Talking Shop: Liberty London
In the third part of our regular series, in which we chat to the folks in charge of our favourite menswear stores, this month we speak to Laura Robertson, Menswear Buyer at iconic department store Liberty London
The iconic frontage of Liberty London is built on one man’s dream. The story goes that when founder Arthur Lasenby Liberty first began planning his department store, his dream was to metaphorically dock a ship among the streets of central London. Said metaphorical ship (or ‘dream boat’, depending on your preference), laden with luxuries and fabrics would cater to a wealthy society intoxicated by Japan and the East. With its inspired approach to clothing, it would challenge the fashions of Paris.
Although he never lived to see the Tudor-inspired facade of his Liberty store, one of London’s (and thus, one of the world’s) most famous shop fronts, there’s no doubt that he would’ve appreciated its majesty. The exterior is one of history, alluding to the enchantment that awaits visitors inside. To this day, Liberty remains true to its heritage, striving for the new and exciting against a backdrop of the classic.
Oscar Wilde famously said, ‘Liberty is the chosen resort of the artistic shopper’. Although his words sum up all six floors, they are especially relevant to the menswear department. Recently revamped, the department unlike other stores, is one of surprises, new brands, new designers, splashes of colour, something to be excited about visiting. There’s an ode to British sensibilities but there’s also an international attitude, keeping old Arthur’s original sensibilities in mind. We caught up with Liberty Menswear Buyer, Laura Robertson to talk history, championing British designers and steering the good ship Liberty on the winds of stylish and exciting menswear. EJ
Tell us about Liberty London, how long has it been going for?
Founded by Arthur Lasenby Liberty in 1875, Liberty is one of the most iconic department stores in the world. It is known for not just its floral and graphic prints but also the stunning Tudor-inspired exterior. The building is Grade II-listed and crafted from two ships – the HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan – and the frontage on Great Marlborough Street is the same length as the Hindustan.
The emporium was designed by Edwin Thomas Hall and his son, Edwin Stanley Hall. They designed the 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. Each of these wells was surrounded by smaller rooms to create a homely feel. Many of the rooms had fireplaces, a lot of which still exist to this day.
What brands do you stock in the menswear department? Are there any exclusives? What can a customer expect?
Liberty has become famous for its refined edit and exclusive product. We’re recognised for championing new emerging British talent and keeping a mixture of unexpected and ever-evolving brands.Therefore, the customer can always expect a highly curated selection of some of the world’s best menswear, ready to wear and accessories brands.
We have bricks and mortar exclusive brands such as Studio Nicholson, Daniel W Fletcher, Editions M.R (to name a few) and exclusive products created for us by brands such as Katharine Hamnett and Bruta. Championing British is something we are very proud of here at Liberty. For example, we swept up Daniel W Fletcher straight from LFWM. We have also curated a Japanese area within our denim department with brands such as Beams, Fabric Denim Brand & Co, KAPITAL, FDMTL and Needles (from AW18), many of which are central London exclusives.
At the moment we have a pop up from Hawaiian Surf brand Salvage Public. One of the founders of the brand, Joe, flew over from Waikiki beach and brought with him an exclusive surfboard made by a guy called Toots especially for us. He is legendary around Hawaii for shaping boards; we have a video they made for us projecting on the wall in menswear and it shows him shaving boards and surfing, he’s such a cool dude. It’s so great to be able to work with smaller unknown brands in that respect and create something special.
We also launched a Swedish watch brand called Kronaby who have created a selection of smart watches that don’t look like your typical smart watch. They are amazing and extremely popular. We are launching their BPay Straps, so that you can tap and pay with your watch strap. We have also just exclusively launched Maria Black jewellery which we are really excited about.
What has it been like working with these brands?
Due to the historical significance of Liberty, as well as the success of the revamped menswear floor, brands have been fantastic to work with
and we maintain a close relationship with some of the world’s best. We have a close relationship with Dries Van Noten who chose Liberty as the location to sign his stunning new book, 1-100. That was a pretty special moment. We have the largest Dries corner in the UK and have a group of customers that we call the minute a new season lands. We see ourselves as more of a large boutique than a department store and due to our size, we are able to work with smaller brands and showcase them in our own way without them being lost or swallowed up by the rest of the floor.
Is there a typical customer you cater for? What’s their style?
The Liberty customer has a good idea of what he wants when he enters the store, but also loves surprises and the addition of new and exciting brands. We work hard to make sure we are always bringing newness to the floor, and we travel all over the globe to source brands that our customer may not have come across before. The Liberty London man is a creative guy, not primarily brand driven but driven by style, quality and design. Some might come to hang out, explore our collections and swap the hustle and bustle for a welcoming and homely environment to shop in. We have a really loyal and local following which is crazy considering our location in such a high tourist area. We’re worth venturing into central for.
How does your store fit into the London style scene?
London is such an eclectic place, you really can’t put a signature style on the capital. Londoners are so diverse, and therefore their clothing reflects that. That’s what makes it, in my opinion, the best city in the world – its diversity.
What trends are shining through at the moment?
At Liberty, we are always driven by fabrics. Hot for the season ahead is corduroy (a Liberty menswear favourite) in rich earthy colours such as rusts, camels and mustards. For Autumn Winter 18 we have the most amazing Levis Vintage jacket which is a patchwork of different coloured corduroy. There are only 25 for sale in the UK. I snapped up a fair few of these for the floor!
The colour of the AW18 season at Liberty is green and it makes up just over ten percent of our total menswear buy. It’s a colour that compliments the dark wood of Liberty which we love so much and we even decked out our designer room in it. The Puffer Coat is a trend we saw crop up throughout last Autumn Winter and will be seeing again this year. Next season however, it’s more exaggerated and oversized, in a range of colours, textures and styles. The Puffer Coat has been extremely popular at Liberty.
Words by Davey Brett
Image Credits by Courtesy of Liberty London