Sunday 31 July 2011

Carnaby Street Vs. King's Road

By 1966 the phenomenon of 'Swinging London' had reached its peak. The momentum that started from The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Mod Subculture, the emergence of new designers such as Mary Quant or John Stephen had put London on the map as a new capital of music, fashion and design. This phenomenon was brought to the attention of the rest of the world by American journalist Piri Halasz, who, in her cover story for Time magazine titled 'London: The City that Swings' (April 15th, 1966) described the changes that had taken place in the capital of Britain. As a result, the places described in the article, such as Carnaby Street, became swamped with tourists from all over the world trying to have their share of 'swinigng action'.

The guide books for tourists were being published, such as Karl Dallas' 'Swinging London - A guide to where the action is'. In the introduction to this book, Barry Fantoni seems bewildered with he new phenomenon and criticizes "Fleet Street hacks who when hung up for two thousand words take a taxi into Carnaby Street or Kin's Road and write a fab load of switched-on rubbish that gets subbed down to a caption for a photo of some swinging dolly with her skirt up over her knickers".  He claimed , rightly, that "London has been swinging for ages, it's just that Time magazine and supplements hadn't noticed it". (Max Decharne, King's Road, p 207)

A Map of Swinging London's boutiques and clubs in Rave magazine, April 1966

A map of Swinging London's boutiques and clubs in 16 magazine, 1967

Both, Barry Fantoni and Piri Halasz cashed up on the new phenomenon and wrote guides to Swinging London. 

Carnaby Street was the biggest victim of the phenomenon it helped to create. From 1966 onwards it was associated less with the emergence of new trends for fashionable young people, and more with kitsch for tourists. As George Melly writes in Revolt Into Style: "Soon there were as many girls as boys, as many adolescents as adults and more tourists than anyone. The 'In' group wouldn't have been seen dead in Carnaby Street by 1966. Chelsea, after a period of decline, reasserted its role as the stage of fashion, and so it remained ever since ( George Melly, Revolt Into Style, p 154). Even John Stephen - a designer who was largely responsible for making Carnaby Street what it was, seemed to have agreed with this statement. Asked by Nik Cohn about post - 1966 Carnaby Street, he said: " Who are they? (...) They are nobody in particular. They're mister average" (Nik Cohn, Today there Are No Gentlemen, p 117). Barry Fantoni wrote that: "Carnaby Street customers are (to use unfashionable expression) working class. While they think nothing of spending the week's wages on a complete outfit, the class that shop on King's Road will spend that sort of money on shirt" (Decharne, p 207).

Go Mod! - By 1966, everybody did.

Michael English's interpretation of Carnaby Street and its boutiques, 1970

Swinging London poster sold at I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet circa 1967

The Peacock Revolution, which was sparked by such designers as Bill Green ( Vince) and John Stephen in the late 1950's had reached its crescendo with the arrival of Mr. Fish and King's Road boutiques. However, there was a significant difference not only between the clientele of Carnaby Street and King's Road, but mainly between the designers and entrepreneurs themselves. Bill Green (of Vince), John Stephen and Michael Fish were all from poor backgrounds, and spent years climbing in a hierarchy of fashion industry. All three of the were also homosexual. Designers associated with King's Road boutiques - John Pearse, Nigel Weymouth (Granny Takes A Trip), Michael Rainey (Hung On You), Tara Browne (Dandie Fashions) were, by contrast, heterosexual and extremely upper class. This difference between class and sexuality is very poignant for the whole Peacock Revolution pehaps maybe even for the whole Swinging London phenomenon. It is worth to quote Nik Cohn on the issue of class that owned King's Road boutiques:
" Public school boys, arriving in London, were no longer faced by clear out alternatives - politics, The Army, The City. They were no longer born to govern, had no inbred function (...) Where once they would have been busy building empires, now they gambled and smoked hash, and immersed themselves in Pop. From time to time, they would acquire new toys, like a boutique or an antique shop or a photographer's studio, to give the illusion of purpose"(Cohn, p 92).

The Chelsea Set: Neil Winterbotham, Ossie Clark, Julia Cooke and Michael Williams - fashionable, 'young bright things' of the 1960's.

It seems like for the owners of the King's Road boutiques, their businesses were more of a leisure activity than a method of making a living. They did not do it for survival; therefore they could afford to take various risks  - experiments with adjusting clothes, mixing styles, selling flamboyant outfits to rock stars for high  prices. Relaxed, laid back in their attitude, they were not good at being businessmen, which explains why their boutiques were so short lived. They did , however create  one of the most interesting styles in British post-war male fashion. Peacock Style was a true modern expression of traditional dandyism. It was elegant, flamboyant, exclusive and memorable.

An article about Chelsea boutiques in Town magazine, August 1966.

 Map of Swinging London boutiques

Look At Life: A documentary about King's Road boutiques from 1967, narrated by Michael Ingram.

Somebody used the same footage, but speeded up,to make a video to one of my favorite songs: I'm Rowed Out by The Eyes. True lost Mod classic, and it works so well with the footage. Enjoy!

Source of the images: "Boutique London" by Richard Lester, "The Look - Adventures in Pop and Rock Fashion" by Paul Gorman and Away From The Numbers tumblr. 

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

Saturday 9 July 2011

Dandie Fashions

Dandie Fashions opened on 161 King's Road in October 1966. It was a brainchild of two young entrepreneurs - John Crittle (an Australian, former employee of Michael Rainey in Hung on You) and Tara Browne (an heir to the Guinness fortune) who wanted their boutique to be a retail outlet for their new tailoring business Foster and Tara. Unfortunately, in December 1966, Tara Browne died in a car crash (he was on his way to discuss designs for a shop front with graphic artist David Vaughn). His share of the business was bought by Crittle.

Alan Holston - manager of Dandie Fashions modelling a double-breasted jacket from his boutique, 1967

John Crittle and his wife Andrea, 1968

Dandie Fashions photoshoot circa 1967

Outside Dandie Fashions circa 1967

Crittle, in his policy was essentially copying Hung on You - from Art Nouveau designs for the shop front to clothes themselves - silk frilled shirts, velvet suits in every possible colour and double - breasted jackets. Nevertheless, shop proved a quick success and soon its clients included Brian Jones, David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix. Brian Jones became so friendly with John Crittle, that he had lent him his chauffeur Brian Palastanga and limousine when Crittle was on his way to the court after the drug bust on Dandie Fashions in May 1967.

Brian Jones wearing a jacket from Dandie Fashions. London Palladium, 23.01.1967

 The Who's Roger Daltrey wearing a jacket from Dandie Fashions

Beatles were also customers at Dandie Fashions, and , seeking an investment opportunity, they bought the shop in May 1968 and transformed it into Apple Tailoring - part of their ill-fated, badly ran Apple Enterprise. John Crittle was employed as a director; however his skillful management could not save the boutique from quick bankruptcy in the late 1968. Crittle returned to Australia where he died in 2000.  He is now also remembered for being a father of a ballet star Darcy Bussell - his child with Andrea.

 Dandie Fashions jacket from 1967. It was sold by Kerry Taylor auction house in March 2010 for an undisclosed price.

Dandie Fashions suit, also sold on auction by Kerry Taylor house in 2010.


Floral Jacket from Dandie Fashions worn by Jimi Hendrix in 1967.

Floral jacket from Dandie Fashions worn by Jimi Hendrix circa 1967. It was displayed in 2010 during Jimi Hendrix exhibition in Handel House, London.

Status Quo's drummer John Coghlan (far left) also had one.. (1967)

So did this gentleman photographed in Apple boutique in 1968

Jacket with a mandarin collar from Dandie Fashions worn by Paul McCartney in 1967.

Paul McCartney's order receipt for the jacket.

Freddie Hornick (owner of Granny Takes a Trip) and Alan Holston outside Dandie Fashions,  1967

The Revolution That Nearly Failed - an article in December 1967 issue of Town magazine. The photo depicts a group of young men sporting peacock style outside Dandie Fashions.

Dandie Fashions after re-launch as Apple Tailoring, 1968

 Inside Apple Tailoring, 1968

Apple Tailoring, 1968

 John Crittle with John Lennon outside Apple Tailoring, 1968

Edited to note - since I originally posted this, a lot more information on Dandie Fashions came into daylight - please read great article by Peter Feely, who did very thorough research and extensively interviewed Alan Holston.  (2015)