Liberty of London has a special place in my heart. It really is a store like no other, the eclectic collection of smaller buildings with the infamous mock Tudor facade, made from timber from two ships and the feeling you're in someone's (albeit very impressive) front room. The original premise was an emporium bringing exotic furnishings, rugs and carved furniture from the East swiftly followed by the creation of the eponymous Liberty print fabrics, which have been collected and adored for 135 years.
M used to come back with lengths of various prints from her marathon days sales shopping in the West End. We were never allowed to accompany her on these mammoth excursions, we might hamper her and distract her from her mission. She would return laden with bags, elegant leather gloves in every available colour, striped shirts and knits for D and for me they'd be some clothes but also the promise the lengths of Liberty fabric would be transformed into a sun dress, a skirt, a hat. Sometimes it would first make a skirt for M herself, before it became a dress for the much smaller me with a smocked top and spaghetti straps tied at the shoulder. Sadly, much to my chagrin, I didn't inherit her dressmaking skills. I'm not too bad at hand sewing but cutting a pattern or welding a sewing machine, pretty much clueless.
Years later, after we’d moved back up North, for a special birthday of M, D had organised a surprise trip to London. We stayed in a posh hotel and, for fear of dangerously high room charges, we breakfast at Fortnum’s. I recall having a fat slice of Death by Chocolate cake for one of these breakfasts and felt very privileged. I'd opted to add a bit of a challenge to our weekend by breaking my toes a few days earlier and was on crutches. Though I discovered with these I could propel myself at some speed along the crowded pavements of Oxford Street, much to the alarm of M and D!. Fortunately Liberty’s have some wood panelled lifts so I could still hobble around the higgledy piggledy store with M. The haberdashery department is one of the highlights of the store, it's a cornucopia of woolly, textiles, buttons, fastening delights. You feel you could spend hours working out the various merits of one elaborate design over another. There's little baskets filled with cards of fabric covered buttons, bookmarks, star-shaped patches and handkerchiefs. We visited it back then as I do nowadays, and I'm not sure it's changed at all. But the particular time I was on crutches is memorable as D was picking us up outside Liberty’s in his brand new company car. It wasn't anything amazing but it was new, a Renault 9 that had just won European car of the year and D had one of the first in the country. We knew it was red and I guess new looking but we hadn't seen it yet. We approached a large, shiny red car parked close by the entrance on Marlborough Street but M hadn't noticed the driver seemed to be wearing a chauffeur’s peak cap and climbed in with all the shopping before realising the mistake. Needless to say this chauffeur driven car wasn't a new Renault but a Bentley I think. I'm not sure who was the most shocked, the driver or M!
Now I return to Liberty when I can, I love the little rooms, the jewellery room, the scarf room, the stationery room, the crockery, tableware, the haberdashery, the cookware and of course this time of year, the Christmas room. There's a lovely bar where you can rest your weary feet and enjoy some smoked salmon and Prosecco after the rigours of shopping. I even love the fact that if you buy vouchers, you can have them as a purple pouch of special gold-coloured Liberty coins instead. People much more classy than a card!
There's been a 3-part TV show on Channel 4 about Liberty preparing for Christmas and Fashion Week. I've enjoyed seeing behind the scenes of a store I know so well, and meeting some of the store’s characters. In the first episode we see them preparing to launch their Christmas themes to the press on a hot summer day. And that's when I first spotted this Liberty print robin and was determined to make one of them my own. Then back in September they are joined by their new staff and open the Christmas store. The star buy is a huge friendly looking grizzly bear for a mere £2,000 for which you'd definitely need a substantial abode to house it. I figured I could splash out if I replace my bath with the bear or on second thoughts the sofa. The latter is more practical as I suspect you could sit on it, well astride it at least. Though really,the small robin would be so much more fitting for my flat! And if I was worried I'd be tempted we saw said grizzly being carefully bubble wrapped on the show to go to its new home.
On the programme one of the new Christmas workers, Faith, is talking about how she hopes to sell the bear (which if course she did) and follows her as she helps a regular shopper choose a basket of this season’s baubles. She assisted with the detangling of my robin from all its friends, so I was able to enquire during her ministrations whether the basket of baubles toting customer had returned for more. And it seemed like she relied on her previous ornament collection instead, so just in case you were wondering. However the Christmas shop has been stripped by tinsel loving locusts, there's not too much left and apparently they've been replenished several times over. I guess the TV show was a good idea then!
Standing outside in the rain (again) admiring the unique illuminated building after they close their heavy wooden doors for the night, I'm reminded of one particular moment from the TV programme. We’ve been introduced to Ed Burstell, their MD (formerly of Bergdorf Goodman in New York), who's been adding his own touch to this iconic store since taking over in 2010. We see him admiring the Christmas windows at the grand unveiling and utters my new favourite quote of the year, “my favourite colour is shiny!” What a coincidence, so is mine!