Tamara Salman: Liberty's new belle

Using exotic prints and innovative designs, Tamara Salman is reinvigorating Britain's most venerable store - and she's done it all without leaving the 1870s

Liberty has long been at the centre of rumours of a renaissance. In recent years, the venerable British haberdasher has undergone an impressive redesign, sponsored and been associated with a number of fashionable events, and welcomed a host of exciting young designers on to its floors.

Liberty has long been at the centre of rumours of a renaissance. In recent years, the venerable British haberdasher has undergone an impressive redesign, sponsored and been associated with a number of fashionable events, and welcomed a host of exciting young designers on to its floors.

But the real transformation story began with the appointment, seven months ago, of Tamara Salman as design director. Salman's substantial task is to revive Liberty's signature prints and to oversee the reinvention of its own-brand products. No mean feat, turning what has latterly been considered WI dowdy into desirable, but Salman is convinced of this great institution's huge potential. She has dusted down Liberty's archive, pulled out key prints, blown them up, manipulated them, and flooded them with colour. And that's just the start of her mission to turn Liberty on its head.

Salman is perfect for this role. The petite, raven-haired 35-year-old studied textiles at Winchester School of Art, and has spent the past 12 years working for some of the most prestigious fashion houses (contractually, she's not allowed to name names). And her exotic origins - she was born in Baghdad to an English mother and an Arab/Persian father, and travelled extensively in Asia as a child - marry well with the Liberty legacy. (Liberty's founder, Arthur Lasenby Liberty, was himself an enthusiastic globetrotter and collector.)

"Just walking through the shop, I was amazed not to see fabulous products, when Liberty has such a rich heritage to exploit," says Salman, explaining her reasons for taking the job. "There was no sign of the exoticism and Orientalism for which Liberty was renowned, so I knew that much could be done here."

Salman feels that a certain misconception accounts for the eclipsing of Liberty's opulent past. "For some reason, everyone thinks of the Thirties-style floral print as being emblematic of Liberty, but for me, Liberty is much older than that, and is more richly exotic and decorative."

To regain its former glory as a great British label, Salman thinks that Liberty should return to the extravagant eclecticism of Arthur Liberty's epoch. "I don't feel that there is a strong British image in the fashion industry at the moment," she says. "The brands that have reinvented themselves have done so in a very subtle, understated way, whereas in Milan, designers are proud of what they do, and are decadent and over the top. I think that Liberty can afford to be like that. It can mix Britishness with decoration, because that is truly Liberty's heritage."

And that is why Salman is bringing to the fore the more lavish of Liberty's iconic prints - "Hera", with its peacock feathers, and "Ianthe", and Art Nouveau pattern, for example - and they will remain constant features of Liberty's new range.

Salman is keen to point out, however, that she isn't trying to "do a Burberry": "It's not about creating a seasonal catwalk show and directional clothing. There's enough fabulous fashion design out there already. And it's not about competing against labels that we already have in the store. We're not creating a cheaper version of anything. This is purely Liberty-focused, and Liberty has the design history to warrant it. It's about creating beautiful sought-after items: a gorgeous bag, fantastic embroidered sheets, a great scarf or an elegant diary."

The first Salman-designed wares - beachwear (a first for Liberty) and nightwear - will be available from now until mid-March, while an avalanche of new merchandise - stationery, bags, scarves, brollies and homeware - will arrive in the autumn. Launching beachwear is Salman's opening gambit at ridding Liberty's own-brand line of its drab image. The Capri-style beach bags, swimsuits, string bikinis and towels in the blown-up "Ianthe" print are all extremely glamorous. And the silk nightwear with the "Hera" motif digitally manipulated in Hockney-esque hues is far from wallflower. It's a clever strategy: her little satin bow-tied knickers will doubtless attract that coveted younger customer, while the dressing gowns and PJs will appeal to the Liberty loyal.

Shapes throughout have been kept simple. "It's too crass to go completely berserk on the form as well as the print. It's about keeping the simplicity but embellishing to an extreme," says Salman, who sees textiles and their decoration as Liberty's key strength. "There's so much fashion around and everything is so similar, the only way to make things stand out, feel special, and to differentiate from the high street, is by manipulating textiles." And that's why Salman has called on her army of contacts to help: Dolce & Gabbana's embroiderer has worked antique silver sequins into Liberty scarves; and Prada's tie-dye guru has translated her sophisticated colour blurring on to Liberty bed linen.

Ideally, and given time, Salman will work with more British designers and craftspeople, just as Arthur Liberty did back in the 1870s. The milliner Stephen Jones is Salman's first home-grown commission. "Stephen is perfect for Liberty because of his Englishness. Plus he's quite opulent as opposed to understated," she explains. And although Jones's jaunty hats, which are already in the store, do carry his name on the label, Salman won't be flogging a host of products on the back of designer names: "Yes, I do want to work with young designers, talented designers, but I won't use their names to sell a product."

Proof of this is her use of the young London designer Camilla Staerk, who is working on a bag collection for this autumn; and a former Louis Vuitton designer who is creating a classic bag range for spring 2006, neither of whom will be credited on the actual product.

Having always worked behind the fashion-house curtains, Salman admits that she did worry initially that maybe Liberty should have a big name designing the range, but, too often, starry collaborations are fanfared when there's actually no foundation to the partnering. By appointing Tamara Salman, Liberty has chosen long-term design aptitude over short-lived publicity. And because she has always worked in-house as opposed to front-of-house, she instinctively puts the Liberty point of view across rather than her own. As she says herself: "The longer I'm here, the more it makes sense. The whole mix - my background, my work, Liberty - it all fits."

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee Recruitment Consultant Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

Recruitment Consultant - Soho - IT, Pharma, Public Sector

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000 first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

Sales Executive

£20 - 24k (Uncapped Commission - £35k Year 1 OTE): Guru Careers: We are seekin...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week