Liberty is a multi-brand luxury department store occupying a fashionable slice of London’s Soho district. With an imposing black and white facade on Great Marlborough Street and backing onto Carnaby street in full Liberty Print glory, the store is hard to miss, and hard to leave empty handed.
Stepping through the main entrance and into the colourful scarf hall instantly takes your breath away. This is how you make a first impression, and don’t you know, first impressions count! Which direction to take first will probably be your hardest decision, six floors of inspiring product awaits and you are free to look, touch and browse at your leisure.
A carefully edited product mix is what makes Liberty so unique; there is no tackiness or in-your-face advertising here. Products are grouped in rooms that seem to blend seamlessly together; style, luxury and quality are key, the customer knows it, and more importantly they appreciate it.
Liberty has a different feel to most department stores, especially others in London; there is a feeling of calm, order and respect for both the store and the products in it. There are no rowdy teenagers or uncouth customers tossing expensive dresses on the fitting room floor; At times it can begin to feel like an art gallery, calm and refreshing in the otherwise crazy hustle and bustle that is Soho.
Every floor offers something different, from menswear, womenswear, beauty, fabrics, furniture and more there is always something new and exciting to discover. At the very top you will find an eclectic selection of quirky and vintage furniture displayed in an unpretentious thrown-about fashion, destined for some ultra-creative’s apartment, this just may be my favourite part of the store. Down the narrow staircase to the third floor and you will find a traditional and humorous sea of tea cups and endless Liberty print products; quintessentially English you’re likely to find customers on this floor ranging from the ages of 18 to 88 and seeing as though Liberty Prints are such a drawcard to the store, it seems clever to me that customers inevitably need to pass through majority of the store to find them. Two floors of designer womenswear follows; all my favourites are here, Dries Van Noten, Margiela, Rick Ownens, I could go on forever; there is nothing not to love about the selection on these floors including the shoes. Accessories and beauty are smartly situated on the ground floor, usually bustling with tourists and locals alike trying to snap up a scarf, or a photo of the building, this is the focal point of the entire store and I’m sure the highest grossing. Last but by no means least, menswear on the lower ground floor is a veritable haven of all things sartorially charming, Jil Sander and again Dries Van Noten alongside the more casual Acne and A.P.C my favourites.
What I love most about Liberty is its warmth, it is welcoming and inviting, I feel at home, calm and inspired. I am not rushed, pressured to buy or watched over; free to touch and explore, with expert assistance if required.
Employee wise, Liberty is packed full of creative types with endless supplies of experience both on the shop floor and off. One member of staff that has always made my visits an absolute joy is Sungjin in the Womenswear Avant Garde room. Her understated style and approachable attitude bought a twinkle to my eye and after spending a few moments chatting, her experience and product knowledge turned that twinkle into a ray of shining light!
E. How long have you worked at Liberty?
S. For almost two years now. I started in the Creative Labels room and moved to Avant Garde after a year. I am glad I had the Creative Labels phase before my Avant Garde era as it gave me the chance to develop rather extensive knowledge about fashion and customers. Selling is never about your own taste or style, In fact, you have to forget about them. I’ve always worked with more fashion-forward labels in the past so everything was very new to me in that room and it led me to develop a better understanding of what the customer needs are, without thinking about my own personal taste.
E. What is your background in fashion?
S. I studied fashion design and history of art in Korea and used to be a womenswear designer before I came to London. I enjoyed working as a fashion designer but I was more interested in fashion buying and was so sick of the hectic working environment; I used to work 7 days, at least 12 hours a day and only have a week of holiday in a year. I decided to come to London to study and completed a master’s degree in Design Management at the London College of Fashion. I then decided it was important to gain some retail experience before working in buying so that’s how I ended up working at Liberty.
E. Who are your favourite fashion designers and why?
S. Well, it is a tricky question for me since my favourites are always changing. Since I’ve been in fashion I’m getting more specific and precise about style or taste I think. Having said that, I guess Dries Van Noten, Christopher Kane and Margiela are my most frequent favourites, and Meadham Kirchhoff is my new favourite. Genius.
E. How would you describe your personal style?
S. Perhaps a bit of everything, in an understated way. I consider cut, colour and detail very seriously. The cut should be classic and bold. I’m not that keen on too much manipulation in design. I love bold, clean-cut silhouettes such as Dries Van Noten. A little bit oversized you could say. And I do love colours, especially the colour palettes of Russia and Eastern European countries and Scandinavia. Very clear, vivid and they have amazing red colours. I’m also always fascinated by embellishments and embroideries, my favourites for AW 2010 are Meadham Kirchhoff’s tinsel embroidery and Christopher Kane’s oriental embroidery, they are just amazing! I think I’m very eclectic and love too many things, especially if it is something weird and unusual, but I try to keep it muted and not to overdo.
E. What do you love about Liberty?
S. It is quirky and eccentric in a very British way, and I respect its heritage. It has kept its tradition and heritage successfully while staying open to, and eagerly accepting something very new. Just yesterday a customer from the States told me he’s so impressed seeing Proenza Schouler in Liberty because in his mind Liberty is a very old-fashioned store where people would go to buy some wool jumpers. I love that. Liberty is not only a very old, beautiful shop in an amazing building but also it will never date.
E. What do you think is the most important aspect of running a successful retail store?
S. Having a very clear, easily noticeable identity like Liberty (probably best-known for its British heritage) or Dover Street Market (if you are looking for something very Avant Garde and crazy, you would go there first, wouldn’t you?). You need to impress customers with at least one thing which intrigues and makes them come into the store. I think customers enjoy that originality and in the end will become a regular to the store. Most stores share similar brands and you can buy them online as well, so which brands a store carries doesn’t matter anymore. It’s about the feel, how special you would feel in a store. I’d rather buy a piece of Comme des Garçons in Dover Street Market than anywhere else because it is the most right place for that brand to me. Having a strong identity and keeping it through the time is the biggest part I think. And that’s why Liberty has been successful.
Sungjin wears oversized blazer by Hanni Y with an Acne shirt and COS skirt.
Great Marlborough Street
London W1B 5AH
Monday - Saturday 10am - 9pm
Sunday 12noon - 6pm
Sunday 12noon - 6pm
Store enquiries: +44 (0)207 734 1234