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: Beauty, cakes, Competions, Couture, Decadence, Fashion, Fripperies, Shopping, Trinkets | Tags: birthday, cake, champagne, competition, Decleor, Dr Martens, Facebook, Hera, Ianthe, Leicester Square, Liberty, London, luxury, Shopping, spa, treat, W Hotel London, winner
Everyone should get spoiled on their birthday, and while perhaps a bacon sandwich and a mug of tea in bed would have done at a pinch; this year I was absolutely spoiled rotten by the lovely people at Liberty London
Imagine if you will the very moment I received the email telling me that I was the lucky winner of Liberty’s Facebook competition. I read it on my phone during a typically lacklustre lunch break at work. “You recently entered a competition on Liberty’s Facebook page..” it began. “Oh here we go, I bet it’s spam!” I thought cynically, until I read a bit further on and it finally dawned on me this was real. I had WON! I may have squealed quite a lot at this point.
It was arranged that I could do the spa treatments, voucher, Champagne tea & hotel bit of the prize on the tenth of November – my birthday! – and the behind the scenes tour the following week, as the Liberty archivist wasn’t available on that day. Oh no, I’ll have to go back again. How AWFUL. ;p
On a chilly, slightly drizzly grey Saturday, your humble author made her way to London, attempting to travel light and failing as usual, with her beloved fiancé carrying several items she couldn’t fit in her bag. As usual. On arriving at the wonderous W Hotel Leicester Square, the very kind chap at the check-in desk, on learning it was my birthday, gave us an upgrade to a seventh-floor luxury room with spectacular views.
As birthday beginnings go, they don’t get much better than that.
Obligatory explorations of hotel room over, we moved on to obligatory taking of pictures of hotel room, to show expectant friends and family members, before high-tailing it to Liberty and collecting my gift card.
I remember my mother taking me to Liberty when I was a little girl, gazing wide-eyed at the gorgeous things all around me, strangely quiet for a precocious brat, subdued by magnificence. I really think Liberty retains this power to make you feel that excitement of a child in a veritable Wonderland. It’s quite amusing to stand back and watch the facial expressions of grown adults walking in, gasping and giggling as they pick up something, turn to their companions and say “LOOK!” as they exclaim their pleasure, practically bouncing up and down with glee.
Or, of course, actually bouncing up and down with glee, as with this (mostly) grown adult. 😉 I honestly kept thinking someone would wake me up any minute , but they didn’t and the lovely dream continued as I made my way to the Decleor spa rooms with Vicky, their expert therapist.
How to describe the next two hours? I can only say it was pure bliss and leave you to imagine, as words will not do. Suffice to say, In have never felt so entirely relaxed in my life, as every ache and pain was massaged away. Although Liberty was absolutely rammed with people that day, you’d never know it in the peace and seclusion of those rooms.
Thanks to Vicky’s Decleor Facial expertise, I walked out in PUBLIC with no other makeup than a hasty reapplication of lipstick, for the first time since I was about 14 (I jest you not), so healthy, plumped and glowing did I look. I simply cannot recommend her – or Decleor – highly enough. Go and see Vicky at Liberty!
My fiancé had thoughtfully bagged us a table at Cafe Liberty, so I was able to swan past the queue and go straight in to join him for the next treat of a Perrier-Jouët Champagne Tea for Two. Teeny tiny little perfect sandwiches and mini pastries and fruit scones still warm from the oven and slathered with clotted cream and jam. Divine!
This would be a perfect afternoon treat at any time, but it was definitely the sweet centre of this birthday gal’s day. I savoured every single crumb that passed my lips (and there were quite a few of those, it’s a generous tea!)
Slightly bulgy, and very glad that I’d not opted to have the tea prior to my full-body massage (for the therapist’s sake, if not mine) it then fell to me to Make a Choice and use my gift card to buy myself a birthday present. The delicious agony of this was quite overwhelming, and imagine my fiancé’s pleasure as I wandered around and around and around again, clutching my gift card and sort of muttering like a mad woman: “What about this? OOOH but what about that?! Or that one? But maybe I should get this one instead?” I don’t think I would have bourne it with such beneficence, had I been in his shoes, dear readers. Bless him, he didn’t complain once. Outwardly.
I decided that I should get something to do with Liberty’s heritage – a classic Liberty Type Thing – which I could treasure forever, rather than a bang-up- to-the-minute high fashion item. You are rather spoiled for both extremes at Liberty, though, as they really do have something for everyone, from the classic-lovers to the Ultra Trendy Fashionistas I tremble in the shadow of. I especially love the fact that Liberty really believe in supporting and encouraging new and emerging designers, as among these Bright Young Things will be the ‘classics’ of the future.
Amidst the manifold temptations of the infamous Scarf Hall, my beady eye kept getting drawn back to the sumptuously rich Ianthe print wool and silk scarf, specifically in the purple colour way, as I felt this really highlighted the pattern and the lustre of the fabric.
Spoilt for choice doesn’t even begin to cover it, but I’m thrilled with my pick, and delighted at the prospect of owning a Liberty print satchel when the Strawberry Thief print is back in store again.
Oh, it’s just stunning, and something I know I’ll treasure forever. This is the sort of thing you can fling on with jeans and a jumper for a walk in the woods (or more likely, in my case, to the Gin Emporium); or worn draped around your shoulders at the most elegant of weddings or special occasions. What’s not to love?
This is me in my Hera print Liberty shawl, which I wear a lot and had swaddled myself in against the biting chill of the day. I know I’ll love my Ianthe print one all the more for the special memories it holds. 🙂
More scarves. WANT.
Very tempted by the chandelier print scarf, too. Just everywhere you look, it’s gorgeousness abounding.
I loved these quirky Victorian style illustrated letter tiles, and would like the entire alphabet but would settle for my initials. 😉
I did rather have my heart set on getting the Dr Marten’s limited edition Liberty Print large satchel in the Strawberry Thief pattern (indeed, I blogged about lusting after this very satchel not long after it came out, earlier this year), but sadly they are out of stock of it, as it’s so popular! Sad face.
However, the lovely gentleman who served me at the till took my details and said he’d let me know if they got some in again, hopefully before Christmas.
OH NO, another reason to HAVE to go back to Liberty. Again. What a personal disaster.
Fab Christmas windows at Liberty. I was especially drawn to the crazy lobster window.
Higgledy-piggledy decadence is their theme – opulent chaos. Adorable!
Skipping out of Liberty, iconic purple bag in hand, I noticed that it had somehow suddenly got dark. Of course this hasn’t happened ‘suddenly’, but do you know, when you’re being pampered to within an inch of your life, the time veritably whizzes along.
Thence it was back to the hotel to get ready for the W’s award winning Spice Market restaurant’s tasting menu, that my darling chap was so generously treating us to that evening. But first, there was one more surprise in store for me…
On returning to our room, we discovered that the lovely check-in desk guy had arranged for a bottle of Champagne, selection of juicy raspberries and blackberries, massive slice of Red Velvet cake topped with strawberries with a candle and “Happy Birthday” written in glittery chocolate, and a card wishing me a very happy birthday and saying if I needed anything at all, to let him know.
HOW darling is that? I actually cried I was so moved. It had been quite a horrible year thus far, in many ways and for various reasons, but this (forgive me) literally was the icing on the cake!
We decided to save the cake for later on that evening, as we were still quite full from the afternoon tea (talk about First World problems, eh?) and lounged about drinking more Champagne and lazily getting ready for the meal.
When booking our table online, the chap and myself had ooh-ed and ah-ed over the menu for ages, practically drooling at the mere descriptions of the dishes on offer. As their website puts it:
“A timeless paean to Southeast Asian sensuality, Spice Market will delight London with Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s unique interpretations of the region’s cuisine served in an informal and sultry atmosphere.”
And they ain’t wrong. Delightful it was, every single mouthful. We had plumped (quite literally) for the tasting menu, as we just couldn’t settle on what to try. Little bits of everything seemed the best way forward, and so it proved, with waves of delicacies placed before us, and everything absolutely perfectly cooked and immaculately presented.
The Spice Market is laid back but upmarket, exactly the kind of atmosphere to suit the cuisine, we were in a cosy booth on the corner, all the better for people watching (one of my favourite activities) and soaking in the ambience. We couldn’t fault a single thing about the meal, only asking for a break the better to digest and ready ourselves for the next lot of courses (there are nine in total) to begin. Hardly a complaint – “this is all TOO delicious, please cease a while!” You can stow the violins away quite safely, I think.
After the meal we waddled to our room and laid on the bed in the hotel’s dressing gowns, in a sort of gourmet stupor and sipping wine tentatively while watching nonsense films and marvelling at the sheer bliss of the weekend. Somehow, we found room for the birthday cake slice, eaten while tucked up in our little nest of covers, shared out in mouthfuls, buttercream smearing our probably quite horrifically smug faces.
Us: slightly squiffy, woozily blissful.
The next day we sauntered home in golden Autumnal sunshine, smiles wider than the Thames, walking alongside a Salvation Army band as they marched their way down Regent Street on Remembrance Sunday; so grateful for what we’d experienced and most of all, for having each other to share it with.
I have never felt so truly pampered – it’s been a difficult year what with one thing and another, but this was like a break in the clouds. Perfectly timed, so needed, and VERY much appreciated. Thank you to Liberty, Decleor, W London, Spice Market and my darling fiancé for making me feel so thoroughly, wonderfully spoiled!
Filed under: Accessories, Bags, Boots, Fashion, Style | Tags: 2012, 400m hurdles, Boots, design, Dr Martens, fabric, Fashion, Liberties of London, Liberty, London, material, Nike, Olympics, Perri Shakes-Drayton, Print, satchel, Team GB, trainers
“Where Liberty [print] is, there is my country.” – Slightly adapted from a quote by Benjamin Franklin.
One is supposed to harbour a seething hatred of the monstrosities one is forcibly dressed in as a child, though it’s easier to live with when your mother was a fashion buyer, I suppose, and therefore seemed to escape the deepest realms of hideousness that several of my contemporaries endured while growing up in the 1970’s.
– Page from the Liberty Book of Home Sewing.
One of my favourite items of clothing as a child was a Liberty Print pinafore dress, which had puffed ‘leg o’mutton’ Victorian style sleeves. As I rather fancied myself a Victorian Urchin at the time (one of my favourite games, being already obsessed with the era, though perhaps for authenticity’s sake, urchins of any era tend not to have access to legally obtained items from Liberties of London); it quickly became my most beloved dress. I still have a hankering for most things Liberty Print, and I especially like the way many contemporary designers and clothing brands have incorporated the prints into their ranges.
I just adore everything about this satchel by Dr. Martens, featuring the iconic Strawberry Thief print. It’s a design classic and VERY much on my Want List.
Again by Dr. Martens, these floral Liberty Print boots take me right back to my days as an English student, swishing about the bluebell woods in long skirts, flower pattern DM’s, white shirts, pinstripe waistcoats and a huge silver fob watch I worse on a long silver chain around my neck. I was obviously a neo-Steampunk. ;P
I’m not generally a fan of trainers, but would definitely wear these beautiful Nike ones, exclusive to Liberties. They manage to be pretty without being twee or reminiscent of the kind of trainers that sports brands bring out imagining all women want to look like Barbie while playing sport/working out. Or at any other time. I don’t require everything to be pink just because I’m female, thank you, because I’m no longer 4 years old – and I didn’t much like it then, either. I can feel my Disposable Razors Aimed At Women rant coming on, so shall gloss over the topic and move swiftly on.
Talking of trainers, Nike have designed a pair of their Zoom Victory Elite trainers exclusively for Team GB Olympic hopeful, Perri Shakes-Drayton, who’ll be proudly wearing them for her 400m hurdle event on Sunday. Combining ultra-modern design with a striking heritage ‘Mirabelle’ print first introduced in the 1960’s by Liberty, they form part of an ongoing collaboration between the companies that goes from strength to strength. I’m always drawn to the designs that happily mix the the old with the new, and the work Nike and Dr. Martens are doing with Liberty is an outstanding example of how it should be done. Bravo!
“Life without Liberty [print] is like a body without spirit.” – Slightly adapted from a quote by Khalil Gibran.