Arthur Lasenby Liberty had a vision to change the look of homeware and fashion. Little did he know his venture would become one of the country’s most iconic department stores
With £2,000 (the equivalent of about £200,000 today) borrowed from his future father-in-law, Arthur Lasenby Liberty sets up his store at 218a Regent Street in London. Liberty is devoted to his vision of an eastern bazaar and he is determined to change the look of homeware and fashion. The store is a huge success, and within 18 months he pays off the loan and buys up neighbouring properties.
Oscar Wilde visits America, taking with him a wardrobe stocked with Liberty threads, thus introducing Americans to the British department store. Wilde is a huge fan of the store. “Liberty is the chosen resort of the artistic shopper,” he said. Like all of Wilde’s maxims, it holds good today.
Arthur Liberty makes Liberty a public company with capital of £200,000 – equivalent to about £20 million today.
Arthur Liberty dies. Knighted four years previously, by the time of his death he has amassed a huge fortune and owns a manor house and an estate in Buckinghamshire. His gravestone is designed by one of Liberty’s top designers, Archibald Knox.
The magnificent mock-Tudor building that houses the store is built. Designed by Edwin T. Hall and his son Edwin S. Hall, timbers from HMS Hindustan and HMS Impregnable were used to build and furnish the building in solid oak and teak using authentic and original Tudor techniques.
Liberty of London Prints, the wholesale company, is formed to take advantage of the growing demand for Liberty designs and fabrics. By now, Liberty is also firmly established as the supplier of must-have silk scarves.
Screens are made from the most popular hand-printed block designs. Particularly in demand are Liberty’s versions of classic designs by William Morris.
After the Art Nouveau Exhibition held in Paris, Liberty Art Nouveau designs are redrawn and coloured to form the acclaimed Lotus Collection, which is used by couturiers in London, Paris and Rome. This places Liberty firmly at the forefront of the Art Nouveau revival.
Liberty first uses the iconic Ianthe print. Based on a wallpaper design from 1902, it is an instant success. It will later prove to be an inspiration for the Iphis design.
Liberty sells the print works, and now Liberty fabrics are printed by other British companies and in the Far East.
Liberty is bought by BlueGem, its current owners.
Liberty is the subject of a three-part documentary on Channel 4, and shows the store in the run-up to Christmas. A second series is aired the following year.
Liberty celebrates its 140th birthday, launching a new print called Mayflower.
Celebrating 140 years