Friday, January 28, 2011

b Store loves Liberty

Both of us at Style Salvage have a soft spot for this particular homely department store and the fabric it is famous for. In 1875 Sir Arthur Lasenby Liberty opened his first shop on Regent Street with merely three employees, where he sold ornaments, fabrics, antiques and artifacts from Japan and the Far East. The store became the most fashionable place to shop in London and iconic Liberty fabrics were used for both clothing and furnishings. Its clientele was exotic and included famous members of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Proust bought his ties there and Gilbert and Sullivan dressed their casts in its fabrics. Liberty soon become famous for its prints and textiles and by the 20th century Liberty fabrics were used by great designers like Paul Poiret, Yves Saint Laurent, Cacharel, Jean Muir and Paul Smith to name but a few.

Designers have always been inspired by Liberty's ever growing archive of prints. Last year alone, the venerable department store launched a number of interesting collaborations, from affordable florals at Target to shoes by Repetto, Nike Dunks adorned with florals and luggage by Merci. With an archive that is one hundred and thirty five years old, there is plenty to excite and inspire. The latest to be inspired is b store. In an exciting collaboration, the design and textile forces behind two of our favourite stores have combined to create a truly covetable capsule collection that celebrates some of the finest prints on offer, including the much loved pepper print. Having recently breathed fresh life in to heritage label, Baracuta in a range of Harringtons and trousers, now b store have reimagined the use of florals in menswear. Here, while showcasing the Jason Hughes styled and Laurence Ellis shot look book, we talk to b store's very own Matthew Murphy to learn about his love of Liberty, discuss the retail landscape in the capital and find out how the Savile Row store will blow out ten candles in a series of events throughout the year...

SS: How did this collaboration with Liberty arise and how did it evolve in to the collection we see today?
Matthew Murphy: The project stemmed from our relationship with Stephen Ayres, Liberty's Menswear Buying Director. We have known Stephen since he worked at Selfridges and when he moved to Liberty he asked us whether we could work together on a project. As the store is in close vicinity with ours and with us working with Selfrigdes and our projects with Dover Street Market, central London is pretty covered in terms of stockists but we still wanted to create something together. We have always loved the heritage of Liberty fabrics and we can up with the idea of working on a capsule collection using these great fabrics. b store loves Liberty. It is not really a collaboration as such because of course, anyone can buy the fabrics wholesale but we wanted a special celebration of these great fabrics. We put the collection together and showed Stephen and he loved it. Initially, Liberty were going to stock it exclusively alongside us, but to get it manufactured we decided to do a bit more and the reaction internationally has been phenomenal. A number of stores that we have been working tentatively with were extremely positive. This season, with the collaborations with both Baracuta and Liberty, it feels decidedly British and the buying reaction has been great.

SS: Were the two collaborations strategically planned together or did they fall in to place?
Matthew Murphy: Ever since we started, the international opinion of b store has always been that we are a very London brand and people have always talked about it being very British. So, we planned that if we were going to collaborate we would work with British brands or brands that could really add something. Baracuta was a great one because we always found outerwear and casual jackets a difficult thing for us, we do shirts and trousers extremely well but tented to struggle with jackets. The stuff that they did with Watanabe and Margaret Howell was quite relevant to what we wanted to do so that came first. Then the Liberty opportunity arose and then everything just fell in to place. For future collaborations, we will continue down this route, find people will add to the complete look of the brand. We don't necessarily want to become a lifestyle as such but the aim is to offer a complete look. We obviously already do shoes and more recently accessories with Kuni (Awai), but it would be good to work on areas that we are not so prolific in and collaborate with specialists not so much in a craft way but, working with people on their signature items. I quite like the idea of working with brands that have become old, stuffy or slightly naff and tweaking them for the modern market.

SS: The archive of Liberty prints must be huge. What was starting point?
Matthew Murphy: We wanted a floral first and foremost because we were feeling that for the collection anyway which is why this always felt like a natural collaboration as they are known for their floral prints. Originally, we wanted to use some of the archive and heritage prints but it just wasn't possible in this instance. The archive prints are almost under lock and key, there are licensing agreements and cost issues so it is lengthy process. For the purposes of this happen, we wanted to make it as simple as possible but still used some amazing prints. It was the late sixties and early seventies prints that really inspired us. For example, the pepper print was designed in 1974/5 so there is still some history to them.

SS: This was a particularly iconic era for floral prints...
Matthew Murphy: Completely. Back then, what is great about them is that there is an obvious femininity there but when you put it in a shirt they feel masculine. There is such a soft feel to Liberty. As a store, it has always been my favourite department store in London. It was almost an introduction to menswear, back when I could first afford to designer clothes the menswear floor at Liberty was phenomenal. Back then they had a impressive Margaret Howell corner, a Westwood area, they had Dries (Van Noten), they were the first store to have Margiela. Fast forward to today and they have found a great niche. I think Stephen has a clear vision of what he wants the current menswear floor to be and it fits with our brand.

SS: You've had the pleasure of working alongside some of the great retail institutions of the capital...
Matthew Murphy: London is still one of the best shopping cities in the world. There might be more interesting things going on in other cities but if you want a selection then London is still the city. I'm all for teaming up and we've been fortunate to work with some great stores for example with Shop at Bluebird, with Selfridges, Dover Street Market and now Liberty. Each of the stores have strong identities and we've worked with all of them in different ways. It is amazing to think that our brand can do that, maybe the appeal is that it can fit so many different demographics and consumers. Originally, we thought that the work with Liberty would be a one off but after the success of it we began to think about working with the fabric in new ways and there is just so much creative opportunity. It can be subtle, as well as bold. For example, for SS12 we are already looking in to overdying fabrics. Then there are some bold geometric patterns from the 70s that remind me of early 90s Prada and that feels right at the moment as well. It is a great opportunity .

SS: What can you tell us about the planned launch?
Matthew Murphy: We are going to have a corner in Liberty's, put up the images and cover the walls in the pepper print. We are also going to open a pop up store in Printemps in Paris in May. Through doing this project, it has opened up opportunities. There are a million collaborations out there but if they are relevant then they work.

SS: I understand that 2011 is a big year for b store...
Matthew Murphy: It certainly is. We are ten in August and we have so many projects planned for the year to celebrate. Everything that we've planned is going under the umbrella of celebrating the store with different people, so Liberty, a roadshow with Selfridges which is pop up shop that begins in Manchester and goes to Birmingham before ending up in London, Printemps and we are working with Mr Porter online. We are also going to launch ten British products. We've approached ten British brands in categories that we are not currently involved in and these include lifestyle and fashion brands, some well known and a few which are less so. Actually there is one brand that I know you'll love, a new tie brand called Marwood. One of the key things that she does is using British lace on top of either silks or cottons to create ties and bow ties. It is beautiful. We are working with her for Spring/Summer in store but she is also going to be one of the ten. These types of projects are great because as well as keeping us creatively inspired, they are a great platform for discovering new brands and pushing them forward.

SS: In a sense, it is fitting celebration and it mirrors the core values of the b store ethos…
Matthew Murphy: Completely. It might be a bit less relevant or for difficult for us now in terms of menswear because our customers want a bit more consistency. For example, we have worked with Peter Jensen since the very beginning and we have customers who come to buy his designs, same with Stephan (Schneider) and now with Christophe (Lemaire). It is hard for us to introduce new menswear brands because there is no one we could nor would want to drop. Unfortunately we are governed by space and the fact that seventy per cent of our menswear is our own brand. This high percentage is not down to us pushing it but is down to the demand. So what we buy from these other bands is items that we wouldn't do necessarily ourselves by still feel very us, the understated luxury of Christophe or the geekyness of Peter. With these boxes filled it is difficult to bring on new labels. With regard to womenswear we have more freedom. This is why the Ten Products project is great because it allows us to bring in new names for product lines that we do not already sell.

As the chaps celebrate their tenth anniversary in a style, you can expect to hear a lot more about b Store on the pages of this blog and beyond in the coming months. In the meantime, lets long for some sunshine and daydream about floral prints before the fruits of this collaboration hit stores next week.  

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