In the summer of 2016, the facade of Liberty London, the heritage department store known for its elegant fabrics and luxury goods, was transformed with a series of motifs that represented a departure from its recognisable black-and-white exterior. The store’s Tudor revival-style windows were suddenly awash with colourful graffiti – Union Jacks met mohawks and biker jackets as an homage to the 40th anniversary of the London punk movement.
The project, titled In Your Face, was a collaboration between Liberty, The Photographers’ Gallery and an up-and-coming street artist called Endless. Shoppers were encouraged to peruse an in-store exhibition from The Photographers’ Gallery, with artwork depicting the anti-establishment energy of the London punk movement in the ’70s, while Endless became the first artist invited to paint the store’s windows, which he took to with his provocative style of street art that had become notable on the streets of East London.
The art, with its irreverent take on a culture that has become infatuated with brands, logos and celebrities, was spotted by Liberty London’s then-Managing Director, Ed Burstell, a prominent figure in the retail industry through his roles with Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales and Henri Bendel. When Ed moved to London in 2008 to take a role with Liberty, he would explore a new part of the city each weekend and, over time, began to take notice of the city’s abundant street art, which reminded him of the gritty art common in his hometown of New York.
“I really liked that there was this juxtaposition of images that you normally wouldn’t see together”, he recalls during a Zoom interview with Endless. “I enjoyed that there was a bit of a poke-in-the-eye to these really iconic brands and personalities … it just rang true for me.”
The anniversary of punk provided a fitting opportunity to integrate this anti-establishment sentiment into the Liberty storefront, creating a buzz that would generate increased footfall and, ultimately, more customers. “Liberty is like the Queen. Liberty is an icon. It made perfect sense for someone to come and take over, give the Liberty icon a bit of a poke and, at the same time, it had a wonderful commercial element to it, because it brought a lot of people that normally wouldn’t have come to Liberty”, says Ed.
The project underlined how art and consumerism intersect, a phenomenon that continues to be attractive to brands looking to appeal to an increasingly individualised generation of consumers. “It lends exclusivity to certain category groups. It provides freshness to a new audience”, says Ed. He cites collaborations such as Stephen Sprouse’s neon-tagged bags for Louis Vuitton and floral-embellished versions from Takashi Murakami, as well as Coach’s accessories adorned with the work of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, as examples of how art and consumer goods can successfully meet.
For Endless, who is from London, the prospect of altering the historic façade of Liberty was exciting: “It’s not just any department store, it’s the most historic shop in London. It’s seen so many changes, so to do something completely different is another change in its history”, he says.
He recalls the project unfolding quite organically, which he puts down to the collaborative approach taken by Ed and the wider Liberty team. Endless notes that with any brand partnership, the chemistry needs to be right to ensure both parties are satisfied with the outcome: “As an artist, there’s no point in working with someone if they’re not going to work with you and they’re just going to shoot down or change all your ideas. You can’t be desperate to work with a brand; it’s got to be 50-50.”
Ed agrees, saying: “it has to be approached genuinely or else you’re going to get called out. Commercial collaborations are just that – we know if we put x and y together, it’s going to sell a bunch. But it also doesn’t build a brand and you have to approach it like: okay, this is what we stand for.”
Since the punk movement took over Liberty’s shopfront, Endless has gone on to gain more recognition in the art world, recently becoming the first street artist to donate a piece to the permanent collection at Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. He has collaborated with brands such as Fiorucci, Karl Lagerfeld, and Clarks Originals on limited-edition collections and live performance art. And, in the summer of 2020, in between two strict pandemic lockdowns in London, he staged a pop-up exhibition with his gallery, the Cris Contini Contemporary.
Endless says this was a huge success, due to its intimacy that was necessitated by social distancing and reduced guest capacity. “They had the whole exhibition to themselves. I was there and I could talk to everyone about the work, so it was a different experience”, he says. “I think those experiences are what we should take forward as well – in retail or exhibitions; to make the experience more special or more unique and to have that one-on-one with someone. It really makes a difference.”