Label ‘Liberty and Co. Ltd. Artistic and Historic Costume Studio, 218 Regent St. W.’ on inner waistband
In 1884 the firm of Liberty established a costume department at its Regent Street shop with workrooms in which garments could be designed and made up from its own fabrics. From the start it espoused the concept of Aesthetic dress which, in common with the contemporary Dress Reform movement, criticised the physical restriction of corsets, tight waists, high collars and heavy fabrics, in favour of loose styles made from softly coloured draped materials that looked to the past or distant lands for inspiration. Embroidery, and particularly smocking, was the favoured decoration, evoking the skills of the pre-industrial age.
This Liberty bodice, which probably originally had a matching skirt, is made of light green satin with embroidery in matching silk and slightly darker iridescent beads and pastes. Its design harks back to late 16th Century and early 17th Century domestic embroidery in its symmetric placing of flat stylised ‘Tudor Rose’ heads and foliage upon interlaced stems, while the ecru machine lace of the neck border and lower sleeves is late 17th Century in style. The bodice, with its low wide square neckline and full puffed upper sleeves with contrasting fitted lower sleeves, can be seen to relate to dresses worn in the portraits by Italian artists such as Titian, Bronzino and Lorenzo Lotto of the 1520s and 1530s. These inspired voluptuous depictions of women by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a highly regarded figure in artistic circles, and his ‘Veronica Veronese’ of 1872, for example, shows his model in a full sleeved Aesthetic dress of green velvet. (See Titian’s portrait ‘La Bella’ from the Palazzo Pitti, Florence: https://www.europeana.eu/portal/ro/record/2048011/work_64090.htm and Rossetti’s ‘Veronica Veronese’ at the Delaware Art Museum: http://emuseum.delart.org:8080/emuseum/view/objects/asitem/People@53/22/title-asc?t:state:flow=fa0f24d6-8a8f-4064-91b0-1f4fd4b32f45)
Despite these eclectic historical references that characterise the bodice as Artistic, Liberty was careful not to stray too far from orthodox fashion. The low square neck, the pouched front, and the sleeves, full above the elbow, fitted below, tally perfectly with mid Edwardian styles. The lining is liberally boned, anathema to the concept of loose comfort, as can be seen in one of the Additional Images. The cross shaped boning at the sides is unusual.