboration
Burstell’s championing of new young designers has also included a mentoring role, though he points out that as he doesn’t have the time to mentor all the individuals who would like him to, his book goes part-way to fulfilling that role. A good basis for an emerging fashion business would be for young designers to link up with students or other friends with business rather than creative skills, he suggests. Burstell’s own Liberty collaborations with a variety of high-fashion brands, including Dr Marten and APC, have proved hugely successful and he couldn’t resist mentioning a big-deal link with a major brand imminently – but wouldn’t name drop! He couldn’t resist giving us a clue, though. The letter U. (I’m thinking Ugg, Uniqlo…?) And his dream collaboration? Virgin. Can’t wait for that one…

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Liberty in Fashion, a major survey of Liberty’s influence on fashion, with collection of 150 items of clothing, accessories and other items from nearly a century and a half of great design, influences and workmanship, is on until 28 February 2016 at the Fashion and Textile Museum. Click here for more or phone 0207 407 8664.
 • As well as the exhibition there’s a programme of talks, courses, workshops and other events linked with it – check it out before you fill your diary!
At Liberty: From Rehab to the Front Row (Pub. Michael O’Mara Books, hardback, £20), a personal account of Ed Burstell’s far from straightforward path to the top in global fashion (said to be ‘affecting, candid and wildly funny’) is available at Liberty and usual book outlets

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Liberty and the Big Car Company
An early Liberty collaborative relationship was in 1980, to celebrate the launch of the Austin Mini Metro car, said to have been designed to be a slightly bigger alternative to the mini. The vehicle was considered stylish enough (well, one Lady Diana Spencer had one) to have its own Liberty Print in Tana Lawn cotton, with a small-scale repeating print of black, white, beige, grey and red cars on a white background. A designer-made three-quarter length padded gabardine coat in airforce blue, lined with Mini Metro fabric and appliqued cars in different fabrics on the pocket carried a price ticket of £150 in the store. It was bought by a Saturday girl, who saved for it – and then, years later, cut down into a mat for her small son, to play with his toy cars.
That person was your writer. Sorry I can’t bring you a picture of the coat, but here’s the next best thing. If anyone knows who the designer of the coat was, I’d love to know more.

Liberty and the Big Car Company

Liberty Car Company Print


feeling inspired by William GeeFeeling inspired? Head to our online shop and start planning your next project today, or be sure to follow William Gee's on Instagram for more creative inspiration from your favourite haberdashery!
At the age of seven Jo Gourlay said she wanted to be a writer, about the same time that she started making clothes for her dolls and learning to crochet and knit from her lovely Scottish Grandma and Auntie B. She became a journalist and now happily combines writing, making, learning and finding great stories! Prized possessions: her Alexander McQueen dress (a/w 2006) and antique American needle case and tape measure.

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