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Liberty

Liberty


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Lucy Bayliss


“Liberty is the chosen resort of the artistic shopper…”

At the faint ringing of the clock tower as it strikes ten, the figure of St. George revolves from above the timepiece to slay the figure of a dragon from a valiant steed. If you enter Liberty’s central atrium and step upon its wooden floor, you can just make out its distinct comforting creak. While its wooden beams tower up to the rooftop, its grand windows nestle within pure white walls – more than a façade,  a building or a place, Liberty is a familiar character in Soho. Below the timepiece is inscribed ‘no minute gone comes back again’ and that it shan’t.

Born in Chesham, Buckinghamshire in 1843, Arthur Lasenby Liberty’s first job was at the age of 16 assisting his uncle, a lace merchant. At 19, he went to work for Farmer & Rogers’ Great Cloak and Shawl Emporium in Regent Street. With the experience and acumen he’d picked up from 10 years of service there, in 1874 Arthur decided to become an entrepreneur and start his own business. Having borrowed £2,000 from his future father-in-law, he took over a section of 218a Regent Street and with 3 dedicated staff members set up his business. The store hosted a realm of fabrics, ornaments and objets d’art, with Arthur determined to bring his idea of an Eastern Bazaar to London. His vision proved a success. Within just 18 months the loan was repaid and Arthur soon purchased the second half of 218a Regent Street, as well as neighbouring properties 142–144 which became known as Chesham House, after his birthplace.  Liberty quickly rose to become one of the most fashion

Liberty quickly rose to become one of the most fashionable stores in London, forging strong relationships with a variety of British designers. Its Liberty Art Fabrics a notable success, being used for both clothing and furnishings and in the store itself. In the words of Oscar Wilde, a friend of Arthur Liberty’s and one of the store’s first loyal customers, “Liberty is the chosen resort of the artistic shopper.” By 1884, Arthur was creating in-house apparel to challenge the fashions of Paris. “I was determined not to follow existing fashion but to create new ones.” He collaborated with Costume Society founder Edward William Godwin, appointing him director of Liberty’s first ever costume department, a successful venture which would soon feature a clientele as prestigious as the famous Pre-Raphaelite artists.

Thanks to its dedication to the quality of its goods, the store soon became a Royal Warrant holder; a level of quality that still can be found in-store today. Arthur continued to build strong relationships with English designers during the 1890s including Archibald Knox, and many others whom practiced Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau. Having helped to develop Art Nouveau through its support of such designers, Liberty became synonymous with this trending style. And in Italy, they even coined a term for the shop’s distinctive style: Stile Liberty.

By the 1920s, Liberty was undergoing a renovation that would become one of its hallmarks. The new emporium was designed at the height of the 1920s fashion for Tudor revival by Edwin Thomas Hall and his son Edwin Stanley Hall. Incorporated into the design, two decommissioned ships; HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan. The two ships were up-cycled, making for the mock-Tudor facade we know today. Grade II listed, the frontage of Liberty on Great Marlborough Street is the same length as the Hindustan ship. The father and son duo engineered the design of the store around three light wells that form the main focus of the building. These were surrounded by smaller rooms to create a homely feel. Many of these rooms had functioning fireplaces, with some still visible today throughout the store’s four floors and basement. Though trading continued during the construction, sadly Arthur Lasenby Liberty never saw the finished product. He died in 1917, seven years before the building was completed in 1924.

In the post-war years of the store, Liberty continued its tradition of fashion foresight and eclectic design. The store’s myriad departments had collections of contemporary and traditional designs, many featuring new designers whose work reflected Liberty’s taste for handcrafted work. In the 1950s, Liberty blossomed beyond London opening stores throughout the country: Manchester, Bath, Brighton, Chester, York and Norwich all once had Liberty stores. However, in time, the closure of all department stores outside London meant the company would once again focus on its London flagship address.

Liberty’s Art Fabrics remain one of their most successful creations. Originally manufactured at former textile factory Merton Abbey Mills, they can now be found throughout an entire wealth of brands, from Paul Smith to Barbour. Its association with artists such as William Morris and Gabriel Dante Rossetti in the 19th century, and Vivienne Westwood in the 20th century shows the breadth of the brand’s artistic remit. Recent collaborations include Hello Kitty, House of Hackney, Manolo Blahnik and of course Nike; a particularly successful collaboration, fiercely sought after in-store and online. Liberty’s Art Fabrics have also found popularity in the Far East over the years. In 1988, the company opened a subsidiary in Japan which wholesales Liberty-branded products to major Japanese department stores. And it sells its Art Fabrics to international and local fashion stores in the area.

Today, very little about the mock-Tudor building which we all know and love has changed. And its 4th floor still feels much like a wander through Arthur Liberty’s vision of an Eastern Bazaar: ornaments, carpets and furniture that beguile and comfort in equal measure. ‘No minute gone comes back again’ but Liberty have managed, under the guidance of managing director Ed Burstell, to preserve a time and place true to their founder’s vision.

Carnaby

Carnaby


Words Kirk Truman

Illustrations Lucy Bayliss


Really, London started here for me. As a teenager and a then indie/MOD-type some 5 years ago, I started my first job here in London, along the brick pathway of Carnaby Street. Though it wasn’t The Jam soundtrack roaring out of Liam Gallagher’s newly launched Pretty Green flagship store, likely as my new employer that took my attention, but my undeniable fascination with a street so poignant and defining of this corner of Soho.

Seemingly, the 1960s have become overwhelmingly synonymous with a certain street that runs between Beak Street in the south and Liberty of London in the north. Though, this area has a rich history and accounts of land exchange dating from the 16th century. Thomas Poultney, a landowner, came to acquire two then adjoining fields. These together were to be known as Six Acre Close on which there was a well and windmill, thus making for the site of Carnaby Street as we know it today.

Taking its name from Karnaby House, originally erected in 1693, Carnaby Street was laid out around 1685. The street itself has gone from fashion to fashion and has always been synonymous with trade; with a market having begun in the 1820s. In his 1845 novel, Sybil, Benjamin Disraeli referred to a once famous carcase butcher in Carnaby market, which would’ve no doubt sat among a mass of traders. From 1850 to the early 20th century, the area became heavy populated by tailors, dressmakers and ancillary trades, thus serving West-End shops and Savile Row tailors nestled behind Regent Street. Trade, however, was soon encouraged with the opening of clubs and music venues around Carnaby; The Florence Mills Social Club (a jazz club and gathering spot for advocates of Pan-Africanism) being opened by Amy Ashwood Garvey and Sam Menning in 1934 at no. 50.

By the late 1950s, men’s fashion had begun its lasting descent upon Carnaby when His Clothes was opened in 1958 by Glaswegian John Stephen. He was the first entrepreneur to identify and sell to the young menswear market which began its emergence in the 50s and 60s. A widely regarded pioneer, Stephen became one of the most important figures of 1960s fashion, voicing the bold claim “Carnaby is my creation” in 1967. Stephen was widely regarded as the founder of men’s Mod fashion, whether Carnaby was indeed his creation is a matter of debate. Nonetheless, he was a purveyor and designer of sharp tailoring and clothes for the 1960s Mods, with his exuberant array of clients including staples of the era such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Small Faces and Jimi Hendrix.

By the mid-‘60s, Carnaby Street had become the UK’s thriving home of men’s fashion, with Carnaby, Newburgh, Ganton and Kingly quite literally inundated with fashion boutiques all chasing Stephen’s own endeavour. Stores such as I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet, Kleptomania, Mates and Ravel, to name a few of the array, honed in on the area. Soon designers such as Mary Quant, Lord John, Merc, Take Six, and Irvine Sellars were to come to locate themselves on Carnaby also.

The trend that Garvey and Menning began in 1934 with The Florence Mills Social Club continued below the very surface of Carnaby, with a variety of underground music bars nestled beneath the boutiques above. Music bars, such as the Roaring Twenties, in the surrounding streets became the norm: with bands such as the Small Faces, the Who, and the Rolling Stones frequenting the area to shop and socialise. Infamously, Carnaby quickly became a staple destination of the Swinging London of the 1960s. Awareness spread to North America and internationally in April 1966 when Time magazine published an article detailing the role of the street in Swinging London, describing Carnaby Street as three-blocks crammed with a cluster of boutiques.

Amid this clustering of boutiques and clubs along the buzz of Carnaby and its many corridors, it is no wonder that it came to be pedestrianised in 1973 by the Greater London Council, and now vehicular access is restricted between 11am and 7am. A comparison of the number of pedestrians entering the pedestrianised area indicated a 30% increase of a flow into Carnaby Street as a result of the pedestrianisation. A campaign commenced early 2010 to call for a similar exercise to be undertaken in the adjacent area of Soho.

On into the 1970s and 80s and Carnaby continued on as a destination for youth subculture. From the likes of punks, including the Sex Pistols, to rockers and goths; Carnaby continued to be a home for youth and inventiveness, where individuals flocked to leave their shells. In the late 70s, a Mod revival struck, helmed by bands such as The Jam, led by Paul Weller who was as much of a regular face of Carnaby in his teenage years as he still is today. This again brought the humming sound of a small army of Lambrettas and Vespas to the area, a humming which is still heard today on Carnaby from time-to-time. The energy itself is captured in the very fibre of the area in its distinction, quality shops, pubs and restaurants.

The narcissistic Mods that came to Carnaby to be seen and heard in the 1960s have come to helm the face of Carnaby’s history. Though still, beyond the heyday of this street which lasted but 10 years is a well- hidden tale of Soho’s rich heritage of trade and craftsmanship. Though it seems oh so tempting to cross thoughts of Carnaby with the Mods and peacocks of an era we shan’t forget, Carnaby is more than just a place, it is a rich heritage of the Soho we know today – a dedicated follower of fashion, a welcomer of the world.