Friday 16 September 2011

I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet

The boutique called I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet started in 1964 as a stall on Portobello Market. It specialized in selling replicas of Victorian military uniforms and other accessories from Victorian era. The popularity of the stall grew, and, in 1966 it evolved into a shop on 293 Portobello Road. The shop was owned by Ian Fisk, and run by John Paul and Robert Orbach.

Ian Fisk (right), the owner.

Although not the designers, Orbach and Paul spotted the gap in the market, and skillfully exploited the mid-sixties fad for second-hand Victoriana. The real breakthrough came in 1966. As Robert Orbach remembers: I’m sitting there one morning and in walked John Lennon, Mick Jagger and Cynthia Lennon. And I didn’t know whether I was hallucinating… but it was real. And Mick Jagger bought a red Grenadier guardsman drummer’s jacket, probably for about £4-5. They all came from Moss Bros and British Army Surplus. In 1966 it was only fifty or so years from Victorian times, when we had an empire. We used to buy fur coats by the bale… we had to throw quite a lot away.

So Mick Jagger bought this tunic and wore it on Ready! Steady! Go! when the Stones closed the show by performing 'Paint it Black'. The next morning there was a line of about 100 people wanting to buy this tunic… and we sold everything in the shop by lunchtime (

Mick Jagger wearing a tunic From I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet on Ready! Steady! Go!, 27.05.1966

Jagger was not the only pop star who shopped at I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet. Jimi Hendrix was another prominent customer.

Hendrix outside I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet wearing a tunic, 1967.

In 1967, I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet opened two new branches - in Fouberts Place (just off Carnaby Street) and Piccadilly Circus.

The boutique was very fashionable.This is how one reporter remembers the visit: "A girl assistant was wearing a full dress jacket of the old Hertfordshire Regiment over skin - coloured tights, another customer was strutting around in black and gold 'diplomatic gear'" (Richard Lester, Boutique London, p 70). 
This appropriation  of British Army uniforms was not looked well upon by older members of respectable society (especially ex-soldiers), but perhaps that is why the uniforms were so popular. As Richard Lester points out: "It was almost unimportant what the shops sold, such was their reputation for anti-establishment stunts (...) In September 1966 The Times reported from the Guildhall that a 'Muswell Hill youth' had been conditionally discharged after being stopped wearing a Scots Guards tunic. 'I think it looked fashionable and smart' - the unnamed defendant commented (Richard Lester, Boutique London, p 68-70).

An article about I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet, circa 1967.

Tie from I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet (Photo courtesy of Peter Feely)

Some ads for I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet from 1967.

After the success of I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet, Victorian uniforms started being sold in many other shops in London.

The red tunic from I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet had become one of the most evocative male outfits of the 1960's London.

The Invisibles - a comic from the 1990's set in 1960's Britain. An example of how red tunic entered pop culture as a symbol of 1960's.

In 2002 , indie band The Libertines (who were obviously very steeped in 1960's pop culture) wore red tunics during gigs and in few videos. What followed was an unexpected 'comeback' of tunics into fashion. Even today they are easily available in Camden Stables Market. It is interesting how many of young indie enthusiasts who purchase and wear the tunics, have heard of I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet... 

The influence of I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet on 1960's male fashion was recognized by fashion history. Museum of London has on display an original sign advertising the shop as well as a Union Jack shirt.


Rebecca said...

I wonder if they had something in a blueberry-purple with gold braiding, size 8? I'm always so jealous of Jenny Boyd walking around there in Reflections Of Love!

Anonymous said...

Hi, the shirt and trousers are at the Museum of London, not the V&A.

Anonymous said...

Hello, my friend Stan who is 94 used to be head of ceramics at Hornsey College of Art in the 1960s. His head of Department Mr Parkinson was asked to design a mug for "I was Lord Kitchener's valet" in 1967. It has on it "Make Love, Not War". He gave that mug to me today.
Thanks, Christine

Anonymous said...

I wonder what that union jack shirts is worth ?

Lizbeth Howard said...

Hi Christine! I have a mug from " I was Lord kitchener's valet" and it's an illustration of Mick Jagger and it says "stone" on one side of his head and "mug" on the other!

Ellie said...

Thank you for posting. I lived on the Harrow Road during the 1960s and used to spend my Saturdays on the Potobello Road market. I had a victorian white lace dress from Kitcheners Valet and a navy military cape. I remember it all so clearly but amazing to see it all again made me cry😢

Anonymous said...

Amazing thing, I rented an apartment from Ian Fisk in Brussels in the early 90's, he showed me all the pictures and media coverage of the shop and shared tons of stories from the 60s. Great memories and great guy, used to run an Antique stall in the Sablon in brussels.