Now that almost every store in the U.S. is a Macy’s and Harrod’s in London has lost its lustre and affordability under new ownership and seems to be courting the very, very rich instead of its traditional “just affluent” customer, let’s celebrate Liberty London. It’s famous for its heritage, its prints (see J.Crew for Liberty print shrunken school boy blazers, skinny jeans and P.J.’s) and the sometimes eccentric, edgy surprise of offerings. To Manolo Blahnik it’s his favorite store on earth and for Time Out London’s readers, their top shop in town.
“I have known about Liberty
since I was a young boy. My
mother used to order Tana Lawn
fabric and make us outfits.
The store is so beautiful and
its history is so rich.”
“I was determined not to
follow existing fashion
but to create new ones.”
Ed Burstell, Managing Director
“Liberty is one of the
last great emporiums of its
kind left on earth…it’s the
most unique store that
I have ever come across”
“Liberty is the chosen
resort of the artistic
“My first visit to Regent Street
was a pure fantasy of delight.
Stepping into the ‘House of Liberty’,
and emporium of exotic colour and
design, and then to walk down
the street under snowflake
Christmas lights – pure heaven!”
With a £2,000 loan from his future father-in-law, Arthur Liberty accepted the lease of half a shop at 218a Regent Street with only three staff members.
The shop opened during 1875 selling ornaments, fabric and objets d’art from Japan and the East. Within eighteen months Arthur Liberty had repaid the loan and acquired the second half of 218 Regent Street. As the business grew, neighbouring properties were bought and added.
In 1885, 142–144 Regent Street was acquired and housed the ever-increasing demand for carpets and furniture. The basement was named the Eastern Bazaar, and sold what was called “decorative furnishing objects”. Named Chesham House after the place where he grew up, the store became the most fashionable in London and its clientele included famous Pre-Raphaelite artists.
In 1884 Liberty introduced the costume department into the Regent Street store, directed by Edward William Godwin (1833–86). Godwin was a distinguished architect. He was a founding member of the Costume Society in 1882. He and Arthur Liberty created in-house apparel to challenge the fashions of Paris.
During the 1890s, Liberty London helped popularize the emerging Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau design movments. The shop’s influence was so important, that in Italy, Art Nouveau became known as the Stile Liberty.
Still privately owned, Liberty London is considered to be the best store in London and maybe the world. (Especially since all the disturbing, customer-unfriendly changes revelaed this Christmas at Harrod’s).