2005 - 2008 - Visiting College Lecturer
Living in a magical make-believe world is all in a day’s work for Liberty Art Fabrics senior designer Polly Mason.
I have been at Liberty for 18 years. I started as a colourist and designer in 1997, just one week after graduating from a three-year Printed Textiles degree at the then Loughborough College of Arts and Design. We were a small team of three people, producing two fashion collections each season.
Nowadays there are nine of us in the team: head of design Tessa Semple, two to three senior designers, designers, innovative fabric researchers, and special project and collaboration managers. There is also a wonderful production team dealing with final product, in addition to a sales team around the world who help us understand and identify our customers. One of the reasons I have stayed at Liberty is because it feels like a family.
As a senior designer I contribute to the fashion fabric collection and I’m currently responsible for the new childrenswear fabric capsule collection, which we’re launching in early 2016. The fashion fabric collection is our main, fashion-forward range, aimed at a cross-section spanning women’s, men’s, children’s and lifestyle. My most challenging project so far has been the childrenswear capsule collection. I’ve built a whole concept around the new capsule from the research to design, colour and even the look of the sales book. The childrenswear fabric range incorporates 16 original designs developed on a seasonal basis. It has been a wonderful project to work on, and I’ve lived and breathed a magical world of fairytale lands for several months.
What’s unique within our studio is that we see our product evolve from an initial concept to a finished fabric. That involves conceptualising, researching, drawing, designing and colouring all taking place under one roof, rather than having elements outsourced. Along with our production team we control the quality of the print process. While we’re increasing our use of digital printing, the collection is still predominantly screen printed, which enables us to keep the beautiful quality of the Liberty print mark.
It’s a much bigger operation than when I first started. We still do two fashion fabric collections per season, as well as capsule collections such as swimwear, plus an extensive specials collection, where we work on exclusive designs for different customers.
Over the years at Liberty I have been fortunate enough to be involved in all aspects of the printed textile process, as well as visiting trade fairs and printers in the UK, France, Italy and Japan to help understand the market and ensure that production meets our exacting standards.
I have also had responsibility for overseeing the creative process of our sister company Liberty Japan, based in Tokyo. Japan is our largest market and while they follow design direction from the studio in London, they carry out printing locally to suit their market.
I’ve done a lot of colour-prediction work on behalf of Liberty with companies such as Paris-based consultancy Peclers. Colour is something I’m passionate about and it definitely has the ability to make or break a design. At Liberty we put together five to six different colour palettes a season and often share these with prediction companies.
Liberty Art Fabrics
I also enjoy working closely with different textile colleges. Recently I developed a brief called “Heritage Reimagined” for the London College of Fashion, which involved the students researching Liberty’s heritage and producing a mini-collection using the fabrics in new and innovative ways.
Heritage is one of our biggest selling points at Liberty, and heavy emphasis is placed on using manual techniques with the support of digital tools. Our design process is very free, we even get to design from home. One of the things I love the most is the fantastic archive we have in Bermondsey, which dates back to the 1880s. Florals may be one of our angles, but the archive is full of quirky, interesting and eclectic designs. I love to be able to feed this living archive with designs of my own.
We find inspiration from many difference places, such as visiting current exhibitions, seeing private collections and taking research trips to places such as Istanbul, Formentera and Vienna. The trips are motivated by the concept behind the collection, so as autumn 16 was based on the theme of the Silk Road the team visited private ikat collections (of traditionally woven and dyed fabrics) in Istanbul to gather inspiration.
The real buzz for me is creating things that people love to wear, whether it is on the catwalk, high street, theatre or film. Actor Daniel Craig wore my print as James Bond in the opening scene of Casino Royale.
Education and practice are equally valuable. Today there are many textile courses and students are graduating with fantastic skills. Nevertheless, jobs in textiles are fairly limited. I think people who gain experience on the ground have an advantage. I advocate going through that channel, as long as it’s possible.
If I was good enough I would have liked to have worked in the music industry, but I’m fortunate enough to be in a job which is a total vocation. I consider myself very lucky to be designing every day.
1994-1997 BA Printed Textiles, Loughborough College of Art & Design
2012-present - Senior designer, Liberty (part time)
2009-2011 - Senior designer, Liberty/Design manager Liberty Japan (part time)
2005 - 2008 - Freelance, visiting lecturer, Loughborough College of Art & Design
2002-2008 - Senior designer, Liberty/Design manager Liberty Japan
1999-2002 - Designer, Liberty
1997-1999 - Colourist, Liberty