Brighton fashion designer Liberty Kelly on what led her towards her eponymous label
- Credit: Elizabeth Gibson
Liberty Kelly had a glamorous career making costumes on film sets, dressing Daniel Craig and Cate Blanchett. It was a piece of leftover tweed given to her by director Tim Burton that led her to design her first poncho and, eventually, to her eponymous label as she tells Jenny Mark-Bell
‘Modern British heritage’ is how fashion designer Liberty Kelly describes her eponymous label.
Her covetable collection includes cosy coats, jackets and ponchos, all made in Britain with beautiful British tweed. Liberty recently moved back with her family to Brighton after growing up in the city with artist parents. She says the milieu influenced her choice of career and her design sensibility: “My mum was also an actress so we used to go to the theatre a lot – the Theatre Royal is beautiful. I was always at my parents’ studio around lots of artists, sculptors and photographers – people from all walks of life.”
Liberty studied costume design at Wimbledon Art School and found London street style somewhat homogenous in comparison to Brighton. “I thought it would be like Brighton, just bigger, funkier and more colourful. Actually people would stop in the street and just look at me because I was wearing a long, yellow tartan skirt or whatever. Brighton style is just much freer.”
Initially she pursued a career designing for theatre but got fed up of “working like a dog for no money” and audaciously asked an acquaintance for a job on the set of Troy, which was filming at the time in London. He said yes (it is hard to imagine saying no to Liberty – she’s very charming). “After about a month the head of the principal ladies’ team had seen something I’d done and wanted me to work on her team.
“It got to the point where directors would request our team to do principal designs for a film. They would come over from the States especially so we could make them. For those 11 years it was pretty much back-to-back and it’s a fantastic job. But it’s just exhausting; long hours, seven days a week; going off on location sometimes... and with children you can’t do that.”
After working with A-list actors including Daniel Craig, Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett Liberty had developed quite a skill set. “I am a very fast worker – I get a lot done in a very short space of time. We could have months to complete a costume if it was really detailed, but often – and Tim Burton was very good at this – they would have a last minute scene change and you’d have half an hour to finish Johnny Depp’s shirt!”
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The Harris tweed Liberty used to make her first poncho was left over from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and director Tim Burton said she could have it. She thinks she chose a poncho “because it was cold in our studio and I needed to have my arms free”.
She started selling them wholesale to a shop in the Northcote Road and “they just kept selling.” Then she came up with a design for a jacket and “they just flew out of the shop too.”
What she loves about her customer base is its diversity. “I assumed it was people like me – late 30s, I have children, I love the outdoors, I love beaches and camping. But actually it’s all sorts of women. Because of the different ways you can wear my pieces you can never target them to a specific group of people.
“A lot of people who buy them have second homes and gorgeous Labradors, and they have a certain level of income. And then on the other side you have really relaxed, hippy, earthy people that wear them with baggy trousers. City girls wear them; people wear them to the races.”
Currently Liberty Kelly is available in boutiques in the Isle of Skye and Greenwich as well as on her website and at shows such as Burleigh and the South of England Agricultural Show. “I don’t really want it to be the kind of thing you can buy anywhere but I think I’m going to slowly branch out. It would be great to have some boutiques in Brighton, Arundel and places like that.”
She would also like to find some Brighton seamstresses to augment her team.
Looking to the future, Liberty is hoping to grow the brand organically. And she’s already had recognition from fashion royalty. “One of my friends was wearing a Liberty Kelly jacket when she met Vivienne Westwood. Vivienne asked where she got it from!”
Jackets are £285 and faux fur collar ponchos are £255, to see the full collection go to libertykelly.com