Oh my giddy aunt. What a shop is Liberty. It isn’t just me that says so: Time Out has voted it number one out of the hundred best shops in London for the last three years running, and I can really see why. Liberty is a curious mix of history and cutting edge design. It makes one’s consumerist heart skip a beat, and its Christmas shop could make Scrooge reconsider his options, quite apart from its lovely, lovely Christmas windows, look:
So, lets get the unpleasantness about money out of the way: crucial to this enterprise coming in at under a tenner is a commitment not to spend anything. If necessary, leave your cash card at home. I mean it. There are gifts which cost less than £10 (much of their Hello Kitty range, for example), but suffice to say there are not a tremendous number of them. Even in the exceptional Christmas shop on the fourth floor where most of the baubles cost somewhere between £10-15. For a bauble!
I mean, a heritage, pass it on to your grandchildren kind of bauble, but even so, a single object designed to dangle from a Christmas tree. To do a full tree, you’d have to get a mortgage. Looking is free, and in fact the Christmas shop is a good place to take in the whole shop, which is about as interesting as shops get.
Liberty is set in a glorious mock Tudor building. Most mock Tudor is a bit rubbish, but although this was built in 1924, it really does look as though Henry VIII might have swanned around in it. It was built from the timbers of two ships: HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan. The website doesn’t call it a shop, it calls it an ’emporium’. It was very specifically designed to feel more like a home than a store, and there are sofas, portraits and fireplaces dotted around to put one at one’s ease. It was on one of these sofas that I plopped down next to the shoe shop. I have not particularly mentioned it on here, but while I’m not the full Marcos, I do like a nice pair of shoes. I tend to veer from the appallingly comfortable to the startlingly vertiginous, and I have for some time been eyeing a simply glorious red pair from Kurt Geiger, which has not been available in a size eight anywhere in London. These things were in the sale. My heart sank: if they were selling them off now, I would never get a pair in my size. I asked a titian haired lady if she had them in an eight, and she pottered to the stock room. She went some time, and I looked up at the portrait of Mr Liberty, who started the emporium back in 1875. He looked a really nice, kind man. I smiled back at him. The lady came back empty handed. I stood up, ready to accept the inevitable. She said, “I’m afraid we don’t have them in stock ourselves, but according to the computer there are a pair of size eights in the Regent Street Kurt Geiger store. If you don’t mind waiting a couple of minutes more, we’ll ring them, check they haven’t sold the shoes and ask them to put them to one side for you, while you finish your shopping here. Would you like us to do that for you?” I gasped, and nodded dumbly, and looked back up at Mr Liberty. I’m sure I imagined it, but I could have sworn he twinkled back at me.
A critic would observe that I have called this piece go Christmas shopping at Liberty, and all I have talked about is buying stuff for myself. This is true. I haven’t even told you how I nearly bought a bowler hat for myself (I went so far as to consult my twitter friends about it – they liked it a lot, but one wondered whether it was too much with my bright red coat, and so I’m still having a cooling off period, because you can’t take hats back there).
The fact is that Liberty is absolutely not the cheapest store in London. It doesn’t pretend to be. It does something very different. It resolves to deliver the best quality, most innovative, most stylish shop in London. Its products have a sense of humour, and its staff seem to have a sense of quiet customer service which I genuinely don’t think you get anywhere else in London. I browsed around its gift shop, and while I didn’t buy anything, I did tell Spouse that if he really was stuck for a Christmas gift for me, he could do a lot worse than potter around the third floor: I really didn’t think he could go too far wrong (and there was a vintage tea-cup set which literally made me weak with desire).
Liberty is on Great Marlborough Street, just off London’s Regent’s Street, and is well served by tubes (try Oxford Circus or Piccadilly Circus). I really do mean it about leaving your cash-card at home 😉 http://www.liberty.co.uk/