Market-mediated authenticity and the emergence of modern branding practices: Liberty of London, 1875-1900

Nicholas Alexander, Anne Marie Doherty, James Cronin

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

20 Downloads (Pure)


In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, an increasingly consumerized market environment, encouraged firms to pay greater attention to the marketing of their goods and the development of modern branding practices. However, in the literature, the development of these branding practices has remained somewhat obscured by the assertion that brands conform to general characteristics within historical periods (Moore and Reid, 2008). However, as Mercer (2010: 18) notes: “such an argument overlooks nuances and shifts in the types of brands and branding employed over time.” This paper is concerned with understanding these nuances and the historical instantiation of brand building activities. In order to achieve this, we consider the role of the retailer Liberty of London at the emergence of modern branding practices. In particular, we focus on Liberty’s success engaging emergent middle class consumers with its distinctive design values associated with the exoticism of the Orient at a crucial stage in the development of mass consumer culture. Arthur Lasenby Liberty commercially activated the elitist aestheticism of mid-nineteenth century England associated with such as Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris by articulating a vision of market-mediated authenticity. In 1875, Liberty opened his first store in Regent Street and over the next quarter of a century became a major influence on consumer taste. Our findings show that Liberty’s branding practices were encountered at three levels: first, through authoritative advocacy and allegorical encounters within a wide socio-cultural sphere; secondly, through augmented admission and experiential engagement within an iconic retail setting; thirdly, through symbolic substantiation within the consumer’s social and domestic space. We conclude by proposing that this process of brand building, through market-mediated authentication, was linked intrinsically to consumers’ associated experiential imagining within an iconic retail space. Further, we propose the firm’s exploitation of territorial legitimacy to underpin brand validity was a precursor to a wider commercial exploitation of iconic venues of consumption that became increasing evident in the early years of the next century.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sep 2019
EventCentre for the History of Retail and Distribution Conference 2019: Retailing and Distribution in the Nineteenth Century - University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, United Kingdom
Duration: 10 Sep 201910 Sep 2019


ConferenceCentre for the History of Retail and Distribution Conference 2019
Abbreviated titleCHORD 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • market-mediated authenticity
  • Liberty of London
  • brand building

Cite this