Channel 4′s three-part documentary on Liberty of London (Mondays, 9 p.m.) began on December 2, 2013.
The store is hoping to gain more understanding from the public.
Now that’s funny.
The first episode showed Managing Director — or ‘Managing Directory’ as it says in this brief article as well as on Liberty’s Wikipedia page — Ed Burstell planning a Liberty of the future.
Ed’s a young American. He used to run the iconic Bergdorf Goodman, a much more spacious store, on Manhattan’s 5th Avenue.
When he moved to London four years ago, Ed discovered Liberty’s restrictions regarding square feet and heritage. He wanted to paint part of the interior. Thank goodness for listed building restrictions, otherwise, the place would be a horror.
Of the filming, Ed says:
There was some bad news about deliveries, and, well, let’s just say I had to do my breathing exercises.
In fact, that quote sums up Ed pretty well.
However, back to the first sentence about ‘understanding from the public’.
My better half was looking forward to seeing this show. Having purchased a gift at Liberty more recently, I had a better idea of what we would see.
By the first advert break, SpouseMouse expressed disappointment. By the end, neither of us was sure if we wished to see the next two episodes.
To put it in language Ed could understand, sadly, Liberty no longer speaks to us. We can’t relate to it anymore. It’s no longer accessible.
In fact, if it had been earlier in the evening and we’d had an Iceland within walking distance, we would have waltzed out there for a brain cleanse.
The biggest positive about the first episode was that their haberdashery department looks to be the best in London, possibly the country. They have everything. John Lewis had an excellent one before they remodelled a few years ago, but that’s since been vastly pared down.
Now on to the aspects of Liberty the public won’t understand.
Twenty years ago, Liberty sales were outstanding for high quality bargains. That held true up until ten years ago. Even during the regular season, one could always find classic clothes and accessories at prices the middle class could afford. Those days are now over. Quite possibly the venture capital buyout changed things forever. And chaps like Ed who want to make nearly everything high-end aren’t helping.
- We were told that Liberty are chasing wealthy customers with a loyalty card that feels weighty in the wallet. C4 showed media magnate Felix Dennis — most people watching wouldn’t have a clue who he is — swanning about saying the store was his ‘corner shop’. Felix shops there so often that Liberty have assigned him a personal shopper to advise on and carry his purchases. At the till, we hear Felix say that he’ll be back later to pick up his purchases. He doesn’t have time to wait for them to be giftwrapped and paid for. ‘That’s your job,’ he says to the personal shopper before walking away.
- Sales staff are encouraged to develop relationships with the richest customers. The woman in charge of training them says they should follow up sales with texts, emails, phone calls and — provided they’re not working that day — feel free to accept a thank you lunch if offered.
- The Christmas Room has a large stuffed bear which sells for over £2,000. The room’s manager tells the new sales staff there that he has a special bonus for anyone who manages to sell it.
- Ed visits Manolo Blahnik; Liberty have a custom-designed boutique of his shoes. After air-kissing, the two have a brief chat about sales which are going up, up, up. Remember the old saying about having to ask the price …
- Grayson Perry hopes Liberty won’t change too much. The cross-dressing artist browsed haberdashery and the furniture departments, saying he’d always viewed Liberty as an ‘old auntie who invites you for tea’. Yet, his facial expressions were often wistful and his commentary recalled more of the past than the present.
- Store employees receive a £5 gift certificate on their birthdays. Ed shows us his: ‘I haven’t spent it yet.’ That comes as no surprise. When the interviewer asks Ed and his assistant whether one can buy anything in the store for £5, they take some time to respond. ‘Well, there’s stationery — a greeting card. A chocolate bar …’ Both titter with some embarrassment.
- Goods In is being squeezed. This sequence was painful to watch and indicates how the owners and management really view their staff, especially the lowest — and most essential — on the totem pole. No merchandise, no sales. The two Goods In men have been working there for a long time; one of them, if I remember rightly, has been there for over two decades. He, in particular, feels residual loyalty to the Liberty family, even though they no longer own the business. His colleague says, ‘He’ll probably die here.’ Ed has shown his appreciation by halving their space. On one of the hottest days of the year — and we had a few this past summer — we see load after load of Christmas decorations wheeled through just inches from these men who barely have room to stand.
- Ed wants to expand the store by opening boutiques accessible from the alleyway. ‘It’ll look just like Harrods,’ one of his assistants says. Hilarious. ‘And we can move Goods In further down.’ Where? Maybe they can operate from a closet.
From this you can see that Liberty is hardly going to recapture ‘more understanding from the public’. We felt positively alienated. Nothing in this store — with the exception of haberdashery — has something for everyone anymore.
However, it’s worth tuning in during the next two weeks to find out just what horrorshow Ed has planned for the rest of his tenure.