Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Give me Liberty

We visited Liberty in Regent Street on Saturday so that Jane could pick up some haberdashery supplies.

Ben was rather taken with a camel saddle that he and I came across on the third floor as we were killing time while his mum was loooking at ribbons. He remembers photos of her riding a camel in the Dubai desert, so he insisted that she came to see it when she had finished her shopping.

The saddle is in the carpet department, and I imagine it is intended to add to the exotic, Eastern ambience that comes from a profusion of hand made rugs hung from the ceiling, pinned to the walls and piled sky high in every available space.

After admiring the saddle, Jane was rather taken with a carpet that she had noticed on top of a pile of similar rugs. I'd say that the carpet was about twelve feet by four, and there were about twenty five rugs laid on top of each other.

I asked a nearby member of staff how much it would cost. "Thirty five thousand pounds," came the deadpan reply. I looked more closely. There were in fact price tags on the rugs. The second one in the pile was a comparative bargain at �28,000.

At this point I became acutely aware that my four year old, possibly with his nose unwiped, was in close proximity.

"So this pile of rugs is worth hundreds of thousands?"

"Yes, the carpet that you are interested in was made in central Persia around 1890. There are probably only a dozen similar in the world. An example came up in Sotheby's recently, but it was more worn, not of this quality."

"Is it a pre Islamic design?" I asked. (All that I knew about Persian carpets - gleaned from Dan Cruickshank's estimable Around the World in Eighty Treasures on the TV the other week - was that the designs were regional and could be traced back to a time before the Moslem conversion, but I thought I might as well chance my arm.)

"Not really," he said and went on to describe a famous mosque inlaid with a very similar pattern.

I wondered out loud if it was symmetrical.

"It is that sort of design, " he said, "but obviously a handmade item can never be perfectly symmetrical.

"In fact Persian weavers have a strong belief that only God is perfect in all that He does. Therefore a rug made by a human must have an imperfection because the belief is that only God can craft something that is flawless, and it would be arrogant for man to seek and aspire to the same.

"A perfect carpet would offend God, therefore the imperfection symbolizes man's imperfection in this world. The finer the pattern, and the more perfect its execution, the greater the need to insert a purposeful flaw of one sort or another."

I told him that with regard to inserting a purposeful flaw into a perfect accomplishment of mine, I would cross that bridge when I came to it.

We chatted away for a while longer. He seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of knowledge about the weft, the weave, the silk and the thread. It was all fascinating but finally I had - shame faced - to admit that I didn't have thirty five grand to blow on a carpet that afternoon. He couldn't have been more gracious.

I have looked up the Liberty website since we have been back. This is what it says.

The third floor is a must for any Liberty customer, absolutely nothing in here has been mass-produced. Everything is handmade with a label on the back denoting country of origin. No brands, no companies just a country � Iran, Persia, Pakistan, Afghanistan. We have friends there who make the best carpets in the world in a way that no machine can replicate. If you want to know the story behind any carpet you are buying � ask any member of staff and they�ll be happy to help and of course Bruce is usually on hand. He�s our buyer and always willing to share a tale or two. He bought every one of those carpets and he (and the team) know exactly who made them and how they did it. He is an education and if you had no interest in carpets when you arrived you can guarantee you will be fluent in �carpet� by the time you leave.

It is all true.

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