London is brimming with old historic shops and is home to some of the world-famous department stores such as Selfridges, Harrods, etc. Liberty of London is one of them and it is my all-time favourite shop in the city. It may not be as massive as Selfridges or Harrods but the imposing Tudor style structure is very unique; of all the buildings in Regent Street it truly stands out and is quite attractive.
The shop opened in 1875 by its original owner, Arthur Lasenby Liberty, with only
£2,000 (the equivalent of about £200,000 in today’s money) capital borrowed from his future father-in-law. The store was a huge success that within a year and a half he paid off his loan (much to the delight of his fiancée and future father-in law) and he decided to buy the neighbouring properties to expand the shop floor.
Arthur Liberty was knighted in 1913, and by the time of his death in 1917 he had already amassed a great fortune and owned several properties including a manor house and an estate in Buckinghamshire.
The magnificent mock-Tudor building that houses the store today was built in 1924. It was designed by Edwin T. Hall and his son Edwin S. Hall using solid oak and teak timbers from HMS Hindustan and HMS Impregnable — two old British warships from the Royal Navy. The building rises to the same height and length as HMS Impregnable. They used authentic and original Tudor techniques to make the structure look like a real Tudor-era building. Above the main entrance of the department store is the weathervane of the Mayflower. It is the exact replica of the historic ship Mayflower, which took 102 English pilgrims to New England, in 1620. From the ground floor, as visitors enter the main atrium, they would easily notice the four floors supported by wooden beams towering above their heads.
I took this photo looking down from the fourth floor balustrade into the central atrium, and below photo looking up to the ceiling — this will give you an idea of the lovely architecture.
So it’s not just the exterior that is ornate but the interior as well. Unlike Harrods and Selfridges where every corner, every tiny space is practically occupied by different companies, mostly on concession, Liberty does not operate that way. It is a spacious shop and has a homely atmosphere; not bursting with astonishing range of merchandise.
The interior design is simple yet elegant; each floor is immaculately organised into a beautiful space that makes shopping (or in my case, window shopping) more pleasurable. Having an experience with the fashion industry (mainly with distribution, price control and merchandising), I couldn’t help but think every time I am at Liberty that there are a lot of empty space that could be used to promote more products. But I always remind myself that it’s not like Harrods. Liberty always try to maintain a homely, more like a family run-business unlike other department stores in the city. And in my humble opinion, this is what makes Liberty stand out. I took innumerable visiting Japanese friends (many of them are ‘licensees’ or those who have license to manufacture European goods in Japan) here to show them how they should try to imitate Liberty; that the feeling they get being there should be the type of experience they should give to their customers when they visit their shops back in Japan.
The fabrics and haberdashery section occupies almost a third of the entire second floor and it is my number one favourite corner in the whole building. I only come here when I am taking visiting family and friends but now that I have started sewing my own clothes, I will be coming to check out their new fabrics collection every season. During their summer sale a couple of months ago, I was able to buy some really cheap remnant fabrics — 3 metres of Tana Cotton Lawn fabrics for only £20, regular price is £22.50 (US$30) per metre.I love Liberty fabrics especially Tana Cotton Lawn which has a silky texture and really the finest cotton fabric available in the market. (Btw, I only buy Liberty fabrics when they’re on offer, at least 50% or more discount. If I have deep pockets I would not even consider buying a cotton fabric for a full price. I’d always wait for the end of season sale. Their silk fabrics are a dream — costs US$70 a metre!)
Liberty prides itself in being the home of small floral prints fabrics — the epitome of Englishness.
Aside from the fabrics, my other favourite part of the store is the Interiors Emporium. I particularly like the Oriental objet d’art and the exotic indoor plants.
I also like the designer vintage section. There are loads of Chanel, Valentino, Hermes and other top designers’ vintage outfits and accessories.
I also love visiting the stationery section.
And of course, there’s Café Liberty — a great place to go for afternoon tea!
Over a month ago, Adiben and I went to the café after a couple of hours of window shopping; didn’t have the full afternoon tea but just a cup of herbal tea and a few sweets.
The flower shop is also a little corner I like to visit when I come here. I usually stop for a minute just to admire the gorgeous flowers.
Sometimes the florists are around making some of the most beautiful floral arrangements anyone can see.
Almost every corner of the shop is dotted with all types of historic figures reminiscent of the Tudor era like the shields of Shakespeare, Henry VIII’s six wives and many others. And of course, the famous clock’s inscription is a great reminder to us all — a wise word indeed — “No minute gone comes ever back again, take heed and see ye nothing do in vain.”
Liberty has some of the most classy garments, jewellery, textiles, home furnishings and other objects — all very luxurious merchandise, and it is indeed a fashion cognoscenti’s haven. I always tell my visiting family and friends that Liberty of London is an absolute must-visit while they’re in town.