Liberty London. Department store. Listed building, London icon.Instagram favourite and keeper of a rich heritage. I’ve had a visit to Liberty in mind for years, having been a long time admirer from afar. But postings and circumstance conspired to keep me away, until recently.
The opportunity of a trip to London presented itself, so I grabbed it. The day-of-opportunity also happened to be the last Saturday before Christmas. The place was packed and not everyone was brimming with Christmas spirit. On the plus side, it meant getting to see Liberty in all its seasonal glory.
Liberty London is known for dressing impeccably for each season, and Christmas 2019 is no exception. Inspired by a Christmas Liberty print ‘Jeweltopia’, it’s less about decoration and more about creating a complete instore fantasy. Think rich jewel tones mixed with traditional festive elements. And some not-so-traditional festive elements, but it all somehow just works.
And then centre piece . A floating , floor to ceiling height Bonsai -style tree draped in Reindeer moss and blossoms, complete with sparkling dragon fly, Liberty print wrapped gifts and a resident peacock. This is not the place if you are a lover of any sort of less-is-more approach to decorating.
Liberty may be known for its eye catching, imagination capturing seasonal décor but the store interior is a thing of beauty within itself. The carved and polished wood and yards of colour and print are beautiful in their own right, but Liberty London isn’t just a pretty face. It is also the keeper of a fascinating heritage.
Liberty was founded in the late 1800’s by the adventurous Arthur Lasenby Liberty. With a dream and a loan from his future Father-in-Law, he sat about creating an emporium full of luxury goods and objects of beauty from far flung places. In the days when ships sailed off and returned from far away lands with cargo of fabrics, ornaments and artistic pieces from the worlds finest artisans, Liberty desired to sail his artistic vision straight into the streets of the city.
The idea of the Good Ship Liberty isn’t just metaphorical, either. The store interior was designed to reuse timbers from two old ships, the HMS Impregnable and the HMS Hindustan. Timbers were repurposed and ornately carved at the Liberty workshop and so the stunning interior was born.
Despite the scale of the design, the interior of Liberty was designed to feel comfortable and welcoming. And even on a busy day, it does. The interior is divided to create a series of rooms that makes it feel pretty homely. A very expensive, stylish home…but homely nonetheless. Comfortable seating, miles Liberty prints, fireplaces and curtains create warmth and depth.
Sadly, Arthur Liberty didn’t live to see his dream flourish as he passed away before the building was completed. Gone but not forgotten, his statue greets visitors at the Flower shop entrance and visitors can pause for refreshments in Arthur’s Restaurant on the second floor. I’d planned a Liberty Cream Tea in the art deco inspired Arthur’s as part of my visit, but the restaurant doesn’t take reservations and the line was out the door. So…next time!
The world is a smaller place than it was when Arthur Lasenby Liberty set about turning his dream into a business. Far flung places don’t seem quite so far anymore. The internet has changed the way we spend and travel. But Liberty retains some of that original magic. The stores design archives continue to inform today’s trends meaning the Liberty heritage will always be more than ‘just’ the history of the shop.
Liberty London. Department store. Listed building, London icon. Instagram favourite and keeper of a rich heritage. But also a little bubble of fantasy, keeper of the past, setter of trends and healthy dose of escapism. Who doesn’t need a bit of that ?