Michelle Ogundehin: Biography
August 8, 2016
April 1, 2018
I love Liberty London, the department store in super Central London. Wait, hold up a minute, can I even call it a ‘department store’? I’m not sure that I can, for although it’s known around the globe, there is but one shop. However, it carries everything from beauty to home so perhaps ‘Emporium of Delights’ would suit it better? Anyway, I love it, and that’s why it’s kind of become my go-to for collaboration (see ‘Meet the Experts’ event details at bottom of post!). Let me explain…
1. That incredible building, all six floors of it. Did you know that it was built in 1924 from the timbers of two ancient battle ships: HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan – the great Marlborough Street frontage measuring the same length as the Hindustan?! You can also go on an I-Spy-esque spot of various carved wooden animals dotted about inside, admire panelling which came from the captain’s quarters, marvel at the stained glass windows and glory in some huge original stone fireplaces! The intention was the creation of a very homely feel with smaller rooms off the big atriums. I think they succeeded. And its why I love wandering about in there so much. It has character, and soul.
2. The pioneering spirit of one Arthur Lasenby Liberty. It was/is a store founded on discovery (in 1875 to be precise): of the new, the unusual, and the exotic. And it’s also, I think, arguably one of the few retail brands that’s stayed absolutely true to that original heritage (Heals is another), modernising for sure, but always grounded in what makes it unique, which I’d define as being rooted in the worlds of art and culture alongside a distinctive edit of premium and luxury brands. As Oscar Wilde apparently once said, “Liberty is the chosen resort of the artistic shopper.”
3. The recent ‘Made in India’ launch (loved so much I made 2 x mood boards!). A great example of what makes them different. Harking back to a time when store buyers would literally set sail for far-flung lands in search of new goodies for their floors, so the present day home buyers recently hot footed it to Delhi and Jaipur in homage to their founder’s passion for Indian designs. As they put it, “Since we opened our doors, our floors have long been stocked with fine Indian silks, Japanese cloisonné vases, Chinese carved black-wood furniture and Himalayan cashmere.” So now the 4th floor is replete with all sorts of incredible authentic Indian goodies (no replicas here), from carved soapstone centrepieces (massive stone flowers that I’m desperate to find a place for in my own home), hand-painted little trinket boxes and at the other end of the scale, a great big old door.
Besides, India is so fascinating today, home to cutting-edge technology sat next to traditional heritage crafts, its culture of diversity prompts, nay provokes, incredible creativity. And the intrigue for me is the resonance of the pieces collected and brought back for sale, with where we are now from an interiors trends point of view. As I wrote in my Spring/Summer 2018 Trend Report ‘there is a burgeoning movement to take those retro colours [the new neutrals] and brighten, heighten and vibrantly mix and deliberately mismatch them. It’s jolly, it’s upbeat and it basically says, well if the world is going to hell in a handcart, then we will do as we damn well please in our homes because we’re living for the moment!’ And it occurred to me that this is very much the Indian vibe, perhaps without the last bit. Although, even in the face of extraordinary poverty, in India, it must be said that a preference for bright colours persists. As fashion editrice extraordinaire Diana Vreeland most famously quipped, “Pink is the navy blue of India!”
Thus Liberty has tuned right into the prevailing ‘Happy Design’ mood with its latest display. And equally en pointe is the fact that when it’s all gone, it’s gone. Each of the pieces collected for this ‘show’ are one offs. And in the same breath, I feel this overly-vibrant ‘reactive’ moment won’t last either. It’s the style equivalent of an emotional response to the political chaos that currently surrounds us, but as they say, this too shall pass, and then we’ll all settle back down to something a little more sedate… my money’s on what I’m going to start calling ‘Posh Povera’, in other words the designer use of previously deemed humble materials like hemp, rattan, cork, ply and sisal. Super textural, like a kind of warmed-up Scandi style. But in the interim, a glorious cashmere throw, or Kishangrh miniature painting, will never date. So go, now, and snap something up!
PS I’m taking part in a ‘Meet the Experts’ event at Liberty on 12 April from 6-8pm, which is going to be kind of like interior design speed dating! So why not come check out the India pieces, and come armed with your home style questions and I’ll do my utmost to answer them all in your given 10-minute slot! Also ready and willing to sort your every interiors dilemma will be Georgia Spray from Partnership Editions to advise on all things art, Lisa Mehydene from home brand edit58 and Bryony Sheridan, Liberty’s very own homeware buyer.
Book your tickets… here. And come for a chat! I’d love to see you.
Michelle Ogundehin is internationally renowned as an authority on interiors, trends and style. She is an influencer with expertise and the multi award-winning former Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Decoration UK.