Friday, 18 February 2011

Liberty London

As London Fashion Week dawns once again the city's shops are abuzz. Themed window displays and promotions of British designers have appeared on all major high streets. London's fine department stores offer designer showcases and even host catwalk shows. London boasts numerous department stores, containing anything and everything from clothing to cutlery, some of which are part of nationwide chains and others which are unique to the city; many are popular stops on any tourist's trip to London There is opulent Harrod's, the high temple of commercial excess. The original, largest or just best loved branches of bright yellow Selfridges and middle-class favourite John Lewis are based here too. The outer facade of Harvey Nichols on Knightsbridge, with its stunning and imaginative window displays, is as much visited as its floor of shops and restaurants inside the building. But for sheer department shopping pleasure there is nowhere more perfect than Liberty.

The tudor-style building, all white plaster and black timber reclaimed from the skeletons of two ships, stands out among the heavy red brick and gaudy shopfronts of Carnaby Street on the corner of which it sits.  Inside the ancient and utterly beautiful timber structure forms a Globe Theatre-like stage for the mannequins draped in fabulous clothes.  Carved animals and less easily discernible beings peer down the five floors over the edges of the balconies.  Even the glass and brass lifts are panelled.

The very top floor is home to antique and vintage furniture and homewares, whilst on the next floor down the vintage collection continues in womenswear; couture Dior, Moschino and Vivienne Westwood hang out together on brass rails, sharing glory day stories of fancy parties and red carpets, amid piles of collectible Chanel handbags. One floor houses the store's unrivaled haberdashery department, filled with shelves of ribbons and wool and thread and fastenings. Having searched for a very particular type of button for months (the way one does!), Liberty was the place I finally ended my quest with success.
Liberty is famed for its lawn and distinctive Liberty print, some of which features designs by William Morris. This fabric can be bought by the metre, or covering various Liberty souvenirs. Some are evidently geared towards the tourist (paperweights and playing cards), others towards the high class tweedy shopper (handkerchiefs and tea-trays), and some for those who just can't live without a beanbag frog covered in the stuff.  Entire rooms are dedicated to gloves and scarves, or even scented candles (although distinctly high end ones, with matching high end price tags - quite literally money up in smoke).

Cocooned by the fragrant calm of Liberty one can easily forget the whirling chaos of nearby Oxford Street's retail experience. Its comparatively empty shop floors allow peaceful browsing of covetable items without the jostling and elbowing of Topshop, HMV, H&M and Zara across the road. I would happily shop here forever, although I fear my bank balance would not appreciate it. And so I will just visit Liberty like one would a museum, wandering amidst the pretty things on display. Just occasionally I might even buy a button or two.

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  1. You might be an Accidental Londoner but you sound like a professional shopper...

  2. Ha! I wish...more of a professional window-shopper at the moment I fear!


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