Liberty was founded in 1875, but the present Marlborough Street site, with its ships’ timbers and leaded windows, was built in the 1920s. The interconnecting jumble of rooms, with the odd fireplace and cushioned window seat, makes for an intimate feel – as if you’ve strayed into a private room in a stately house. It’s not an accident, founder Arthur Lasenby Liberty wanted customers to feel as if they were exploring someone’s home, keeping the shopping galleries small, albeit linked to three rather grand atriums.
Although Liberty trades well on its history, it constantly squeezes innovation into its wood-panelled rooms. Alongside one of the best edits for fashion shopping in the world, in 2011 it expanded its men’s floor, adding a huge tailoring and accessories chamber packed full of posh undies. The Paper Room soon followed on the ground floor with micro-floral Liberty print stationery and gifts, and then the Dining Room opened – quirky cookware and gadgetry in a space modelled on the kitchen in Downton Abbey.
French publishing powerhouse Assouline opened its Literary Lounge on the ground floor, where you can flick through fashion, art and photography coffee-table books (which are, oddly, the size of coffee tables). The Beauty Hall then doubled in size with ten new brands – their counters manned by an eerily beautiful staff. And five new treatment rooms are set to open.
But for all its pomp and fizz, Liberty doesn’t take itself too seriously – there’s a genuine sense of whimsy in its approach to retail. Collaborations with brands like Nike produce floral sneakers (that instantly sell out) and, via its Art Fabrics project, Liberty has worked with babydoll-dress fancier Grayson Perry and even Hello Kitty to create exclusive fabrics. Liberty threw a Hawaiian luau (complete with rum shack) for its Vogue Fashion’s Night Out party in September. It also hosts Dragons’ Den-like open days for entrepreneurs to pitch new products (which usually involves nervous people dragging sofas and knick-knackery up and down the stairwells). Visitors can also have their moustache expertly trimmed and waxed at Murdock barbers or their barnacles plucked off by expert chiropodists in the Margaret Dabbs Sole Spa.
Unapologetically eccentric and truly innovative, Liberty is a London icon.
Liberty is number 2 in our list of the 100 best shops in London.
See more great department stores in London