Saturday, 23 July 2011

Mr. Fish



Michael Fish was born in 1940 in Essex. He started his career in fashion from working for a respectable fashion house - Collet's , in the mid-1950's. Quickly, he progressed to working first at New & Lingwood and then Turnbull and Asser - well known Jermyn Street shirtmakers who specialized in inventive, made-to-measure shirts. Michael Fish's arrival at Turnbull and Asser was a breath of a fresh air for the company. His highly imaginative and colourful designs helped the company to move with the times. Their first ready to wear shirts designed by Michael Fish were significantly different from their standard offerings. He changed the cut of a high collared shirt - he made the points larger and more widely spred and he introduced embroidery and ruffles. His designs for accesories were also revolutionary - his ties were wide and his pocket handkerchiefs were specially hand-blocked and printed.


Michael Fish and his customer at Turnbull and Asser, Sean Connery.


In 1966, after nine years at Turnbull and Asser, and a brief period at John Stephen's as an assistant designer, Michael Fish opened his own shop, Mr. Fish. His business partner was Barry Sainsbury - a wealthy young entrepreneur from upper middle class background , with good social connections. Their idea was to sell upmarket, fashionable clothes for the elite customers. The boutique was situated in 17 Clifford Street in Mayfair. The exclusivity of the shop was determined by high prices - usually around £35 for a jacket, £100 for a whole suit,  and anything between £8 and £20 for a shirt. The reason for such high prices lied in the generous use of expensive fabrics. The originality of  Mr. Fish's clothes was expressed in the slogan written on his shopping bags: "Peculiar to Mr. Fish". The shop was famous for its colored silk and cotton shirts, often ruffled, which fitted loosely around the body, rather than tightly (like typical shirt of , for example John Stephen). Another design typical for Mr. Fish was velvet jacket - it was usually double - breasted and elegantly draped. His famous paisley-patterned wide ties - also known as 'kipper ties', had become one of the symbols of 1960's male fashion. Mr. Fish was also one of the first designers to venture into gender-bending territory with his designs for dresses for men. The most memorable one is a white dress worn by Mick Jagger for The Rolling Stones free concert in Hyde Park on  5th July  1969.



A year later, David Bowie, on the cover of his album The Man Who Sold the World wore colourful velvet frock designed by Mr. Fish.



David Bowie wearing frock from Mr. Fish on the cover of Curious. 1970 


I tried to break down the frontiers for man - said Michael Fish in the interview for Nik Cohn. Do I care about the masses? Jesus Christ had only twelve disciples and one of them was doubting Thomas (Nik Cohn, Today There Are No Gentlemen, p 145). Whatever masses might have thought of Mr. Fish's clothes, he certanly became a sensation in fashion world. he was praised by journals such as Elle or Woman's Daily Wear. He did joint fashion shows with Mary Quant, Valentino and Annacat. His clothes were worn by fashion photograpers  such as David Bailey, Patrick Lichfield, Lord Snowdon (Tony Armstrong - Jones) and actors  Terence Stamp and James Fox.


Above and below: Patrick Lichfield modeling Mr.Fish's clothes circa 1971




James Fox on the set of Duffy wearing shirt and dice-motif suit by Mr. Fish. 1968.


It seemed like the clientele of Mr. Fish boutique consisted mostly of rich and famous or those aspiring to be rich or famous. Michael Fish himself tried to sound like he was unconcerened by it: A lot of top faces come to me  but I don't give names, that's not my bag. I could reel off the list that's unbelivable, pop stars and film stars almost anyone you could mention, but I despise all that. I loathe vulgarity. I think I have a certain humble kind of chic and chic is something rather special (Cohn, p 148). In the same interview, however, he states: I don't care about taste. I think taste is a word like love; it should be forgotten for fifty years, I don't even know what it means. Actually I think I'm very vulgar. Revolutionaries have to be (Cohn, p 145). Though it may seem that second quotation is much more honest expression of Mr. Fish's true politics, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of those two statements. What he tried to do, one may argue, was to make flamboyancy chic. It was an attempt to challenge traditional notions of dandyism. Beau Brummell famously said that to be well dressed meant not to be noticed. It seems like Mr. Fish's reply would be: Not anymore. Not in the 1960's. The success of his shop and the elite list of his clientele gives him a power to say it and remain a credible authority in fashion.


Janet Lyle (Annacat) and Patrick Lichfield in a shirt from Mr. Fish. 1971.


Michael Fish in purple silk tunic jacket and poplin roll-neck, 1967 



Michael Fish and Barry Sainsbury. Photo shoot for Sunday Times, 15.10.1968 



It is important to say, however, that both, his success and his time as an authority in fashion did not last long. The withdrawal of Barry Sainsbury as a financial backer, the expiry of the lease of Clifford Street premises, the fore-mentioned use of expensive fabrics and Michael Fish's tendency to give generous credit to his famous clients had quickly caused him financial problems.  Nik Cohn in Today There are No Gentlemen (1971) sensed that Mr. Fish's star as a designer was fading. He expected him to go wholesale or strike a deal with chain stores. This did not happen. Barry Sainsbury's replacement as an investor - Captain Fred Barker, bewildered by financial losses decided to shut the shop down in the early 1970's. Michael Fish tried briefly to resurrect his business  - in 1974 he opened a new shop in Mount Street, this time with rock managers Robert Stigwood and David Shaw as investors. However 1974 was not 1966 - London was no longer a 'swinging' place it used to be, and the idea of the boutique ran in the laid back manner and selling expensive clothes to the elite clientele seemed out of place in the country struggling with recession. Michael Fish withdrew from fashion world altogether, and spent the rest of his days as the nightclub owner. The significance of his boutiques, however , should not be underestimated. Large collection of his designs in Victoria and Albert Museum is a proof that between 1966 and 1970, he was one of the most important fashion designers in Swinging London, and the inventor of the Peacock Style.



Suit from Mr. Fish from 1968. Donated to V&A by David Mlinaric.


Above and below:  Mr. Fish's suits in V&A Museum



29 comments:

William Duncan said...

Nice blog.It's great to read about 60's fashion and music.

William Duncan said...

Have a look at Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane.She was a great symbol of the 60's.One of my favourite songs is "White Rabbit".Brilliant.

http://www.google.com.br/imgres?imgurl=http://www.ladiesofrock.com/Grace_Slick_Picture_15.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.ladiesofrock.com/Grace_Slick_Pictures.html&h=600&w=596&sz=93&tbnid=525fYJpCSy5oYM:&tbnh=90&tbnw=89&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dgrace%2Bslick%26tbm%3Disch%26tbo%3Du&zoom=1&q=grace+slick&docid=FElXpNzNuugkyM&hl=pt-BR&sa=X&ei=YlsxTrn_JYvAtgfEmbHyDA&sqi=2&ved=0CDMQ9QEwBQ&dur=3858

Miss Peelpants said...

Oooooh, just the blog I've been needing in my life! ;)

That picture of Janet Lyle and Lichfield: in the original copy in Vogue it says that he's wearing a shirt from his own 'range', which will be being sold from the new Madison Avenue Annacat store in NY.

I have no idea if that was really the case, but it's interesting!

A Dandy in Aspic said...

oh, wow, do you know which issue of Vogue was that (month and year)? I've been having trouble with finding out dates for certain photos. Those 2 other photos of Lichfield are either from 1968 or 1971. I've found two equally credible sources and don't know which one was right..

You're right, interesting....I didn't know that Lichfield had his own range of clothing. He doesn't mention anything about it in his autobiography.In fact , he didn't put any photos of himself from the late sixties in the book, almost as if he was ashamed of the way he dressed back then..

Miss Peelpants said...

Ok, finally found it:

Janet Lyle wears her own sea green velvet dress, Patrick Lichfield his own yellow shantung shirt. Both destined for New York where Annacat has opened a boutique at 924 Madison Avenue. Janet Lyle's dress is full length, with small bodice, cascading white lace sleeves sewn with green satin ribbons. Patrick Lichfield's shirt, with ruffles and a detatchable sash to tie in a large floppy bow, is from his first collection of men's shirts which will be sold in a special boutique inside the New York Annacat. Happily, they are both available at the London Annacat, too, £33, and 15 gns to order, from 270 Brompton Road, SW3

September 1968

Barima said...

This is very comprehensive; it's also good to read the references to Cohn's book, which I have been trying to source lately

I've referenced Michael Fish a number of times in my own blog-column (such as last year's http://barimavox.blogspot.com/2010/08/peculiarly-mr-fish.html), and have three Mr. Fish kipper ties. He truly strikes me as one to cherish

Do you own the recent tome, Day of the Peacock? Fish is especially prevalent due to the book focusing entirely on the revolution in which he came to prominence

Best,

BON

A Dandy in Aspic said...

Hello!
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog!
Barima, Cohn's book has been, as far as I know, out of print for decades. It's a shame because it's a great (and highly influential) study of post-war male dress in Britain. Copies of the book appear every now and then on ebay/amazon and usually cost around £70. But I am sure you should be able to access a copy in good libraries.
It's great that you own original 60's kipper ties by Mr. Fish, how did you get hold of them?
Yes, I do know 'Day of The Peacock', I have used a lot of illustrations from that book in my blog. I am glad that the book on the subject of peacock style was finally published (for the first time since Cohn's book, really).

Miss Peelpants, (sorry for ridiculously late reply) thanks for sharing that information, it is very interesting. I always felt that Mr. Fish was not getting enough credit, and there is so little information about him on internet (his wikipedia page, for example is full of mistakes). I will try to find as much as i can and put the fruits of my research here.
x

Barima said...

I appreciate the reply, as well as the following of my column, fellow. The tips regarding the Cohn tome are much appreciated; I've had no luck with Amazon or eBay, thus far, but I plan to keep trying

I also greatly like Patrick Lichfield and had wanted to learn more about his clothing line, which was spoken of a little disparagingly in a 1970 discussion whose participants included Eric Joy of Blades and Tommy Nutter that I have scans of somewhere

I found the Mr. Fish ties on eBay. Photographically speaking, I haven't devised many worthwhile outfits for two of them, but my cotton one can be seen here:

http://barimavox.blogspot.com/2011/05/mode-parade-x-final-fashion.html

That one is brown cotton; the others are ribbed red cashmere and a psychedelic black/yellow/red/orange/scarlet print in slightly shiny satin. I also go after early Turnbull & Asser neckties, partly in the hope that Michael Fish designed them

There were some shirts on eBay this year, which sold cheaply enough, but I missed them all. I did come by a number of Deborah & Clare shirts and ties lately, which more than made up for that. As much as Michael Fish deserves more recognition, those ladies are even more obscure, though no less talented:

http://barimavox.blogspot.com/2011/07/james-bond-vs-lord-brett-sinclair.html

One of the best elements of the era, which you reference here, is that so many pieces were made in such diverse and interesting fabrics - even my vintage go-to tie from Austin Reed is from nicely woven slubbed silk

Keep up the excellent work

All best,

BON

Greville Bogard said...

So gratifying to revisit this extraordinary period, in particular recalling my frequent descents through a tiny trapdoor at Hung On You in Cale Street, Chelsea, down to a dimly-lit basement stuffed with racks "groaning", in the words of Men In Vogue writer Christopher Gibbs, with owner/designer Michael Rainey's exquisitely-tailored self-stripe velour jackets in subtle shades of pastel beige and rose. Meanwhile, as a cadet journalist labouring under the all-seeing eye of the late great John Taylor, iconic editor of the Tailor & Cutter ("The Leading Authority on Style and Clothing"), my interview with Michael Fish at his Clifford Street boutique did manage to make it into the pages of T&C. John Taylor chose to highlight several other West End establishments, like Rupert Lycett-Green (Blades, Burlington Gardens, Tommy Nutter (Nutters, Savile Row), and the Mayfair waistcoat specialist Tom Gilbey. It should be noted that John Taylor's body of work lives on today through the prolific reporting on current men's fashion by his longtime partner, Marie Scott. Marie is publisher of Savile Row Style, a highly-informative website (www.savilerow-style.com), and more recently, she has launched a superb glossy printed magazine of the same name, available by subscription.

A Dandy in Aspic said...

Thank You, Mr. Bogard

I really envy you as I would love to have been there in the sixties.

I certainly have heard of Tailor and Cutter, although I have never read any from 1960's - original copies of the magazine are hard to obtain. Same goes to Men In Vogue, which was run by Christopher Gibbs (best dressed man in London, according to Nik Cohn). The only place I know of, where one can access copies of Men in Vogue is V&A archives.
Do you have a transcript of your interview with Michael Fish for T&C? I would be most interested in reading it...

Greville Bogard said...

I understand that Marie Scott (who was Ladies Fashion Editor at the time) has a number of back issues of Tailor & Cutter from the days it was published at 42 Gerrard Street. Whether or not these include that particular edition from 1966 featuring my interview with Michael Fish only she can say. For a definitive answer, you could contact her via Savile Row Style. PS: The men's fragrance that encapsulates that period was Habit Rouge by Guerlain. Apparently, Marianne Faithfull still wears nothing else...

Anonymous said...

from Jeff Beresford:

just one detail on your article Dandy in Aspic:

Michael Fish was employed once again at Turnbull and Asser in the mid 1980s: he was my manager there.

A Dandy in Aspic said...

Thank you, Jeff, that's very interesting.
What was he like? Was he sharing any interesting anecdotes from the 60's with people? Or was he rather bitter about being 'back to square one'?

Wilthomer said...

I first heard of Mr. Fish after seeing a clip of their marquee in the mid 80's on the Bowie video/film "Love You Till Tuesday"!

Julian Hartnoll said...

I used to know Michael Fish well and would love to know whether he is "still with us". Anyone know and if he so can he be contacted ? I worked around the corner from him in 1961 and we would have lunch together in La Bonnierre in Duke Street St James. He made many ruffled shirts for me and indeed the morning suit in which I married in 1964. Alas I don't have it any more although I have one pink ruffled shirt. In front of me now I have a beautiful black velvet hat made by Diane Logan with the label "peculiar to Mr Fish". He was, and I hope still is, a lovely man.

Camilla Harrison said...

All these comments are a fascinating insight; does anyone know if Mr Fish is still alive? And how to contact him? I am writing a thesis on late 60s gender play regarding the rolling stones and he would be an invaluable asset to my research!

Anonymous said...

He was definitely still alive in the early 90's, as I was living next door to him until 1999. I'm not sure where he is now though, or if he is even alive.

Simon Lloyd Fish said...

As a tailor myself I have to say I love all his work such creative talent and a great designer, -

Anonymous said...

I would love to say hello to Michael and maybe I can through this page?
For those who wonder.... I was writing to him during 1990 and 1991.
Oddly, my Mum met a mutual friend in Lanzarote around that time or just after, who said he was well, in love and in N.Y. Lovely.
He's the same age as my Mum, so no reason why he's not as active as she is.
Michael, if you read this, much love from the house Nurse. I trust you can say Hi to our T&T'n ballet queen from me.
Tracey Lacey x x

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8LT475.
The image can be seen at wahooart.com who can supply you with a canvas print of it.

Macthomson said...

I first heard of Mr. Fish after seeing a clip of their marquee in the mid 80's on the Bowie video/film "Love You Till Tuesday"!

...said Wilthomer back a while.

It helps, I hope, to explain the line in Bowie's "Space Oddity"...

"...and the papers want to know whose shirts your wear..."

Pop celebrities were invariably asked whther their shirts were from JOhn Steven, Blades or Mr Fish!

Simonlloydfish said...


I have been an admirer for a long time of MR FISH, as take the same surname, and profession, I have been trying in earnest to contact him through my friends on Savile Row at Chittlebrough & Morgan and also Edward Sexton, to my dismay I cant seem to reach him.

I was trying to create a tribute to his legacy combined with my own fashion vision, and if anyone knows where I can reach him please let me know,

Kind regards

Simon Lloyd Fish

James Perry said...

I was Michael's pattern maker in his last venture he opened a shop at 52 Pimlico Road in the late 1980s with backing from Miranda Nuttall now Lady Stockton. He lived in Brixton at the time and my mother was working with him from his home before he opened the shop in Pimlico. If you need any further information around him please contact me and I will do my best to supply you with what I know.

James Perry said...

Hi to all those of you who have commented here. I was Micheals fitter cutter pattern maker when he opened his shop at 52 Pimlico Road in 1985.
He was backed in the venture by Miranda Lady Nuttall ( Now Lady Stockton) After a falling out Micheal left this venture and continued living at his home In Brixton. I went onto work at Turnbull & Asser. Michael was at the time I met him a most hilarious and funny man with a waspish tongue. If any of you would like any further information around my experiences of him I would be happy to supply this information at mrjperry@msn.com

James Perry said...

I was the Pattern Maker Fitter Cutter when Micheal was backed by Miranda Lady Nuttall Nee Quarry ( Now Lady Stockton) at his shop at 52 Pimlico Road, this came about as I had some experience as a 16 year old working as an apprentice at Harvie & Hudson ( Duly sacked as totally unsuitable for the trade)Sadly this venture came to an end after a falling out between Micheal and Miranda, It was a beautiful shop and gained some good press at the time. Before Micheal entered into this agreement with Miranda Lady Nuttall he was making shirts from his home in Brixton which is where I came to meet him as My mother was a machinist for him. She went onto become John Galliano's sample hand for a time. If you would like any further information around Micheal please email me I do know where his last known address is. mrjperry@msn.com

Wendy Sacks said...

Wonderful article. I've been fascinated by Mr. Fish ever since I found a jacket by him in unworn condition at a thrift shop in Brooklyn about 10 years ago. It was stunning--an almost feminine cut in a Japanese brocade fabric with silver and gold threads running through it. I donated the jacket to the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology several years ago. For anyone who'd like to see it, it's in their online collection (1960s section), and was just shown at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in their Hippie Chic exhibit. It's featured in the book that accompanied the exhibit, along with other Mr. Fish items.

Anonymous said...

Mr Fish had one sister, Lesley and one brother Philip. Sadly he suffered a stroke in 2004. The name Mr Fish, peculiar to, has nothing to do with a Mr David Mason what so ever. Anyone in the fashion world should be aware of this very important fact!

For more information please contact feelthefish@outlook.com

Hugo Moss said...

How lovely to stumble across this page. I rented a room in Michael Fish's Leander Road, Brixton household from 1983-1987 and he looms large in the story of my formative years (I was aged 21 to 25). I then moved across the world to Brazil and to my great regret a few years later lost touch with Michael. I'm only now "catching up", learning with great sadness of his stroke etc. I'd love to exchange any news/memories with any of you - I have many of the latter from those Brixton days. It would be hard to exaggerate my fondness for Michael and how alive he is here within me even after all these years, a true mentor still. At which nursing hiome is Michael living? My personal e-mail: hugo@moss.com.br

Penny said...

I read somewhere that Maurice Gibb of the BeeGees wore Mr. Fish shirts - in fact there are some pictures where Maurice was wearing a ruffled shirt!