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Liberty Fabrics Takes Manhattan

The venerable 136-year-old printed-fabrics specialist has opened its first corporate showroom as part of a global push.

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NEW YORK — London’s Liberty Art Fabrics is in a New York state of mind.

This story first appeared in the September 13, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The venerable 136-year-old printed-fabrics specialist has opened its first corporate showroom in Manhattan, at 110 West 40th Street, to better serve the U.S. market, and as part of a global push.

The showroom, a 1,500-square-foot newly renovated corner space with hardwood floors and oversize windows with a view of Bryant Park, is headed by Ioana Banu, director of sales for Liberty Art Fabrics North America.

Banu said Liberty had been represented in New York by sales agents for more than 10 years, and still has a sales agent for the West Coast that will report to her.

“It makes such a difference to be in-house,” Banu said. “It’s so important getting to speak to the customer directly, hearing their questions and concerns. We’re really focused on developing and nurturing our relationships, making our customers feel like they really matter to us. We work with companies like Nike, J. Crew and Brooks Brothers — large companies that require a lot of care.”

Liberty, which has its headquarters and a well-known store in London, also has a corporate office in Japan, and Banu noted that corporate offices are in the works for South America and China. Banu’s office serves the U.S. and Canada.

After a successful Première Vision Preview show in July and a pickup in business overall, Banu said Liberty’s focus is sharp, while looking for growth.

“We deal mostly with designers,” Banu said. “It’s a high-end fabric, a luxury product. We have been selective in regard to whom we work with. We’re still keeping the distribution tight. We had a strong PV Preview show. We saw a lot of new customers and received good orders. Everything is going great. Just the other day, we got a large order from Brooks Brothers. We’re also starting to open a few more fabric store accounts. B&J Fabrics has been carrying us for quite some time, as has Purl Soho.”

She said those two New York fabric and yarn shops generally serve smaller companies and designers looking for sample yardage, as well as a growing trend toward at-home sewing and craft work.

“Liberty is one of the few fabric companies that has a brand,” she said. “The company is so well known. The prints are so identifiable. We’ve been around since the 1800s, and the image has never been compromised. We offer hangtags with the name, and some designers use sewn-in Liberty Art Fabrics labels on the clothes.”

As for those famous fabrics, Banu noted that most of the printing is done in Italy, the bulk of which is for the signature cotton Tana Lawn shirting fabric that retails for $32.50 a meter and higher. Wholesale prices vary depending on the size of the order. Liberty is still selling stock on spring 2012; fall 2012 was shown at PV Preview and will officially launch at Première Vision in Paris this month. The theme for the new season is traditional printing techniques, such as hand woodblock prints.

Liberty also prints on fabrics such as silk and wool, and even does some solids, but it’s the printed cotton Tana Lawn that comprises the vast majority of the business. Most of the prints are repeated every season, but companies have the ability to change the colorway or the scale of the print.

“Companies also develop exclusives with us,” she added.

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