Since 1875, Liberty has been synonymous with luxury and great design. Arthur Liberty’s intuitive vision and pioneering spirit led him to travel the world looking for individual pieces to inspire and excite his discerning clientele. Liberty is not just a name above the door, it’s Arthur Liberty’s legacy, which stands for integrity, value, quality and above all beautifully designed product. This vision and spirit continues today within the iconic Tudor building.
Arthur Lasenby Liberty was born in Chesham, Buckinghamshire in 1843. He was employed at Messrs Farmer and Rogers in Regent Street in 1862, the year of the International Exhibition at Kensington in London. By 1874, inspired by his 10 years of service, Arthur then decided to start a business of his own, believing that he could change the look of home wares and fashion.
With a £2000 loan from his future father-in-law, Arthur Liberty took on the lease of half a shop at 218a Regent Street with only three staff.
The shop opened in 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, 142-4 Regent Street was acquired and housed the ever-increasing demand for carpets and furniture. The basement was called the "Eastern Bazaar" home to all things described as "decorative furnishing objects". He named the property Chesham House after the place in which he grew up. The store became the most fashionable place to shop in London and iconic Liberty fabrics were used for both clothing and furnishings. Its clientele was exotic and included famous members of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.
In 1884 Liberty introduced the costume department into the Regent Street store, under the directorship of Edward William Godwin(1833-86). Godwin was a distinguished architect who believed in all aspects of art. He was a founder member of the Costume Society in 1882. His vision mirrored that of Arthur Liberty and they created in-house apparel to challenge the fashions of Paris.
In the 1890s Arthur Lasenby Liberty built strong relationships with many leading English designers. Many of these designers were key figures in the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements and Arthur Liberty was instrumental in the development of Art Nouveau through his encouragement of such designers. The store became one of the most prestigious in London.
The magnificent Tudor building was built so that trading could continue while renovations were being completed on the other premises and in 1924 this incredible icon was constructed from the timbers of two ships: HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan. The frontage at Great Marlborough Street is the same length as the Hindustan.
The wonderful emporium was designed by Edwin T. Hall and his son Edwin S. Hall. They designed the Tudor building at the height of the 1920s fashion for Tudor revival. The shop was engineered around three light wells that formed the main focus of the building. Arthur Liberty wanted to create the feeling that you were walking around your own home when you came to his store, so each of these wells was surrounded by smaller rooms to create a homely feel. Many of the rooms had fireplaces and some still exist today. The wells created a wonderful environment in which to drape exotic rugs and quilts, whilst the smaller rooms allowed the display of smaller items.
Sadly, Arthur Lasenby Liberty, died in 1917, seven years before the completion of his magnificent shops.
Liberty, in the 1950s, continued its tradition for fashionable and eclectic design. All departments in the shop had a collection of both contemporary and traditional designs. New up and coming designers were promoted and often included those still reflecting the Liberty passion for handcrafted work.
The 1960s brought about the passion for fashion. Extravagance and luxury were fundamental in the look for both men and women and Eastern influences once again were the inspiration for society. Art Nouveau became fashionable and Liberty adapted the furnishing designs from its archive.
In 1975 Liberty celebrated its centenary. This was heralded by a major exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Today Liberty is the leading destination store in London, a wonderful emporium where the latest fashions sit alongside design classics.