A unique exhibition has just opened at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London’s East End. The museum was started by designer Zandra Rhodes, a product of the ’60s and still going strong today, with the latest collaboration for Ikea. The museum’s striking exterior was the concept of renowned Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta. Since 2008 the museum is now under the ownership of Newham College.
The latest exhibit which opened on the 1st of October will run through until 13th March 2022, it gives a snapshot view of 6 of the many new boutiques that traded in the 1960s and became a part of the “Swinging London” legend. The changing attitudes towards gender and sexuality at this time allowed a new found youth freedom. Homosexuality was decriminalized in England and Wales in 1967 and Scotland in 1981 with Northern Ireland way behind in 1982. There was also a new found freedom of sexuality with the introduction of the contraceptive “The Pill” in 1961.
The 6 boutiques featured here are Biba, Granny Takes a Trip, Hung On You, Apple Boutique/Dandie Fashions/Apple Tailoring,Mr.Fish, and Quorum. Most were frequented by pop stars and models of the day. Mainly centered around the King’s Road, Chelsea.
George Harrison, of The Beatles fame, is seen wearing a William Morris golden lily print jacket from “Granny Takes a Trip” and Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones in a red grenadier guardsmen jacket from “I was Lord Kitcheners Valet”. When Jagger wore the jacket on the Pop TV programme “Ready Steady Go” it sold out and started a trend in menswear for military-inspired garments.
Biba first opened in Abingdon Road in Kensington in an old pharmacy shop. The concept and original designs were by Barbara Hulanicki with her husband Stephen Fitz Simon after a booming success of a single mail-order dress in the newspaper The Daily Mirror which ended up selling 17,000 pieces. The first shop opened in 1964, a very dark place, painted navy blue with a chequered floor (years before Abercrombie & Fitch) with loud music. The clothes offered in baskets and scooped up by the trendy young girls, all at affordable prices. Biba went on to open bigger and bigger stores in the area ending up as a multi-storied store on Kensington High Street in the old department store building of Derry and Toms. Big Biba, as it was known, sold clothes for women, men, children, makeup, accessories, food furniture etc. This is the one business that outlived all the others. Much has been written on Biba and Barbara who is still working today on design projects in Miami, Florida with the same vitality and spirit as she had in the past.
Granny Takes a Trip opened its doors at 488 Kings Road, Chelsea in 1966 and was seen as the first psychedelic boutique in London. It sold clothes for both sexes and closed in the mid-1970’s. The name lives on and has been appropriated by clothing stores around the world with no connection with the original store, including present-day vintage stores in Hermosa Beach, California as well as Sunset Boulevard and Sydney Australia.
Hung On You run by designer Michael Rainey opened a boutique first at 22 Cale Street in 1964 and then moved to 430, Kings Road in 1966 and closed down in 1968. The customers were the real departure from the routine, besides clothesfor girls it was almost exclusively for the new male dandies invented by the 1960s a taboo-breaking mixture of customers including models from the nearby newly formed modeling agency “English Boys”.
Apple Boutique, Dandie Fashions and Apple Tailoring all supersede each other. Apple Boutique in Baker Street was a very short-lived enterprise backed and created by the pop group the Beatles, named after their recording label. In practice, it was overwhelmingly stocked by garments and accessories. It only lasted 6 months from December 1967 to July 1967, with stock wandering off and staff having no real control. In the end, all the stock was given away to the public.
Dandie Fashions later named Apple Tailoring was created by John Crittle in 1966, who had previously worked at Hung On You and brought together a consortium of swinging sixties in-crowd to work on the idea. (Crittle is the father of Darcey Bussell the English prima ballerina). After the closure of the Apple Boutique resources were moved to take over Dandie (sometimes known as Dandy) Fashions and it went on to become another short-lived store, Apple Tailoring.
Quorum a boutique originated by designer Alice Pollock in 1964 opened in a side street off the Kings Road at 52 Radnor Walk, a shop for the new London girl. She was joined in 1965 by the very talented Ossie Clark and his to-be wife, print designer Celia Birtwell. The store showcased their talents, earning Ossie the title “the King of the King’s Road”. Soon after their marriage, they were painted by the English painter David Hockney in a famous large portrait called Mr and Mrs Clark which hangs in the Tate Gallery in London.
Mr (Micheal) Fish started his menswear eponymous boutique in 1969 in London’s Mayfair at 17, Clifford Street. A flamboyant designer with mainly floral printed and ruffled front shirts, high neck polo sweaters and the famous Kipper Tie (very wide). He was part of the peacock revolution in menswear and his designs set trends. He put singer Mick Jagger in one of his famous men’s shirts for the big Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park 1969.
This exhibition is an intriguing glimpse at a few of the myriad of boutiques that opened in the sixties. The Kings Road and the Saturday walk along is only part of the story of the 60s. Mary Quant who opened the first women’s Kings Road boutique in 1955, and became a style icon with the mini skirt throughout the sixties, is surely missing from this exhibit. Also Carnaby Street across town was also a style Mecca mainly for menswear and home to the early Mod style. The sixties are a fascinating design era and there are many books and resources on this subject and seeing this show makes one want to know more.
Beautiful People: The Boutique in 1960s Counterculture 1 October 2021 – 13 March 2022 (please note you must book a timed visit) https://www.ftmlondon.org/ftm-exhibitions/beautiful-people-the-boutique-in-1960s-counterculture/
GRAHAM FRASER Queerguru’s Culture, Fashion and Arts Correspondent was once half of the award-winning FASHION DESIGNER duo WORKERS FOR FREEDOM. Years spent working in the luxury end of INTERNATIONAL FASHION he now lives with his partner the artist RICHARD NOTT and their two Cavapoos Albert and Raf in a stunning renovated 1950’s house on the edge of the Sussex Downs with distant sea views.