Liberty womenswear buyer: ‘I am expecting customers to look for slightly more muted pieces’
Since its opening in 1875, Liberty in London's West End has been one of the first and most prestigious locations for fashion and luxury goods of all kinds. The department store, in its majestic Tudor building, is known for its close connection to art and design, as well as its in-house design studio where Liberty’s bold and floral print fabrics are handcrafted.
FashionUnited spoke with womenswear buying manager Larissa Stange to find out how Liberty combines its rich cultural heritage with trends, innovation and sustainability. The buyer also revealed her favourite way to discover new brands and her personal must-haves are for the coming season.
As a womenswear buyer at Liberty, how has the department evolved over the past few seasons?
There have been a lot of changes over the last few seasons – coming out of the pandemic, we have seen fashion trends make a U-turn and change from extremely casual to colourful, bold and dressed up. Where we have been seeing a huge demand is in occasionwear, for which we have launched a few new brands to cater to this end-use and widened the range of existing brands where appropriate.
When travel came back in full swing, we also launched swim/resort offerings last year. In general, we have been seeing opportunities in casual/contemporary brands that speak to the Gen Z customer, as well as in designer and advanced contemporary – so these departments have been growing for us as well.
How do you incorporate Liberty’s rich heritage into your curated womenswear edit?
When incorporating Liberty’s heritage into our buys, we always think of our customer first. She has a very refined taste and comes to us for a unique edit that is trend-relevant, yet has a consistent overall direction. We typically buy into the slightly more special pieces, especially when it comes to prints, colours and textures.
While Liberty is synonymous with curiosity and discovery, we also have a big focus on emerging and exclusive brands.
What kind of styles have worked well this year?
We have seen huge success with dresses – summer and occasion styles have been the strongest. We particularly saw a peak in May. We have also seen a huge pick up in denim again; wide leg shapes are key here. Outerwear is always a strong category for us; the customer has been buying into the more classic brands and shapes within this category.
The invasion of Ukraine, fear of inflation and the aftermath of the pandemic have shaken the fashion industry. Have you seen a shift in consumer sentiment for luxury in these uncertain times?
We have not been seeing a decline in demand for fashion but there is certainly a trend towards minimalism and more classic pieces within this and next season’s collections. Fashion trends tend to be a reflection of the current social climate and whilst we have been seeing a lot of eveningwear and glitz and glam over the last few seasons, post covid, I am expecting customers to look for slightly more muted pieces.
What is your favourite way to discover new trends and brands?
I tend to look at various sources to monitor trends and new brands – social media, runway shows, lookbooks, fashion news, among others, but my favourite method of discovery is through seeing collections in showrooms. Nothing beats seeing a strong collection in the flesh; getting to see the fits and getting a feel of the material.
What do you look for in an upcoming brand to get stocked at Liberty?
A mix of trend-relevance, how well the brand speaks to the Liberty customer, and whether it fills a gap in our assortment. Space is a lot more limited at Liberty compared to some of our competitors, so whilst we aim to introduce new brands each season, we always ensure that these will deliver a unique selling point.
Are there any brands or designers that you want to expand with in 2023?
We have a few exciting launches coming up – based on popular demand we will be launching Rick Owens, JW Anderson and Cecilie Bahnsen on our Designer Floor and Hunza G and Alemais on the Contemporary Floor. All to be delivered in Spring. The rest of the year is still work in progress but we are also looking to add one to two less established brands.
We are also growing Liberty's own brand RTW, introducing a wider range of dresses, shirts and resort styles. And lastly, we are excited to launch Bridal in Spring with a range of existing contemporary brands, and with a focus on civil ceremonies or second outfits.
Sustainability has become an essential topic in fashion. How do you embrace ecological and fair design at Liberty?
One of the key actions we take is to avoid over-stocking. We tend to buy very demand based to ensure we have as little stock left as possible at the end of each season.
In terms of the range, we have a large designer vintage section, which we are known for. We always ensure a strong edit of sustainably minded brands as part of our buy, which is growing year-over-year. It’s a very complex subject that can be approached in many ways but brands that are making efforts to tackle problems from different angles are for example Aje, The Meaning Well or Citizens of Humanity.
What about your own Liberty brand?
In terms of our own Liberty Fabrics, used by brands globally, as well as our own Liberty London brand, we take our duty with regards to responsible production seriously. We work hard to ensure ongoing support of cotton communities whilst protecting and restoring the environment through several schemes including the Better Cotton Initiative.
What trend themes will you be focusing on for AW23?
For pre-autumn, we are definitely seeing a ‘summer glam’ trend come through – lots of satin, sequins, and other luxe textures across dresses, sets and tailoring, which lend itself perfectly to the summer occasion end-use.
In general, essentials with a twist and elevated wardrobing pieces will be key for next season – oversized shirts, floor length tailored coats, shift dresses and wide leg trousers. The colour palette is becoming much softer: after bold and saturated has been dominating trends for a few seasons, pastels and neutrals are becoming a lot more relevant for AW23.
What is the key material for the coming season?
Denim, denim, denim! An important story I am expecting to be embraced by various brands across all price points. I am expecting to see more head-to-toe looks, Y2K inspirations, and patchwork styles.
In terms of prints, key next season will be blurred aquarelle inspired prints, wild flower prints and larger scale place prints – often in jewel colours.
According to trend forecasts, outdoor and utility themes will become increasingly important. Are you noticing that too?
Outdoor is not a trend that we are backing heavily but we are definitely seeing inspirations come through in the collections – we are seeing quite a few forest green, brown and beige colours come through for next season. In terms of utility, this is definitely something we are seeing a lot, especially in the shape of cargos and utility shirts.
What are your must-have items for AW23?
This is a very difficult one to answer as key items tend to be determined by the main runway shows but my personal must-haves are a maxi denim skirt and an oversized shirt.