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Liberty London’s head of design shares the process behind the iconic prints

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Hannah Keegan
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“We work two years a head 
of time. On the hottest day of the year, we were designing Christmas prints.”

Mary-Ann Dunkley, 43, is the head of design at Liberty London. She lives in London with her husband and their two children.

My alarm goes off…

When my children run into my bedroom at 6am. I spend the next hour playing with them before my husband gets up. Then I’ll make coffee for me and breakfast for them. I’m quite a masculine dresser, so I usually wear trousers and trainers for work; I like brands like A.P.C. and Arket. On the days I have a design meeting, I wear very plain clothes because we need to check how the prints look against the body. I listen to Desert Island Discs on the Tube.

I’m responsible for…

Producing Liberty London’s two seasonal print collections every year and overseeing the bespoke design service we offer customers and brands at our studio. I manage a team of eight textile designers.

I got the job…

By studying textiles at university.
I was lucky enough to have a great textile teacher at school, that’s when I fell in love with it. My first job out of university was six weeks’ maternity cover for a junior textile designer at Paul Smith. I ended up staying for 17 years, progressing to textile design manager with my own London-based team. I joined Liberty two years ago after seeing the job on LinkedIn. 

Mary-Ann works with eight in-studio textile artists to develop their drawings and paintings into fabric designs.

My typical day…

Sees me arrive at work at 
8am. I go through emails and
 eat the yoghurt and fruit I bring with me. I’ll then have a meeting with our eight in-studio textile artists; a lot of my time is spent discussing the best way to develop their drawings and paintings into repeat designs for fabric. They work from a brief I create for each collection, for example ‘palace gardens’. They take this initial 
idea and draw their interpretations of it on to paper and then I decide which designs to move forward with. We work two years a head
 of time. On the hottest day of the year, we were designing Christmas prints. Afterwards, I may look through our archive for inspiration for new designs. We have 40,000 images dating back to the 
17th century and two specialist archivists who help guide me through it all. I stop for lunch at about 1pm and grab a salad from Urban Tea Rooms. I take this time to have a wander around the store.

In the afternoon, I often meet with brands who are working with our fabrics all over the world. They usually give us an idea of what they’re looking for and we put together ideas to inspire them further. Then, we develop these into their own bespoke printed Liberty fabrics. We have daily deadlines to meet for this service.
I travel to our mill in Italy, where
 the fabric is produced, every two months and I’m in constant contact with the team there over email. I leave work at 6pm. 

Part of her role is overseeing the bespoke design service Liberty offer customers and brands at their studio.

My most memorable moment…

Is when I saw my first collection for Liberty last year. It felt amazing.

The worst part of my job…

Is being the one to make the decision. It’s horrible when you have to say no to something someone has spent time on.

The best part of my job…

Is being surrounded by pattern, I’m like a kid in a sweet shop!

After work…

I spend time with my kids before they go to bed at 8pm. Then my husband cooks dinner. He’s an amazing chef and loves vegetarian food, usually from an Anna Jones book. I check my emails and look at magazines for inspiration. I’m always searching for new ways of using pattern. I’m asleep by 10pm.

My Plan B: Artist

If I wasn’t at Liberty, I would be making and selling art in my own studio. The only thing I’ve lost in my job is the chance to paint and draw every day. It would be big and bright. 

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Hannah Keegan

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