Liberty: The Shopping Emporium of London
When it comes to large, established department stores, Harrods seems to always be the tourist fixation when visiting London… but think of Liberty when you want to get less mainstream and more eclectic. Sure, both of these places are incredulously expensive but sometimes, when a girl has to window shop, she might as well do it at the most exclusive and worldly superstore of Britain’s most fabulous city!
Nestled comfortably somewhere between trendy Soho and bustling Oxford Circus in central London, the magnificently iconic store “Liberty” stands strong and tall. You can see for yourself that the building is a stunner: It is such an eye-catcher for all on pedestrian level due to its looming height, historical mock-Tudor exterior and aged blacken timber that was salvaged from two ships. But why am I featuring this shop which is essentially a department store? What’s so special about this multi-leveled shoppers haven? Well, if you’re asking such questions then you obviously haven’t heard about the delights that lurk within this gem of a store on Regent Street. And ladies, I shall take it upon myself to educate you in all that is Liberty.
The store was opened in 1875 by Arthur Lasenby Liberty. He sourced opulent fabrics from all over the world, specialising in Japan and the east. As his business grew, Liberty acquired more of the surrounding shops and soon turned the store into a London statement. It was a treasure trove of decorative furnishings from all exotic corners of the world and became the most fashionable place to shop in the late 19th century!
To scale how successful and exclusive the store was, you must understand how Liberty impacted the fashion and art scene:
- Liberty stocked pre-Raphaelite artist’s work.
- The costume departments competed heavily with Parisian fashion houses.
- The Art Nouveau style emerged from the in-house fashion department of Liberty’s designers.
- Fashion lovers as far as Italy were in awe of this new emerging iconic style, so much so that they actually dubbed the style ‘stile liberty’ to honour the prestigious brand.
By the 1950’s, contemporary and traditional designs were integrated into the eclectic fashions. They began promoting the glory of handmade work and wares, bringing works of eastern influences and art deco styling, all the while managing to stay on-trend perfectly. Collections developed into cosmetics, gifts, homewares and furniture; all with the strong luxurious themes that didn’t wilt throughout the ages. They’ve even created numerous collaborations by teaming up with renowned designers, such as, Yves Saint Laurent, Vivienne Westwood, Manolo Blahnik and Hello Kitty!
But Liberty is insanely famous for one department in particular, and that is its acclaimed Liberty fabrics and prints. With a huge fan base in Japan amongst Japanese designers, these prints range from loud, vivid, colour-splashes to intricate etchings, simple drawings to luscious peacock feathers. Each individual design is painted and drawn in the in-house studio before it is printed, and then it undergoes vigorous eyeballing to ensure that its quality always retains grandeur.
It was in 1875 when Arthur Liberty printed the first silks. Imported from India (of course!), the Mysore silk was dyed in England with top secret dyes from the East, and then hand-printed with wooden blocks each season brings a new beautiful pattern and some classic designs from the 1880’s are still sold today! Inspiration is gleaned from all sorts of sources in creating them, for example, musicians were the inspiration for “Liberty Rocks”. There is one dedicated to Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine!
Unfortunately, due to a high street stuffed with low prices and high supply/demand (plus a pesky recession), Liberty took a decline in the early 2000’s. But the emporium was luckily saved by private equity in 2010. Sure, it is easy to understand the decline in sales in such a wealthy and luxurious establishment. Who can really afford to buy a small £165 Liberty print purse? Who could dish out for a £45 A5 leather notebook? If you can afford it though, get down there ASAP. If you can’t, then go for the experience as the interior decoration and the building itself is absolutely beautiful! If you have a bit of spending money, I would highly recommend hitting up my ultimate favourite floor: The Haberdashery Floor.
O, I was in heaven! Knitting paraphernalia, soft Rowan wool, reams of printed fabric, sewing boxes to die for – it is the floor to hit up if you’re a knitting wonder or a crochet genius! I came for the views, and left with a glittery crochet hook. Bliss.
Liberty’s vision and pioneering spirit led to an astounding collection of worldly goods to inspire and excite his customers. Beauty and design still reign supreme in Liberty, and you should pop down there to get a glimpse of this legacy! I shall leave you with the words of famous writer/poet, Oscar Wilde: “Liberty is the chosen resort of the artistic shopper.”