Alice Molyneaux – Head of Licensing and Brand Partnerships at Liberty – talks innovation, partnerships and ‘good design’

“We’re a brand like no other”: Liberty’s Alice Molyneaux discusses how to keep a legacy IP fresh and exciting.

Alice, it’s great to connect. Firstly, can you give us a brief introduction to Liberty?
Soon to be celebrating its 150th anniversary, Liberty was founded by Arthur Lasenby Liberty in 1875. He laid plans for a London emporium laden with luxuries and fabrics from around the world. To this day, the department store still features cutting-edge design, unexpected edits and beautiful wares from the world’s greatest brands and craftspeople.

Liberty is also known for its unique, avant-garde design and unmistakable art fabrics. The archive – which encompasses over 50,000 prints – lies at the very heart and soul of Liberty. It is protected and maintained by Liberty’s archivists, establishing a world-class design resource for the active London studio.

How would you describe the brand’s approach to licensing?
We have a relatively small licensing and partnerships team who continue to work with artists, designers and manufacturers internationally to create unique product ranges across homeware, tech, activewear, accessories and more. We work collaboratively with like-minded partners and share our design expertise to create beautiful and well-designed products.

I believe we are an incredibly unique brand like no other in that we’re a department store, fabrics business and print design studio all-in-one. While it is a legacy brand, it continues to innovate and lead in the market.

Alice Molyneaux, Liberty, Ian Downes, Homewares

And how international is Liberty?
The Liberty brand is extensive and international. In the heart of London, there is the renowned Liberty department store which welcomes millions of visitors – including loyal and local fans, alongside international tourists. The Fabric collection is sold globally and provides recognition of the brand far and wide. There are 12 international showrooms, including Paris, Tokyo and New York. Liberty’s own product range is expanding and is loved by shoppers across the globe, particularly so in the USA.

Within licensing and partnerships, we continue to collaborate with partners who reach all parts of the world, such as Hay in homeware and PUMA in activewear.

Alice Molyneaux, Liberty, Ian Downes, Homewares

Given the strength and recognition of the Liberty name, is it a challenge to work with other brands and achieve a creative balance?
Finding that balance can be realised right on the outset when you meet a new prospective partner. It’s good to gather an understanding of their ethos, values and creative process, and for them to mutually do the same.

We have an incredible archive and a very talented design team who bring so much expertise to all our projects. Usually, when partners approach us, they want to gather the expertise of our design team to create innovative and well-designed products. We equally partner with specialists in their field who know their market and audience – so it’s important to listen and respect that. Another essential aspect to get this balance is having an excellent account team. Our licensing managers build and foster strong relationships with our partners. They really guide the product develop process to get the best out of our collaborations.

“We are an incredibly unique brand like no other.”

The result of this approach is shown in our products. For example, with our long-standing partner Chilly’s, the patterns on the bottles are so beautiful and the prints are engineered by our team to the bottle shape to look as they do. It creates a little luxury for an item that you’ll use every day.

Alice Molyneaux, Liberty, Ian Downes, Homewares

Great example – and speaking of prints, how do you curate those and choose which ones to focus on for licensing?
This one of the best parts of collaborations. There are thousands of designs within the archive, and each has a story of how it was created. Initially, we like to hear a partner’s ideas and vision for the collaboration. Our design team can then interpret this in a Liberty way, working closely with our archive team to research options. I love seeing our senior designer’s ideas. They are very considered and curated for each individual project. Our design team also look at colourways, scale and placement to ensure the execution of the print looks at its best.

Can you give us a quick overview of some of your other licensing partnerships and how they are performing?
We’re tracking up on budget and sales are very positive. We’ve had the injection of new launches with Bibs Denmark, Bloom & Wild, Hay and The Rug Company. On the back of such strong success from our Mother’s Day campaign with Bloom & Wild, we decided to work together rapidly on a Christmas campaign which has just launched this month. The flowers and coordinating gifts make such a lovely present for a loved one.

Alice Molyneaux, Liberty, Ian Downes, Homewares

With a brand like Hay, we’re really pleased to see strong press coverage on Hay x Liberty Matin Lamp within the UK, Europe and the USA. It seems to really have resonated with both editors and consumers.

Alice Molyneaux, Liberty, Ian Downes, Homewares

Existing partners such as PUMA and Chilly’s have also introduced some of their best collections yet. Puma took the theme of metaverse to give it a new and contemporary look that was encapsulated through the shoot. We also extended our offering by working with PUMA Golf across both womenswear and menswear to add a new dimension to the tie up.

A great roster there. What makes a good licensing partnership for Liberty?
The right partner for Liberty is a brand who values and appreciates good design. Good design is ultimately subjective, but principally it’s about producing products that are well made, high quality and expertly crafted in their own way. A meeting of minds also helps to ensure working together is both enjoyable and efficient. You want to make it a success together.

“The right partner for Liberty is a brand who values and appreciates good design.”

An example of a great partnership is the team’s work with The Rug Company. They produce exceptionally high-quality rugs that are sold internationally. As an artisanal product, they are all handmade in Nepal so it’s a very considered process. From the outset, it was important for our team to understand the manufacturing technique and what parameters the partner is working within to achieve the best results. They have strong expertise we can be guided by.

It was also essential that the look and feel they produced also aligned with Liberty’s own home products, including wallpapers and furnishing fabrics. Our Head of Interiors worked with them throughout the design process on that aspect. The result is the most exquisite rugs that are showcased through beautiful photography.

Alice Molyneaux, Liberty, Ian Downes, Homewares

They look fantastic. Now, on a recent visit to the Liberty store in London I noticed a lot of licensed products on sale in store. How do you integrate licensing into your retail operation?
We work very closely with our retail colleagues. They buy several of our licensed and partnership ranges– it’s mutually beneficial to work together. Our buyers have specialist knowledge of their categories and always know what’s new on the market. I really value their input and we regularly discuss new ideas.

Not everything has to sell at the department store – the Liberty brand is international so there are multiple routes to market – but it’s a brilliant platform to showcase collections. For example, Hay’s window display in September’s was captivating showcasing the range of patterns. It really enabled the debut range of lampshades to shine.

Are there some specific gaps you are hoping to fill from a licensing point of view over the next year or so?
Our team are focusing on the brands 150th anniversary, which will take place in 2025. It’s an important milestone so I’m looking to work with partners who are the best in class within their field. I think it’s less about specific categories and more about pushing boundaries, creating beautiful designed products and bringing an element of surprise to the market through innovation.

Last question! Do you have a favourite Liberty print?
I can’t pick one, so it’ll have to be two! Hera to me summarises Liberty. It was created in the 1880s and still looks so fresh. It’s bold, luxurious and works beautifully across fashion and home interior items.

Alice Molyneaux, Liberty, Ian Downes, Homewares

To completely contrast this, Corbusier is a design produced by Liberty in the 1960s by Bernard Nevill, who was the Design Director at the time. Printed in 1969, this print was famously worn by David Bowie for the cover of his 1972 album masterpiece, Ziggy Stardust. The geometric design has an ultra-modern aesthetic and I love how relevant it still looks today.

Alice Molyneaux, Liberty, Ian Downes, Homewares

Great picks. Thanks again Alice.

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