This month Cicilia Brognoli presents Liberty, one of the most fascinating department stores in the world.
Liberty is located in the heart of London, a stone’s throw from Oxford Street Station. Although the official address of Liberty is on the website (Regent Street London, United Kingdom W1B 5AH), it is much faster to look for a side street of Regent Street called Great Marlborough Street.
This department store takes its name from its founder Arthur Lasenby Liberty. In 1875, he went into debt with his father-in-law to pursue his dream, to found his own emporium. However, he did not want to create a shop comparable to a thousand others. Arthur Liberty was a luxury and design lover and he knew that his wealthy clientele would appreciate an uncommon emporium. So, he started importing fabrics and luxuries from faraway lands. He defined his shop as a ship loaded with treasure from the East. Mr Liberty thrilled his customers and repaid his debt in just 18 months. The society of that time was wild about the Eastern style, and many of Liberty’s products reflected the design of Art Nouveau which was hugely popular. Liberty’s success was so great that in Italy this particular style is still called ‘Stile Liberty’ referring to the influence of the London department store.
While strolling through Soho, it’s easy to find Liberty. In fact, its black and white architecture stands out, and it’s not a recent marketing gimmick. In the 1920s there was a huge revival of Tudor architecture. This fact encouraged Mr Liberty to have his emporium rebuilt.
This architectural gem cannot fail to have equally unique interiors. The store interior lies three atriums overlooked by the rooms, just like in a Tudor house. The East Asian design treasures still hide on six floors full of charm and history. Unfortunately, Arthur Liberty died before the completion of the building. However, the interiors we can admire today are just as he had designed them. Wood reigns supreme in the store’s stunning interiors, and in the 1920s some London craftsmen carved every column, panel, and handrail using the wood of two merchant ships that used to sail to the East.
Look at the panel with the floor plan, otherwise, you risk spending an entire day wandering around the huge Liberty collection. If this is your intent, you are not alone. Indeed, many locals and tourists stroll through the Liberty floors enjoying every design and fashion piece displayed in the shop.
On the ground floor, you find an atrium with designer bags, beauty, and a jewellery section. There’s also a lovely area with Liberty branded accessories, perfect as a gift for any occasion, while those with sweet tooth should visit the food room. This includes an infinite choice of chocolate. Beautiful tablets and truffles boxes with refined packaging, strategically positioned at the exit, will amaze you, making you stay a little longer inside the shop.
Due to the COVID-19 regulations, a oneway system allows you to enter from the main façade on Great Marlborough Street and exit on Carnaby Street.
Liberty is famous for its fine artefacts and beautiful fabrics. However, there are many services such as a barbershop, personal shopping, a piercing service, and a brow bar. If you’re not interested in going home with a piercing done in one of the most fascinating department stores in the world, head up or down one floor. The lower ground level is the menswear one and offers a great choice of clothes, accessories, and shoes. Plus, there’s also a barber shop, in case you fancy a little trim.
The first floor hosts womenswear where you can find the designer area, shoes, and a vintage section. If shopping is already exhausting you, you can stop in the luxurious treatment rooms for a quick pampering. The womenswear section continues on the second floor, and has a decidedly more contemporary style. Denim lovers cannot miss the dedicated section hosting every possible type of jeans imaginable. If I were you, I would stop for a little break at Arthur’s Café, also on the second floor. Rest for a moment, the Liberty tour is far from over.
The third floor in my opinion is truly unmissable. This floor hosts the most extravagant and curious furnishings and home accessories that make Liberty so famous. The Tudor style wooden interiors and the white ceramic section will make you crave a nice Sunday banquet with steaming Sunday roast lying on that precious tableware.
For the contemporary design lovers, I suggest looking for the vases collection. You can admire female silhouette shaped pottery, and statue heads that are actually vases in eye-catching fluoro colours. All the larger furnishings are arranged creating small thematic settings, to suggest compositions that can be easily recreated once products have been purchased.
One of the rooms overlooking the third-floor balcony is dedicated to body and bath. Let yourself be guided by your nostrils, albeit hidden by the mask, and in no time the triumph of the scents will take you to the aforementioned room. The products are arranged on tables adorned with ancient statue heads lightly sprayed with rose gold paint. Liberty is also famous for its beautifully printed fabric, and on the third floor there’s a big dress textiles area and a haberdashery room. Trimmings of all kinds but above all dozens of buttons will delight you, making dozens of creative fashion projects blend in your head.
On the fourth floor there are further furnishings with dedicated fabrics and childrenswear. The Liberty design studio creates the fabrics prints often reinterpreting the ones sold by Mr Liberty. In particular, the floral motifs are the iconic Liberty ones, in fact you will find dozens of them printed on luxurious silks, velvets and satin. Another interesting room is dedicated to carpets and rugs, and it feels like entering a real Middle Eastern souk. I strongly advise you to visit this area, even just out of curiosity. Carpets designs, like in this case, are owned by the artisans and therefore cannot be photographed.
Every year Liberty sets up a Christmas area on the fourth floor, hosting dozens of particular decorations. The variety of themes includes transparent glass ones, exotic animals, peacock style, and much more. Every year Liberty offers its branded Christmas balls and fabric decorations and these are truly an unmissable souvenir. This year will certainly be a different Christmas for everyone, but don’t worry, you can also find all the decorations on the Liberty website.
For fashion and home decor lovers Liberty is the Pleasure Island where you can find statement pieces for stylish outfits and objects to make your home very chic. For those who do not love shopping and will find themselves accompanying a loved one unwillingly, I propose a challenge. Enjoy this little treasure hunt, making your Liberty tour more fun.
Mr Liberty was a dreamer, a lover of distant lands, and his store was for him like a treasure-loaded sailing ship. A precious 4-foot tall golden copper ship is docked right in Liberty. The captain used to admire the deep blue sea. He imagined adventurous stories featuring the miniature paintings of characters on the windows of the ship. The sailors were fascinated by the exotic animals they saw, and these wild beasts still roam on the carved wooden panels in the central atrium of the third floor. If you feel observed, it is the six wives of Henry VIII portrayed here and there that look at you curiously. Don’t forget to pay homage to the fallen of the Great War and WW2 remembered in two engraved wood panels. Well, now that you are almost done with the treasure hunt you can leave. Look for the clock depicting St George and the Dragon on the facade overlooking Kingly Street. How long did your Liberty tour last?
You can read more of Cicilia’s articles on ciciliabrognoli.weebly.com/