Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

New Chief Aims to Wake Liberty from Nightmare

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

New Chief Aims to Wake Liberty from Nightmare

Article excerpt


IT HAS been a torrid decade for Liberty, London's most distinctive upmarket department store. In the 1990s, the shop world-famous for its mock-Tudor facade was torn apart by a bout of vicious feuding that made the intrigue of the Elizabethan court look like a mannered game of bowls.

In the midst of the infighting between shareholders and board members, including descendants of founder Arthur Lasenby Liberty, Liberty sacrificed its independence and fell under the control of property developer Marylebone Warwick Balfour.

There was even talk of the Regent House half of Liberty closing down. Not surprisingly, the store lost its poise and commercial direction. It has not made a profit since 1999, and last week wrote down the value of its most valuable asset, its brand, by more than pound sterling11 million.

This week a new chief executive was appointed - Iain Renwick, a 44-year-old Scot with a background in design and retail. In an exclusive interview with Business Day, Renwick outlined his vision for the recovery of a London landmark that, for all its problems, is still admired around the world. His ambition? "To waken one of the great sleeping brands of the UK."

Renwick says there will have to be changes that may upset some traditionalist Liberty shoppers.

He said: "We must understand why Liberty was such a success and a phenomenon, and build on that to ensure that the heritage does not become a millstone. We cannot just be a museum piece.

"The Liberty fabrics and style were the precursor to the Arts and Crafts movement - we have got to make sure that we anticipate the new designs and the new movements. We can't just pay homage to the past, that's just not relevant now.

"It is inevitable that when a company has been around for 100 years it has always got to be challenging and questioning what its offer is."

Renwick, who does not take up his post until 11 November, has made fact-finding tours of the 127-year-old store although he is not yet ready to reveal his plans in detail.

He does say, however, that he will expect to lead with "a very clear view" of where the store should be going after its demoralising years of drift. …

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