Filed under: History, Modern Nostalgic, Shopping, Vintage | Tags: archive, British, department, design, fabric, heritage, history, interiors, Liberty, London, pattern, shop, store, tour, Tudor
Today was an extra exciting jaunt to Liberty, as myself and a dear friend were treated to a whistle-stop tour of the lesser- spotted aspects of Liberty’s history.
Meeting Anna, the in-house archivist for Liberty at the appointed hour in Customer Services, we were whisked downstairs and across the narrow street to the original frontage of the building (now owned by clothing brand COS), where Anna asked us to walk a little further on and raise our heads to the skies…
Above, barely seen, are huge Oriental style columns and carvings, which marked Liberty’s original raison d’être as an Oriental Emporium; bringing luxury exotic goods to the (albeit well-heeled) masses.
When Liberty opened its doors in 1875, built on a loan of £2,000 from Arthur Liberty’s future Father-in-law, and with just 3 staff, it was excellent timing. Liberty offered its clientele objets d’art, luxurious rugs and fabrics at the height of fashion with the public clamouring for desirable Eastern exoticism mixed with the comforting backbone of British tradition, and a sort of passionate longing for a romanticised Heritage which described the ideals of the Pre-Rapahelite movement.
As we re-trace our steps and walk back to the entrance, Anna tells us to look up again at the strange little bridge between the original building and the newer part that Liberty now inhabits. This was specifically built to join the two sides together, but with the written stipulation that “…should one of the buildings be sold and used by another company, the bridge should immediately be pulled down. Which means, of course, that it shouldn’t still be standing,” Anna laughed, “though as it’s been listed, I think it’s pretty safe now.”
The Tudor facade of the building we now think of as Liberty was actually built while the original building underwent refurbishments, so they could continue trading; and was chosen to stand for all that the ultra fashionable householder could desire – the entire building was meant to be a kind of Show Home Par Excellence. And indeed, for a price, you could walk in and have the exact carvings and “draped linen” effect wooden panels in your own home – built and furnished entirely by Liberty. Very nice, too. Put me down for one of everything, please!
Climbing into one of the quirky wooden lifts, Anna remarks that people who work on Liberty occasionally like to gently poke fun at a certain kind of wide-eyed tourist, by loudly acclaiming the wonders of their “original Tudor lifts.” The thought of this amused me greatly, though as we guffawed, I couldn’t help noticing the slightly crestfallen face of the lady standing beside us, and hoped we hadn’t crushed her marvelling at the advanced technology of those Tudor types. Bless.
The dark wooden beams and chunky Heraldic carvings in the 1920’s Tudor style building that so epitomises the Liberty aesthetic were actually taken from two massive ships, the HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan. The frontage of the building on Great Marlborough Street was supposedly constructed to be the same length and width as the Hindustan, though to Anna’s knowledge this has never been absolutely verified. It’s a pleasing thought, so let’s just imagine it’s true and leave it at that.
There is definitely the salty tang of the sea about Liberty’s interior. Perhaps it’s all the creaking timbers and the way it’s laid out, but one can certainly imagine you are all aboard the Good Ship Liberty, a proud galleon of British idealism, all oak leaves and marigolds, in full sail, carrying exotic goods gathered from each corner of the Empire.
Trotting through the store at a cracking pace, startling crowds and scattering tourists as we went, Anna got us to notice the way the wood is treated differently in certain areas – variously varnished, gilded, painted, and (horrifically, in my opinion) bleached with vagaries of fashion and reflecting the changes of what is seen as ‘good taste’ in different eras. “In the sixties they wanted everything modern and new, none of this old stuff, so the thought was that the woods was far too dark. So they either ripped bits of it out or had a go at bleaching it.”
Some of the wood was re-stained, some left as it was, and this adds to that patchwork Make Do and Mend, higgledy-piggledy nature of the place. And this is the way it has always been, the building is constantly changing shape with use, and so it should. This is a living, breathing business, not a museum piece trapped in aspic.
Luckily they didn’t destroy too much if the original carvings, but a great deal of the original plaster work was chiseled out. In a few places you can still see the moulded oak leaves and ornate ceilings that would have been everywhere, but most walls are plain these days.
The tea rooms originally used to be in the basement, the clue to this being the tiled walls, though this now fits very well with the menswear section and traditional style barbershop that now lives here. In what is now used as the hat department, along one wall, is a huge and incredibly ornate safe with a massive lock. “This used to be the jewellery department, and they kept the most valuable pieces locked away.”
Luxury leathers, now full of designer bags, once housed Liberty’s Goods In delivery area. “The street that runs alongside it was once a quiet little alleyway, so perfect for having their deliveries brought into; but when the street became more wealthy and successful, the store had to increase its frontage and entrance ways to entice the shoppers in, so the area became prime floor space instead.”
Liberty has changed to meet the world around it, too, then, just as it has changed internally over the years. As we cautiously peered over the railings on the top floor, Anna bade us look right down to the ground below. It’s a rather dizzying sensation, I can tell you. Next, she showed us another section in which a floor had been inserted in the 1960’s, again to maximise floor space, which is understandable but rather regrettable, like much of the Sixties architectural choices, if you ask me. She said, sounding like Prince Charles. ;-p
When I’m usually in Liberty, my eyes are darting from one one thing to the next, there is so much to see you quite literally don’t know where to look next. It’s quite wonderfully exhausting, just trying to take it all in; every surface laden with goodies.
My favourite throughout the whole tour was the way Anna would suddenly pause and point out the things you normally miss amidst the sumptuous offerings. “Look, there’s one!” she exclaims, and we creep closer to the window she’s pointing at, peering at the tiny fragment of stained glass the window pane had been patched with.
“There are simply loads of these scattered through the whole of Liberty’s,” Anna explained. They would buy up antiques and old windows in auctions and patch the glass whenever a bit got broken or damaged.
Anna explained this informal way of displaying goods for sale was quite revolutionary. Instead of just relying on special cabinets and shop fittings, Liberty revelled in the backdrop of the building itself to best display their wares: rugs draped over wooden railings, fabrics arrayed over antique tables, baskets arranged in fireplaces – just as they are today.
Fabrics must be what Liberty is most famous for selling, but in fact the rug department is the only original link to their true beginnings as an Oriental Emporium. The rugs are still draped nonchalantly over the wooden railings, as though awaiting the attentions of the maid and her brush.
I love the cosy homeliness of Liberty – albeit on a grand scale. The fact that around every corner peeps a carved wooden figure, peeking through the Liberty Print shirts, mischievous little links to the past. Anna’s favourite is the Elephant “It has really odd, strangely human ears, don’t you think?” My favourite has to be the lion, as it looks really worried and a bit scared. A cowardly lion, perhaps? This playfulness only adds the charm and character of the place.
At the moment, Liberty is festooned with elegantly naive Christmas decorations, the golden chains harking back to the crepe paper ones of childhood, and hug from the original carved beams, some of which are from the ships that never made it to sea, some from the specialised wood turners Liberty employed, who would also make them to commission for your house, if you had sufficient funds for the task.
The awe inspiring chandeliers which drop almost the full height of the building are always there, though these obviously aren’t original. “They replaced them in the 1990’s as the weight of the previous ones were found to be pulling the ceiling down!” Anna chuckled. “These are far lighter, and were chosen for their airiness while retaining that same grandeur.”
There are far older chandeliers in the building, like this one which dates back to the opening of the 1920’s section, and according to Anna “…was once the longest chandelier in Europe. Or maybe it still is, I must admit I don’t know for sure.”
The glowing ice-crystal like droplets really are magnificent, and I like the fact they are obviously very modern but with a splendour that seems to belong to an earlier age. This very much fits Liberty’s clever balance of strikingly new designer ranges and the incredibly classic patterns and designs they built their name on.
Now when I come to Liberty, as well as gazing in awe at the thousands of Wondrous Things to buy, as I always have, I shall definitely be looking at the building itself a lot more. “There’s always more to see, I find new things all the time that I’d never noticed before, even more patched windows!” Anna tells us. She is based over at the Wholesale building across the narrow alley (that runs under the infamous bridge), but is in the Tudor-esque bit very often, on one fact finding mission or another. “People write to me from all over the world, sending me scraps of material from their bridesmaid dresses and trying to trace the pattern’s name.”
It was a pity the Heritage Suite was still being used at the end of our tour, Anna had hoped it would be empty by then so she could show it to us. “It used to be the Director’s dining room,” she explained, “but is now hired out for various functions, meetings or events. Ooh, and if you ever have a beauty treatment here, you must get them to show you the room off the makeup hall which is all gold panelled and was used to formally receive Queen Mary!”
Although there are several department stores around the world that have become tourist attractions in their own right, there can surely be few where the actual building and interior is so vitally important to the ethos of the company and the very goods they sell. Liberty sell you pieces of the dream you’re standing in.
Filed under: Art, Decadence, History, Perfume | Tags: Art, Ballet Russes, Dance, Diaghilev, Eau de Parfum, Fragrance, Fragrantica, Roja Dove, V&A
Recently, I had the pleasure of being invited to the stunning Haute Parfumerie in Harrods, in order to gape open-mouthed at the wonders it contains (it truly is a must visit destination for any fragrance lover) and also to sample some of their latest wares, for an article I was writing for Fragrantica magazine.
I can honestly say that my favourite new perfume, introduced to me that very day, was the deliciously refined warmth of Diaghilev. Although I reviewed the fragrance for the article, I thought I’d go into a bit more detail that the length of the piece allowed.
Top Notes: Bergamot, Lemon and Orange
Heart Notes: Rose de Mai and Jasmine.
Base Notes: Oak Moss, Orris, Patchouli, Vanilla and Vetiver.
Now that Autumn [my favourite season, hurrah!] is here – and the wonderful Diaghilev exhibition at the V&A this perfume was created for is now open – Roja Dove’s Diaghilev fragrance really comes into its own: a golden fragrance inspired by the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes.
Diaghilev is limited edition Eau de Parfum and the magnificent result of a fruitful union between Roja Dove and the Victoria and Albert Museum, paying homage to that Golden Age of the Ballets Russe, and in particular its founder, Serge Diaghilev.
Diaghilev’s extraordinary company, which survived a twenty-year rollercoaster of phenomenal successes and crippling problems, revolutionised ballet. As importantly, Diaghilev’s use of avant-garde composers, such as Stravinsky and designers such as Bakst, Goncharova, Picasso and Matisse, made a major contribution to the introduction of Modernism.
Diaghilev’s dramatic performances transformed dance, reawakening interest in ballet across Europe and America. Celebrating the company’s key period of activity, this major exhibition reveals Diaghilev’s enduring influence on 20th-century art, design and fashion and includes more than 300 objects including giant theatre cloths, original costumes, set designs, props and posters by artists and designers including Léon Bakst, Georges Braque and Natalia Goncharova. These tell the story of a company which began in the social and political upheaval of pre-Revolutionary Russia and went on to cause a sensation with exotic performances that had never been seen before.
Roja has always loved Art Deco and was very much inspired by this period in his creation of Diaghilev. He explains that “the movement captured the changing views of society. This Chypre scent I have created, I hope, reflects all the sentiments of this time.”
Roja Dove’s Diaghilev also manages to pay homage to the great Chypre perfumes created during this period, the years between 1909-1929. And yet this perfume is not in any way a mere history lesson. Just like the Haute Parfumerie itself, Diaghilev is a balance between great respect for the past, and lively, modern interpretations.
The perfume is exclusively available at Roja Dove’s Haute Parfumerie in Harrods, and the V&A shop (which you can also visit online, here).
“One of the pleasures of working with one of the world’s most prestigious brands is finding others who lead in their respective fields, with whom to collaborate. Having worked with the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Betty Jackson and Paul Smith, Roja Dove follows in that tradition.” – Jo Prosser, Managing Director, V&A Enterprises.
Once my piece on the Haute Parfumerie was published in Fragrantica, I received a really uplifting email from a member of the Roja Dove PR team, telling me how much Roja had enjoyed reading my article.
I was thrilled, of course but, imagine how loudly I squealed with joy when I opened a parcel a couple of days later, only to find a thick cream envelope, sealed with wax, inside, a lovely thank you note in flowing, purple script from Roja Dove himself, and my very own bottle of Diaghilev!
Excuse the awful picture, taken on my phone! How kind is that, though? It really made my day.
I do hope you get to try Diaghilev for yourselves, I’m pretty sure you’ll fall headlong for it, as I did: love at first sniff. 🙂 I am so hoping to go to the V&A exhibition, it sounds amazing, doesn’t it? My mother would be fascinated to visit it, too, as she used to dance with the Ballet Rambert.
I should tell you that I had ballet lessons when I was a little girl, but let’s just say that I didn’t exactly show a natural aptitude, and I still can’t dance to save my life. ;p
Filed under: Art, Berlin, Castles, Decadence, Etsy, Fashion, Fripperies, History, Marie Antoinette, Necklaces, Palaces, Royalty, Trinkets
As promised in yesterday’s post – Rococo a-gogo – today I shall continue wibbling on a bit about my recent visit to Berlin’s beautiful palace of Schloss Charlottenburg.
From the left, my darling be-ringleted fiance, his best friends – the mad & lovable Tucker, the irrepressible JJ, the suave Mark and his girlfriend Leah.
Behind them, a man on a large ‘orse. Actually, it’s one of Europe’s most important equestrian statues and was commissioned by Frederick III to honour his father, the “Great Elector” Frederick William of Brandenburg. Four slaves are chained to the base, and these represent the four humours, and also the enemies his father vanquished.
Below is representation of the meeting of three kings in Potsdam and Charlottenburg, 1709: Frederick I. in Prussia — August II. (the Strong), King of Poland and Elector of Saxony — Frederick IV. of Denmark. I love this painting because they look like quite perturbed, as though having been caught out having a little dance on a solemn occasion. Bless.
Read yesterday’s piece for more about the history of the place. Today I shall be concentrating on the hugely impressive collection of paintings to be found there. Some as part of the original furnishings and commissioned by the various royal inhabitants; others saved from historic buildings damaged or lost during the second world war, and now housed in Charlottenburg for safekeeping, and also because they so well complement their often painstakingly restored and sympathetic contemporary settings.
This is an interesting painting which you can read a much more in-depth history of here. Watteau died shortly after its completion, and it says much about the transitory nature of Art itself – how tastes change, how art styles and subjects go in and out of fashion.
The lady in the pale grey silk dress, leaning on the counter to the right of the picture, is examining a mirror – a very costly and showy piece at the time, and it is up to the viewer to decide if she is admiring the object itself or her own reflection.
The couple behind her are examining the large classical-style painting – the gentleman on his knees peering (leering?) very closely at the naked figures of the ladies in the painting, whilst the lady at his side inspects the putti higher up.
On the left we have a painting of Louis XIV being packed away in a crate – making way for the newer, more fashionable paintings gracing the walls. In this way, Watteau makes a wry commentary on the transitory nature of a nation’s love – or otherwise – for a King.
The picture was intended, and eventually used for, a shop sign (at one point being cut in half as the format was changed). Completed in just eight days, the artist claimed he painted it merely to “loosen up [his] fingers” but as we can see, it appears to be highly ironic and mocking view of the Paris Art scene following the death of Louis XIV. Rather more elaborate than your average shop sign, certainly!
It was acquired by Frederick II in 1745 and still hangs in his Concert Room today at Charlottenburg, in exactly the place he originally intended it should be hung.
Frederick II was much taken with the charm and grace of the world famous Italian dancer, Barbara Campanini, who was known as La Barbarina.
This particular painting was originally to be found in the King’s private study in the Berlin City Palace – one imagines he gazed at it quite longingly, as he persuaded her to join his court so he could see her dance whenever he so wished. She joined the King’s ensemble at the opera house on the Unter den Linden – still a wide and much-used avenue, today full of expensive shops, art houses and theatrical establishments.
Ms Campanini is pictured in the very epitome of the Rococo landscape – a fairytale park, surrounded by Art and holding a tambourine – all the elements a Rococo-loving King would want in a painting (along with a lovely lady, obviously!)
Her dress is quite exquisite, and of course would have been obscenely costly – she appears to be wearing leopard skin, too – incredibly exotic and another costly item. Flashing a bit of the ol’ well-turned ankle can’t have harmed the King’s liking for this portrait, either…
Having led a fairly carefree life before marriage, Queen Elizabeth Christine to endure public humiliation by the almost complete neglect of her husband, Frederick II [my GOD they really loved the name Fred, didn’t they? It gets quite bewildering on the audio tour, I can tell you!] He basically refused to have anything to do with her, and their marriage remained childless. Rumour had it that the King was homosexual (so Voltaire claimed, anyway).
Queen Christine was surrounded by eight incredibly beautiful Ladies in Waiting, who she had painted by the court artist, Pesne (who painted her portrait, above, and that of Barbara Campinini).
These painting were hung in a room known as The Gallery of Beauties, which today is the Blue Ante Room of Frederick the Great’s First Apartment. These paintings are undeniably sensuous and really hold the viewer’s eye. the sumptuous, rich fabrics shimmering with a luminescence that cannot be captured by viewing them online, or even reproduced in a book.
I could happily have spent all day in that room, just gazing at their costumes, the elaborate hairstyles and exquisite jewels displayed. These paintings show the Frederican Rococo ideal of Beauty as well as signaling to the world how astoundingly rich the ladies of the court were – and how much power the court itself wielded.
I really wish I could find a better image of this painting online – it’s quite large in real life and was my absolute favourite of the Beauties. Her costume is just stunning – she was depicted in a riding habit (her favourite pastime) just after the hunt has finished. She’s looking quite pleased with herself and is holding a gun – we can see the spoils of her day’s work laying behind her.
I love her jaunty hat and the nonchalant scarf around her neck. Also, that jacket, oh I could have just fainted clean away!
At the age of 15 she became a maid-of-honour to Queen Sophia Dorothea, the consort of Frederick William I. She remained her loyal companion, and until a very great age remained the chief Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Louisa, and even wrote a book of memoirs about her experiences, entitled 69 Years at the Prussian Court. Apparently it’s a very revealing document of the age. I’m sure she saw a few interesting things in her time!
Louisa is so incredibly sweet looking, here. She was renowned not only for her beauty and grace, but also for her complete commitment to Prussia’s rescue from Napoleon at Tislet in 1807. She adored Charlottenburg and in a letter to Tsar Alexander I, dated May21st 1806, she writes:
“I very much wish you could be here, my dear cousin, and could enjoy the magic of enchanting Charlottenburg, and judge it for yourself. My beloved balcony, which you unfortunately saw covered in snow and ice, is divine again, and I hereby invite you once more to take breakfast with me here. The tea will be excellent, and the eggs quite fresh. If that were possible, how happy I would be!”
Filed under: Berlin, Castles, Decadence, Etsy, Fripperies, History, Holidays, Marie Antoinette, Palaces, Royalty, Trinkets
Aha! My last post seemed to get lost somewhere between me writing it and, um, anything whatsoever appearing on my blog. Therefore – if you have been pining, desperately worried about the lack of posts or wondering if I’ve been residing at Her Majesty’s Pleasure – fear not, Gentle Reader!
I have been to Berlin on holiday and returned yesterday evening. Marvelous and full of wonders, it was, but I shall break up the many, many pictures and post about differing sections of the holiday, I think. It seems best not to leave you in the lurch and then bamboozle you with an overload of information.
I absolutely MUST begin with what was actually one of the last days of adventure during our week away. A trip to Schloss Charlottenburg – the city’s largest and most impressive palace. The following two photos were taken by me, in the pouring rain, so forgive their slightly blurry and dull appearance!
The audio tour was extremely interesting & informative – I am now quite fascinated with the various inhabitants of the Schloss [castle] and purchased a book in the museum’s shop to learn more about them.
Sophia Charlotte of Hanover – later, Queen of Prussia – had the palace built – then known as Litzenburg – as a little place to hold her court and, mainly to surround herself with philosophers, scientists, artists and musicians. She was renowned for being incredibly intelligent and a huge supporter of the Arts, as well as an internationally acclaimed beauty.
A contemporary, on meeting her, described her thus: “She has big, gentle eyes, thick black hair, eyebrows as if drawn by a compass, a well-proportioned nose, incarnadine lips, very good teeth and a lively complexion.”
She may not be what modern standards describe good looking, today, but this goes to show our changing view of what constitutes female beauty. Back then she had such power and immense knowledge that, combined with her looks, Peter the Great on meeting her was literally dumbstruck. He couldn’t get a single word out, so intimidated was he; but Sophia was a naturally charming and humorous woman, so quickly put him at his ease. He was so grateful that he gifted her many trunks full of brocade and furs.
Sophia is now mainly remembered as the chief supporter of her former tutor, the polymath Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who she persuaded to found the Academy of Sciences at her court in Berlin. She very much enjoyed challenging & lively philosophical discussions, and used to take regular walks with Leibniz for the purpose of these discussions.
Known as “philosophical strolls” they are said to have inspired one of the scholar’s major works, the so-called Theodicee, in which he strives to answer the question of how a loving and omnipotent God can allow evil to exist in the world He created. This was a question which particularly frustrated the Queen, and which she posed to him time and again. He was an incredibly busy chap, all things told, and in his spare time invented the binary system. Or “co-discovered” it. A topic that induces philosophers to rage, apparently, so I shall leave it for them to thrash out. Suffice to say, he was quite clever.
Sophia’s husband, Frederick I of Prussia, lived separately from his wife and was only allowed to visit the palace at her express invitation. He didn’t actually regularly use his apartments there until after her death, when he renamed the palace Charlottenburg in her honour.
Easily one of the most breathtaking rooms is the Golden Gallery. Click on the link for an awe-inspiring panoramic view of this magnificent ballroom! The gallery is 42 meters long and decorated with an abundance of golden shells, tendrils, flowers and fruit. The large, airy windows, many mirrors and the colours used lend to the impression of being in a garden.
Indeed, the idea was for guests to feel they were dancing in a splendid fairytale garden. It’s very much in keeping with the Frederican Rococo ideal and is spectacular yet somewhat overwhelming to walk through. I liked to imagine the candlelit scenes that would have taken place in the room.
I have never been to Versailles, but had the impression that Marie Antoinette would come sauntering through the room at any minute. Though Antoinette herself has nothing to do with Charlottenburg, the impression of Versailles is not an entirely misleading one. Between 1701-1702, the main axis of the building was extended on both sides, with a prestigious show-facade on the model of Louis XIV’s palace.
The urge to break into a waltz in the Golden Gallery was hurriedly quashed as the many disapproving attendants looked on. I had already been told off twice (once for having a bag – even though every other visitor did. Once for taking a picture of a ceiling, as all photography is forbidden, but they don’t tell you that until 10 minutes into the tour. Oops!).
I have much more to say about Schloss Charlottenburg, especially the many famous and beautiful works of art that live there, and which I was quite enchanted by. Some particularly drool-worthy portraits of ladies in waiting and their fabulous clothes in the “Gallery of Beauties” and That Picture of Napolean-on-rearing-horse which they don’t really make a huge deal of having. You just walk into the room and there it is on the wall beside you. Quite stunning, but I shall save my frothing ferver for next time. 😉
Until then… were you expecting it? Well, then you are (hopefully) not to be disappointed! A selection of Etsy items, inspired – of course – by my visit to Charlottenburg. I hope you enjoy browsing though the gallery of gorgeousness.
Direct links to items shown
I also happen to think you deserve a closer look at some of these temptations…
Just look at how delicate and subtle this little print is:
And I just adore these wonderfully over-the-top (very Rococo) pin cushions. I’d use them for storing brooches or perhaps a collection of vintage hatpins, I think. Needles don’t get an awful lot of use in my household, and it would be such a shame to hide these darlings away!
The fabric used for this gorgeous bolero has a particularly Rococo look about it, don’t you think? I would so wear this with jeans and plain t-shirt or something underneath, just to add a touch of glamour to an everyday outfit. Love that look! Oh, and it can also be made to your exact measurements – be sure to contact the designer and let her know your requirements. She’ll gladly mail you swatches of her fabrics, too, so you can a better idea of the colours & patterns used.
I’d love to show you all these close-up, and all of the other items these talented designers sell, but I haven’t the time or room! I shall leave you to explore, but must show you one last item I didn’t include, as I had already featured a different item from their shop. Don’t you just love the witty nature of this ‘framed’ pearl? I don’t usually go a bundle for gold jewellery, but this is just perfect…
And now I must go and make pasta as I’ve been so entranced by the world of Sophie Charlotte and her contemporaries that I’m running several hours late! Oh well. As needs must.
Until next time (when I’ll bombard you with more holiday photos, waffle on about paintings and talk nonsense, one imagines) take care, darlings.