Tag Archives: Liberty London

Seeing, Really Seeing

Am I a bad, shallow person to enjoy places like Liberty so thoroughly?  Only the one percent can actually buy anything there, right?  True, although I did buy some nail varnish, as they call nail polish in Britain.  It cost £12 ($15)—the most expensive nail polish I’ve ever bought—but I love the color and it reminds me of my day there.

But no regular person can actually afford to buy a pair of pants at Harrods.  Isn’t that wrong?  Isn’t it criminal that people spend £1,500 on baby carriages made by Maserati?  Or £2,000 for jeweled clutch purses, or £200 for a canvas tote bag because it has the Liberty look and label?

Isn’t it outrageous that people spend £95 for a small plate with a Liberty design on it, when they won’t give £5 to the homeless person sitting on the pavement outside the store?

Yes, it is outrageous.  And I’m glad there are people designing, making, selling, and buying beautiful things in this world.

Maybe, if the contents of all the high-end department stores were liquidated and the proceeds given to homeless people, those folks would get new clothes, get jobs, find apartments, fall in love, and live happily ever after.


Some would, some wouldn’t. Some might use the money to start a small business, and build it into a business empire … like Harrods.  Some have such intractable problems that no amount of money or social service intervention can solve them.  Some poor people would be offended by the offer of cash and continue on their own path of working their way up.

No, it’s much more complicated. I’ve worked in nonprofit organizations almost my whole career and I know that rich people and businesses can be part of the solution.

I just searched the Liberty website for the terms “donations,” “charity,” “corporate social responsibility,” and “philanthropy” and came up empty handed.  It would be nice to think that they hired ex offenders or donated unsold shoes to charity auctions.

I would be happy to help them start a corporate philanthropy program if they would just allow me to work from that green velvet sofa.

For better or worse, I have an “eye” for color, composition, and all things beautiful, whether they’re manmade or natural.  You may be thinking, “Well everyone loves beautiful things!” but you would be wrong.  I have friends who have nothing on their walls.  Nothing.  No art, not even Art-in-a-Box from Target.

They come to my house, look around, and say, “Wow, you have so much stuff on your walls.  Interesting.”  As if it has never occurred to them that they could do the same, much less surround themselves with beautiful, interesting, uplifting objects.

I have been told that I notice things, in general.  The other day, I was in an old-timey grocery store in St. Paul and said to my friend, “Hey!  When was the last time you saw a grocery store with a ‘Grits’ aisle?”

She laughed and said, “You always notice things like that.”

Doesn’t everyone?  I guess not.

I asked my landlady, “What are those tracks?”

“What tracks?”

“The ones there—that look like a snake made them,” I pointed.

“Oh, those.  I’ve never noticed them.  Maybe a mouse?”

I am in a hyper-state of noticing when I’m traveling.  It was good to know I could see things—delightful, humorous things—right at home.  This new year, I’m going to try to pull it in even closer, and notice things in my house that I use or pass by—sightless—every day.

Back at Fortnum and Mason, Heidi and I worked our way slowly through the food hall.

I bought a box of Earl Grey tea for Lynn and a box of English Breakfast for myself.  I didn’t buy these exact containers but you get the idea of the packaging.

Yes, they cost more than a canister of PG Tips at Tesco.  They may not have been grown in a socially-responsibly, environmentally-sustainable manner.  But so what?  They’re beautiful, and six months later I am still dipping into my stash and enjoying the tea and the memory.

At Liberty

I can always count on Heidi to show me something new in London that I wouldn’t have read about in a guide book.  She lived there for 15 years, maintains her claim on her rented room, and will return to work there—that’s the plan—after her sojourn in Australia.

From Parliament Hill, she led me on to Fortnum and Mason, in Picadilly.  I look at a map now and wonder, did we pass Banqueting House?  What is Banqueting House?  Did we pass Scotland Yard?  Surely I would remember walking through Trafalgar Square and along Pall Mall.  I love that name because my grandparents smoked Pall Mall cigarettes.  So sophisticated.  And then they died of cancer, emphysema, and strokes.

Maybe we cut through Horse Guards and walked up Waterloo?

Regardless, F&M is one of those fancy schmancy brands with a royal warrant:

F&M is a department store founded 300 years ago and in the same stratosphere as Harrods’s or Liberty.  I rarely step foot in places that have $$$$ next to their listing in a guide, but on a rainy day it’s fun have a look and take pictures, especially with a friend to whom I can exclaim, “Oooh, look at this!” to which she replies, “Aaahhh…so beautiful!  How much?” and when I flip over the price tag we both suck in our breath in a combination of pleasure and pain.

The last time I was in London, Heidi and I spent a whole day doing this in Harrods and Liberty.  I prefer Liberty to Harrods because the building itself is so beautiful; it’s reminiscent of something out of a Harry Potter movie.

They say you will know you have found your passion when you discover the thing that makes you lose all track of time and your surroundings.  I just spent 20 minutes looking at photos I took at Liberty.  I forgot it was -10F outside.  I wasn’t worried that my laptop battery was about to die, or that friends were coming over and I needed to tidy up my place.

This happens frequently when I blog.  Not just about going to posh places like Liberty, but during the process of coming up with words like posh … lush … luxuriant … sumptuous.  Focusing on stringing the right words together and complementing them with just the right photos—it transports me to another world.

And we all want to go to another world once in a while, don’t we?

As I said, I had visited Harrods and Liberty a few years ago with Heidi, and I returned to Liberty right before I left London for Scotland this summer.  I’ll give you a quick bad-photo tour of Liberty, then return to Fortnum and Mason.

The exterior.  Note the golden ship on top, undoubtedly an originally-proud way of proclaiming, “Come and see all the beautiful things we have plundered from around the empire!”

The atriums, from bottom to top.

Carved wild things on the railings.

It’s just fabulous.  If you are not fabulously rich, there are some signs that you don’t belong there.  First, rooms with precious few items.  This is not Walmart.  It’s about price, not volume here.

There are sales, but.

Five hundred pounds is $678.  But it’s all so beautiful.  The William Morris fabrics and wallpaper.  Persian carpets.  I pretend I’m in a museum.


A green-velvet love seat!  My inner gay man was ecstatic.

Some of it went too far.  These faux mounted heads were £695 ($943).  If you want a hand-crafted fake deer head, buy one on Etsy for one tenth the price.

Some smaller items were affordable but not easily portable, like the wrapping paper.

Buttons.  This woman appeared to be in a trance.

The conservatory. You could probably buy these plants at Tesco for £14.99.

I had had enough of being dazzled and felt almost nauseous from all the colors, textures, and other stimulation.  I made my way down, down, down one of the wooden staircases and encountered this on the ground floor.

As always in Britain, you can count on being reminded of all the men who gave their lives so we can buy green velvet love seats.