Friday, 28 October 2011

Tara Browne ("He blew his mind out in a car") - 1960's Peacock Style icon

Tara in 1966

Perhaps 'an icon' is not a right word here. But Tara Browne had become something of a cult figure - mostly among Beatles fans - since it was his death that inspired the lyrics of "A Day In The Life" (Little known fact: his death also inspired another song: "Death Of The Socialite" by The Pretty Things).
Born in 1945, The Hon. Tara Browne was a son of Dominick Browne, the 4th Baron of Oranmore and Browne and Oonagh Guinness  - an heiress to the Guinness fortune. After completing  his education in public school in Paris, he came to London, and, like other 'hip' aristocrats in Swinging London, he invested money in a tailoring venture - Foster and Tara. He provided financial backing for tailors Pops and Cliff Foster. Foster & Tara initially were making clothes on order for boutiques such as Granny Takes a Trip, before Tara decided to open his own boutique - Dandie Fashions, which would exclusively sell F&T designs.

Tara Browne and his wife Nicky photographed by Michael Cooper for Men In Vogue in November 1966

Tara Browne with Brian Jones on Tara's birthday, 04.03.1966

 On  December the 18th, 1966, Tara was driving his Lotus Elan through South Kensington with his mistress, model Suki Poitier - the was on their  way to meet decorators Binder, Vaughan & Edwards to discuss designs for the shopfront of Dandie Fashions. While passing the junction of Redcliffe Squre and Redcliffe Gardens, he "didn't notice that the light had changed", and crashed the car with a parked lorry. He died in hospital few hours after (Suki Poitier survived, and soon started dating Tara's friend - Brian Jones).He was 22. The following day, Tara's friend John Lennon picked up a copy of Daily Mail which contained the article about the accident. The rest is a well-known story...

Suki Poitier (centre) and Tara Browne (right), 1966

Apparently, Irish writer Paul Howard is currently writing a biography of Browne. He interviewed several close friends of Tara's. One of them, Hugo Williams shared some of his memories of Tara on The Spectator website: At 15, in 1960, Tara was barely literate, having walked out of dozens of schools. He smoked and drank but he hadn’t got on to joined-up handwriting yet. He was living at home with his mother Oonagh Guinness and her third husband, a louche Cuban ‘shoe-designer’ presently named Miguel Ferreras, who was gaily going through her fortune. Tara was two years younger than me but years ahead in sophistication and fun, dealing jokes, insults and ridiculous boasts from an inexhaustible deck like a child delightedly playing snap. In his green suits, mauve shirts with amethyst cuff-links, his waves of blonde hair, brocade ties and buckled shoes, smoking menthol cigarettes (always Salem) and drinking Bloody Marys, he was Little Lord Fauntleroy, Beau Brummell, Peter Pan, Terence Stamp in Billy Budd, David Hemmings in Blow-Up. His drawly Irish blarney was the perfect antidote to our public school reserve and what would come to be called ‘postwar austerity’.

All the white-gloved pre-debs doing time at Paris finishing schools found their way to Oonagh’s apartment, where they encountered their first taste of Sixties hedonism, without Daddy being around to say no to drinks and cigarettes and staying up past their bedtime. There was the chauffeur-driven Lincoln Continental to conduct us to the clubs and swimming-pools. There was fresh milk in the fridge picked up daily by the Irish butler from the American embassy canteen, the only place in Paris where you could find it in those days. If there was any embarrassment about money Tara would pretend to find a ‘dix milles’ note in the street.

Tara could hardly have failed to be a success in Swinging London. While I was wandering around the globe in ’63 and ‘64, he embarked on the second and last phase of his meteoric progress. He got married, met the Stones and the Beatles, opened a shop in the King’s Road and bought the fatal turquoise Lotus Elan in which he entered the Irish Grand Prix. He let me drive it once in some busy London street: ‘Come on, Hugo, put your foot down.’ I had just got my first job and our ways were dividing. His money and youth made him a natural prey to certain charismatic Chelsea types who turned him into what he amiably termed a ‘hustlee’. He reputedly gave Paul McCartney his first acid trip. The pair went to Liverpool together, got stoned and cruised the city on mopeds until Paul went over the handlebars and broke a tooth and they had to call on Paul’s Aunt Bett for assistance. There is still a body of people — and a book called The Walrus is Paul — who believe that Paul is dead and is now actually Tara Browne with plastic surgery.

Everyone has got some golden boy or girl in their life whose death or sudden departure distils the period into the long party it should have been but probably never was. When my first girlfriend was trying to think of something really nice to tell me she came up with ‘Your eyes are nearly as nice as Tara’s’. I remember being tremendously pleased about this and could hardly wait to tell him. I discussed titles for the book with Paul Howard and there seemed to be no choice: A Lucky Man Who Made the Grade" 



Wednesday, 26 October 2011

What's Good For The Goose (1969)

I have been meaning to post something about this film for a long time. 'What's Good For The Goose' is a slightly forgotten British comedy from 1969. Just like 'Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush' or 'Smashing Time', it is another example of the film which tries to catch the spirit of the sixties, and satirize it at the same time.
The film features popular comedian Norman Wisdom, at the height of his career and  Sally Geeson (younger sister of Judy Geeson) at the beginning of hers.

Wisdom plays Mr. Bartlett - a London bank executive, who gets sent to represent his bank at the conference in Southport. The monotony of Mr. Bartlett's daily life is brilliantly depicted in a speeded-up footage during opening credits - we can see his daily travels from his house at the suburbs to the City, small talks with clients and colleagues, lunch eaten at the desk, being stuck in the traffic during the rush - hour, more routine small talks with his wife and two children during dinner, etc.    
 En route to Southport, he picks up two hitch-hiking hippie girls - Nikki (Sally Geeson) and Meg (Sarah Atkinson). Not that he has much choice - they pretty much invite themselves to his car, while he stops at the petrol station and they make themselves comfortable despite his initial protests. But after a while , he finds that they make rather charming travel companions. He is especially in awe of free-spirited Nikki. He drops the girls off in Southport and checks into the hotel, where the conference is held. During the conference, Mr. Bartlett has trouble concentrating as he can't get Nikki out of his mind. In the evening, when all of his fellow bankers hit either a bar or a local brothel, Mr. Bartlett wonders around town hoping to bump into Nikki. He finally finds her in a psychedelic club called The Screaming Apple. He buys drinks for all her friends (which makes him instantly popular) they dance, and after the club shuts, Nikki comes back with Mr. Bartlett to his hotel room. They start a brief fling.

Over the next few days, embraces the lifestyle of his new, young friends. He exchanges his three-piece suit and bowler hat into psychedelic/peacock "gear" from the new, "fab" boutiques - paisley shirts, kaftans and satin trousers in every possible colour. His new found love makes him more happy, energetic and self-confident than ever before. Unfortunately he will have to eventually realize that Free Love has also its dark side.

The film offers typical gags that can be found in comedies about generation gap and midlife crisis, but unfortunately, not much more. It is enjoyable, although the bizarre ending leaves the viewer wondering what was the point of the story. Readers of this blog , i.e. fans of sixties music/fashion should certainly like it. Lovely Sally Geeson is certainly a good reason to watch this film. Another would be the scenes set in the psychedelic club, where you can see The Pretty Things (performing in the film as Electric Banana) - a great mod-turned-psychedelic band playing songs from their 1969 album Philippe De Barge.


I wonder if Southport had swinging places like this in real life!

I'd recommend "What's Good For the Goose" to anybody who liked "Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush", "Smashing Time" or "There's a Girl In My Soup". It has been released on Dvd few years ago, so it should be widely available.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Lord John, Mates Boutique and post-1966 Carnaby Street

In the mid-1960's , after John Stephen's success, Carnaby Street became a gold mine for fashion retailers. For a few years in the late 1960's, the combination of Carnaby Street address and colourful clothes became almost a guarantee of instant, but short term success. Stephen's clothes were and remained well-made. His imitators realized this to be unnecessary - George Melly wrote - It didn't matter how quickly everything fell to bits. The clothes weren't meant to last, but to dazzle. Their shops, blaring pop music and vying with each other for a campest window and decor, spread the length of Carnaby Street and its environs (George Melly, Revolt Into Style, p 151). Among those competitors,only two men managed to come to a financial success comparable to John Stephen's. These men were Warren Gold, who ran Lord John, and Irvine Sellars who ran Mates boutique.

Shoppers at Lord John, 1966.

Lord John was started by brothers Warren and David Gold who opened two boutiques on Carnaby Street in 1964 after a successful period of selling suede jackets from their stall on Petticoat Lane. Aping John Stephen, Lord John specialized in Mod look. Warren Gold made sure that his designs were always up to date, and followed the trends, which, as far as male Mod look was concerned , were changing on almost weekly basis in the mid-1960's. This strategy proved an instant success, and soon Gold brothers were seen around London            
driving Rolls-Royces. Warren Gold liked his gangster-like image. Nik Cohn wrote about him: When I interviewed him, Gold wore a see-through bodyshirt over a golden-tanned spare tyre and was not communicative: 'Let's make this fast , young man - I've got a very busy day' (Nik Cohn, Today There Are No Gentlemen, p 115).    

Warren Gold, 1969

In 1967 Gold brothers commissioned decorators Binder, Edwards & Vaughan to paint the exterior of Lord John's branch on the corner of Carnaby Street and Ganton Street with a psychedelic mural, making it probably the most eye-catching building on the street. This, combined with the skillful advertising campaign in the press, only added to the success of Lord John. By 1970, Gold brothers owned eight boutiques, and expanded it to thirty during early seventies.

Psychedelic mural by Binder, Edwards & Vaughan

Newspaper ad for Lord John from around 1966.

Jackets from Lord John from early 1970's (found on E-bay).

Coat from Lord John from 1968 displayed in Victoria and Albert Museum.

Cat Stevens outside Lord John, 1966

The Yardbirds at Lord John, 1966

Mickey Dolenz from The Monkees being fitted by Warren Gold himself, 1967

Fashion spread in Fab 208 magazine featuring Lord John coat, 1967

Lord John shopfront circa 1969

Outside Lord John, 1969 (courtesy of John Hellier)

Irvine Sellars was a founder of Mates - one of the first chains of unisexual boutiques in London. 

Mates, 1967

Just like Warren Gold, he started his career in fashion from a stall in East End. Observing the beginnings of Carnaby Street, he had noticed that more and more often boys accompanied girls on the shopping trips (and vice versa). He decided to start a boutique that would sell clothes for both sexes. His designs , just like those of Warren Gold's, were initially aimed at Mod youth - and just like Warren Gold , he did not quite achieve John Stephen's originality. Nevertheless, he was making money, and by 1969 (at the age of 32), he owned a chain of 24 boutiques. Nik Cohn wrote about Sellars: He had his own factory in Neasden, and a house in Brighton, and a very large flat overlooking Marble Arch, impersonal and full of antiques which he paid a friend to choose for him. 'This is one of the biggest flats in London, and I can prove that', he said. 'It has ten rooms, three bathrooms and the furnishings are worth a fortune.'

Irvine Sellars, 1970.

He was not villainous. It would be pleasant to depict the Carnaby Street operators as bloodsuckers, ruthless exploiters, milking innocent kids of their very last dime; but Sellars wasn't like that. 'I'm in business', he said, 'and when you're in business, your personal tastes come second to your profits, or they should do. People try to get at me but I'm not a monster, I'm a human being, like everyone else (Cohn, p 115).

Mates on Carnaby Street , circa 1967

Warren Gold and Irvine Sellars were typical entrepreneurs that had overtaken Carnaby Street after 1966 - businessmen first, designers second. They do not have the same significance for fashion history as John Stephen (who, as elsewhere in this blog was said, is himself very underrated), but, just like him ,they became rich. And when the sixties ended ,their boutiques were on the 'way out' - just like John Stephen's. Both Gold and and Sellars ended up selling their businesses, once they stopped being profitable. Warren Gold remained in the clothing business - he came back to Petticoat Lane, where in the Big Red Building he opened Goldrange - a clothing factory outlet store, which he owns to this day.
Sellars (These days known as Sellar - he seems to have dropped 's' from his surname) went into property business, which made him one of the richest people in Britain. Today, he is one of the main investors behind The Shard - the new tallest skyscraper in London.


Monday, 17 October 2011

The New Psychedelics - a Revival That Never Was? - Pt.2

Few months ago, I did a post about 1980's Psychedelic revival. All I had was few photos, and a brief mention of a Newburgh Street boutique called the Regal. I was really interested in the subject, so I ended my post with a question whether anybody knew anything more about that revival. Needless to say, I was very excited when last night I found this film on YouTube uploaded by Velvet Cave. It is an hour-long documentary titled 'Groovy Movie' about 1980's Psychedelic revival in London. The film answers all the questions one might have about that scene.

You can see footage from their club nights, videos for revival bands such as Mood Six or Marble Staircase, interviews with people who were there, and most importantly, you can watch an interview with the owners of The Regal and look at their amazing clothes. So click on the link and enjoy the obscure second coming of 1960's Psychedelia.

Stills from The Groovy Movie

Edited to note: Read my interview with Anne-Marie Newland, who in 1980's owned Sweet Charity boutique and was a drummer in psych revival band The High Tide.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Blades and Savile Row's reaction to 1960's Peacock Revolution

Rupert Lycett-Green

Tailoring establishment known as Blades was started in 1962 by three partners: Rupert Lycett-Green - a 22 year old ex-Etonian with aristocratic connections, Eric Joy - a cutter from Clerkenwell, and an accountant Charlie Hornby. They specialized in bespoke suits, but they were also selling ready-to-wear ones in their shop on Dover Street. Although as far as prices were concerned , they were at the same level as Savile Row (around £60 for a suit), their clothes were far more modern and innovative. The early success of Blades was a result of combining the novelty of clothes from Carnaby Street with the quality and fine tailoring than has been a trademark of Savile Row. The man responsible for this success was cutter Eric Joy. As Nik Cohn wrote: Before this, if you'd wanted to dress adventurously, you travelled to Carnaby Street and suffered agonies of bad fit and tightness. Now Joy would make you look just as wild and you'd be comfortable as well (Nik Cohn, Today There Are No Gentlemen, p 98). But it was the designer and owner, Rupert Lycett-Green who gave Blades the most publicity.

Rupert Lycett-Green, 1965.

Lycett-Green might have not been the first aristocrat who invested in tailoring, but he certainly was the first who was doing it so openly. His good looks and impeccable style also played important role in his success. Nik Cohn on Lycett-Green: Very tall and very skinny, he was married to John Betjeman's daughter and was charming, quick with a quote and well equipped with enemies. All in all, he was a columnist's dream (Cohn, p 98).
Despite all this Blades made made hardly any money during first few years of existence.In 1965 the shop was faced with an uncertain future when Charlie Hornby left, and was quickly followed by Eric Joy (who went to work for Mr. Fish before opening his own shop in Cork Street).Rupert Lycett-Green was faced with a dilemma.As he remembers: In 1965, I asked myself , am I going to start doing this properly or should I get out? - and I decided to carry on. So I moved to Savile Row and became a professional (Cohn, p 99). His new shop was situated at 8 Burlington Gardens, in Georgian townhouse that overlooked one end of Savile Row. The atmosphere in this discreet new location resembled more gentlemen's club rather than tailoring shop. This brave move was a form of a challenge. 'Hip' new tailors took on conservative 'old guard' of Savile Row. 

Lycett-Green in typical Blades suit during shop's early period.

In Burlington Gardens, Lycett-Green started putting more emphasis on himself as a progressive designer rather than on Blades as tailoring venture. Apart from suits, Blades was now also selling coats, shirts and various accessories. Keeping up with rapidly changing fashions , by 1967 Blades started offering 'bespoke hippie gear'. Nik Cohn described it as a period of utter disaster. He wrote: Not wishing to be left behind, Lycett-Green began feverishly to turn out fancy dress - kaftans  and fringes and Nehru suits, the full psychedelic production.  

Rupert Lycett-Green in a Blades suit that must have given old tailors of Savile Row heart attacks. The lady in the photo is Lycett-Green's wife, Candida. (1967)

Financially it worked. The press still loved him and his turnover rose to £200.000 a year. But clownishness was not truly his style, and he found himself continually outgimmicked and out-outraged by Mr. Fish, just around the corner. In the end, he gave up and reverted to what he did best, well-cut and unfussed suits, knocked down for £100 a time (Cohn, p 100). 
Although Lycett-Green returned to simplicity, he stayed innovative and in touch with latest male fashions. The combination of velvet suits with Liberty print shirts was one of his specialties.

Velvet suits from Blades, 1969.

On the left: Typical late-1960's suit from Blades - double breasted and with wide lapels.

Blades held first ever ready-to-wear men's fashion show in Savile Row in 1967. It was a great publicity stunt and it received a lot of press attention. It also caused the outrage of future Prime Minister Edward Heath who lived in Albany apartments adjoining Burlington Gardens and made a formal complaint about the noise.

By the late 1960's, Blades was more successful than any tailoring establishment fin Savile Row. There is nothing in all London as elegant and as wearable as the simple Blades suit -announced The Times in March 1969. In the same year Blades opened a branch in New York on Madison Avenue, right opposite the New York branch of uber-hip London boutique Annacat. Unlike Annacat though, which closed after few months, Blades remained opened for four years. 

As for Blades' attempt to challenge the old Savile Row, it was more than successful. Nik Cohn wrote: Savile Row, at first was unimpressed by Rupert Lycett-Green (...) For five years, the established firms sat back smug and waited for the upstarts to collapse, and for Carnaby Street to come to nothing, and for everything to return to pre-war sanity. By the time they saw it wasn't going to happen like that, most of their younger customers had left them (...) By 1970, if it hadn't been for the American tourist trade, Savile Row would have been a wreck (Cohn, p 101).    

About Lycett-Green, Nik Cohn wrote: His reputation varies. One view puts him very high indeed, possibly the best designer in England; another dismisses him altogether, giving all the credit to Joy and to the ideas of customers like Christopher Gibbs and Michael Rainey. For myself, I'd put him about halfway: a good shopkeeper and clever self-publicist, but with undue pretensions. What is certain, however is that Blades itself had mattered. (Cohn, p 100).

Lycett-Green remained in business much longer that any other innovative 1960's menswear designer. He sold Blades in 1980. Of his reasons he said: I sometimes think I was put out of business by people like Giorgio Armani. Not literally, of course. But while our clothes were well made and expensive, I just couldn't see how to diversify so as to compete effectively (...) I thought, if Armani is going to be the man of the future, where am I? The writing was on the wall. I thought, this is the moment to get out. Otherwise I am going to have a bespoke, slim suit, tailoring business and I will be sitting here for 20 years waiting for the business to come back. I was 41 and still young enough to do something else (Geoffrey Aquilina Ross, The Day Of The Peacock, p 102).
Today, Rupert Lycett-Green is a chairman of oil exploration and production company. He has his place in fashion history however, as the innovative 1960's menswear designer, and a man who, along with Michael Fish and Doug Hayward brought colour, originality and freshness into the British bespoke tailoring.

Blades suit from 1968 displayed in Victoria and Albert Museum.


Thursday, 6 October 2011

Dedicated Followers of Dandie Fashions

I have accidentally found this photo of very sharp-looking gent from 1960's. It turned out to be Nicholas Hoogstraten - an infamous property magnate, a man who to this day is said to own half of Brighton (at least). In 1960's he was the youngest self-made millionaire in Britain. This photo was taken in Hove in 1968. He is wearing the same suit as Bill Wyman wore for Stones photoshoot in Green Park in January 1967.

It is very likely that this amazing suit was from Dandie Fashions. It looks very similar to the Dandie Fashions suit modeled by Alan Holston on the photograph below.In fact, it is exactly the same cut, although the fabric is different.
It is always great to find some   new photos of clothes from that fantastic King's Road boutique.