Amid the references to the late Christopher Nemeth in today’s Paris show of the Louis Vuitton A/W 15 menswear collection (see my last post), artistic director Kim Jones used the staging to pay subtle homage to the two great maverick figures of London street culture – namely Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood and specifically their 70s punk store Seditionaries.
//Left, Saint Laurent point-toed patent brothel creepers, A/W 2014. Right: George Cox Buckle Diano made to the 1950s last//
Last season’s foregrounding by Saint Laurent of the pointed brothel creeper is just one of a run of examples of fashion brands plugging into the purity of this quintessentially British rock & roll style minted in 1949 by the UK independent footwear company George Cox.
Among the first stylistic innovators to take the design out of Teddy Boy revivalism and apply it to contemporary fashion was Malcolm McLaren, who had been selling creepers for a couple of years at Let It Rock, the boutique he operated with Vivienne Westwood, by the time he visited the Cox factory in Northampton in November 1973. Here he ordered samples for six styles, some of which went into production for sale at 430 King’s Road.
“There were many kings of the King’s Road at different periods of time but there was only one Emperor”
Very sad to note the passing of Billy Murphy, a thoroughly lovely bloke whose contribution to street fashion – particularly in Britain and specifically in and around the King’s Road – is sorely underrated.
I knew all about Billy’s significance in his field decades before I met him; as I wrote here, his shop The Emperor Of Wyoming was “an extremely important staging post not just in the story of British rock and roll fashion but also the development of the vintage scene in this country”.
Toyah Willcox and Midge Ure worked in Sex… Nostalgia Of Mud sold bondage trousers… Philip Hoare’s compromised review littered with as many howlers as contained in the Vivienne Westwood book
It will be frustrating for publisher Picador and their authors Ian Kelly and Vivienne Westwood that novelist Philip Hoare’s national paper five-star review of memoir Vivienne Westwood is rendered unreliable by, pro rata, as many inaccuracies as contained in the book itself.
Holed by these gaffes, the review – in the Sunday Telegraph’s Seven magazine published October 26 – is capsized by Hoare’s failure to declare a significant interest.
In Kelly’s acknowledgements, Hoare’s name appears first on the list of those who extended to the author “accommodation, guidance, encouragement and friendship on this project”.
On the basis that phrases such as “fetishistically brilliant” justify a thumbs-up, Hoare’s review arrived in the wake of the media coverage of my claim against the publisher and the authors over substantial plagiarisation of my book The Look in Vivienne Westwood.
Since I have publicly charged the book with major-league sloppiness, this positive review by a relatively well-known literary figure may be framed in the context of a push to restore credibility to the troubled project (as well as the plagiarisation and the huge amount of factual errors, the book is held to contain at least one serious libel and fails to provide proper credit for a number of photographers).
Hoare – who has post-punk associations, having worked in west London record shop Rough Trade and managed the indie group the Pale Fountains – bravely inserts himself into the piece with personal memories of Westwood’s design business with Malcolm McLaren in the 70s and 80s.
According to Hoare – and these are his additions to the blunders already piled high by the 458-page tome – the shop assistants at 430 Kings Road in its incarnation as Sex included not only musician Midge Ure but also actress/performer Toyah Willcox.
Of course neither was employed there. Hoare has simply confused each person’s tangential relationships to the McLaren/Westwood coterie: it is well known that Ure was once approached as a possible singer for the Sex Pistols during their formative stage, while Willcox appeared in Derek Jarman’s 1978 punk movie Jubilee (the subject of a salty attack printed onto a t-shirt by Westwood).
During the period Hoare is discussing, Ure had already hit the number one spot with Scottish teen-pop band Slik while Willcox was making her acting bones in Birmingham Old Rep before transferring to the National Theatre. A simple check in one of the reliable published sources – of course I recommend The Look – would have put him right.
Against these howlers, we can generously attribute to memory failings Hoare’s depiction of shop manager Jordan’s “Kandinsky make-up” (it was avowedly based on the work of Mondrian and introduced in 1977 during the later Seditionaries phase) and the “scaffolding rails” in Sex (they were made of curved chrome and expertly-turned wooden gym bar racks courtesy of the trained wheelwright Vic Mead) and instead study Hoare’s ownership of a pair of bondage trousers bought at Nostalgia Of Mud, McLaren and Westwood’s store in St Christopher’s Place in London’s West End.
Bondage trousers were not sold at NoM, which opened in spring 1982. By this time McLaren and Westwood had publicly rejected these and other designs produced at the height of punk six years earlier.
In fact so vehement was their abandonment of the punk-era garments that Westwood licensed all the designs, include the patterns for the bondage trousers, to King’s Road store Boy, which was knocking them out in inferior copies by the hundred by spring 1982.
Hoare – who has prior in giving glowing reviews to Kelly’s previous books – compounds the mistakes in his review by quoting one of the plagiarised passages from my book: “Sex,” Westwood tells Kelly,”translated into fashion becomes fetish…the very embodiment of youth’s assumption to mortality.”
As pointed out here last week, and as my lawyers have communicated to Westwood, Kelly and Picador, this is one of 40 passages in Vivienne Westwood which bear close resemblance to text in my book, in this case from the introduction written by McLaren nearly a decade-and-a-half ago: “Sex translated into fashion becomes fetish, and fetishism is the very embodiment of youth. Youth has to behave irreverently – it has to take drugs because of its fundamental belief in its own immortality.”
Read Hoare’s review here.
A photograph of Vivienne Westwood – credited to the fashion designer’s archive in the new Westwood book with Ian Kelly – put me in mind of an image I have in one of my many books in storage.
At first I couldn’t put my finger on the particular tome. Then bingo! Bought eight years ago on publication, the France-only publication Punk Rockers! is a compendium of the photography of the late Alain Dister from the early 70s to the mid-00s.
Among the photographs Dister discusses in the brief foreword is one of Westwood with Malcolm McLaren when they journeyed to Paris to witness a gig by the New York Dolls at the Olympia Theatre in November 1973. This is clearly one of a sequence taken by Dister and featured in Westwood’s book.
As Dister writes, McLaren was “habillé en Teddy Boy années 50″. In photographs taken at the French capital’s Belle Epoque brasserie La Coupole – where we were happily ensconced with the Dolls’ confrère Marc Zermati only last year – the American proto-punk group is shown in all their glory, with guitarist Sylvain Sylvain resplendent in a zippered wool/mohair Let It Rock creation.
Punk Rockers! is a valuable document; Dister cast his unstinting eye as punk mutated from London and New York in the 70s to blossom in such cities as Berlin in the 80s, Seattle in the 90s and Tokyo in the 00s.
Former Melody Maker journalist Chris Charlesworth provides a fascinating snapshot of the Dolls at their debauched peak in Paris here.
Buy copies of Punk Rockers! here.
Dister died in 2008; here is his website.
Vivienne Westwood by Vivienne Westwood and Ian Kelly is reviewed here.
As demonstrated by these photographs taken today by Eric Pourcel, head of production at Magasin, France’s Centre National d’Art Contemporain in Grenoble, the Malcolm McLaren room at group show Art In Pop is really coming together ahead of next week’s opening.
Art In Pop is curated by Magasin’s Yves Aupetitallot with John Armleder, Young Kim of the Malcolm McLaren Estate, John Miller and I, and runs from Oct 11 to January 4, 2015 at Le Magasin, Site Bouchayer-Viallet, 8 esplanade Andry Farcy, 38028 Grenoble.
‘Black is the most exciting colour’ (Goya). Black when used in different ways appears the most infinite and mysterious, the most spatial and loose.
Malcolm McLaren, essay for course at Croydon Art School, 1967
It’s exciting. Work is underway on building the Art In Pop group exhibition which opens next month at Le Magasin, France’s National Centre for Contemporary Art in Grenoble.
Featuring artworks by musicians such as Don Van Vliet and Daniel Johnstone as well as musical ventures by artists including John Armleder and John Miller, Art In Pop incorporates the sizeable space dedicated to Let It Rock, the show exploring the work of the late Malcolm McLaren.
This will focus on McLaren’s investigations into the visual arts from the 60s to his death in 2010 along with the engagements with commercial media such as fashion, film and music for which he is best known.
In line with Let It Rock’s manifestation at the Copenhagen International Fashion Fair this summer, the pink-on-black Let It Rock sign will be recreated, this time at the entrance to the Malcolm McLaren room.
For Art In Pop the sign is being matched by a giant reproduction of the shop logo which followed Let It Rock at 430 King’s Road: Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die.
The dominant use of black behind these logos riffs on McLaren’s repeated use of the colour in his work and should make for an impactful introduction to the show, which will feature hundreds of exhibits from throughout the cultural iconoclast’s artistic life.
Art In Pop – which is curated by Magasin’s Yves Aupetitallot with John Armleder, Young Kim of the Malcolm McLaren Estate, John Miller and I – runs from Oct 11 to January 4, 2015 at Le Magasin, 8 esplanade Andry Farcy, 38028 Grenoble.
More info here.
Worlds End: Norah Waugh, the 31 bus, Daniel Defoe, Black-Beard The Pyrate, Thomas Tew and the origins of the Saracen sword logo
The skull and crossbones was too much of a cliche. In a book from Foyle’s in Charing Cross Road I found the drawing of the pirate Blackbeard, Captain Teach, with his arm holding a Saracen sword. Malcolm McLaren, 2008.
Over the spring and summer of 1980, the late Malcolm McLaren worked with Vivienne Westwood on the themes and theories underpinning the concepts for a new retail environment and fresh fashion direction from their base at 430 King’s Road in west London’s World’s End.
Disillusioned with the pedestrian punks who had started to frequent Seditionaries in the wake of the Sex Pistols split in 1978, the outlet was routinely shuttered. “Apart from a few t-shirts, we didn’t come up with any new designs in four years,” Westwood later said.
The pair’s investigations in 1979 and 1980 crystallised around Westwood’s production of a billowing garment based on an 18th century shirt pattern from the historian Norah Waugh’s 1964 study The Cut Of Men’s Clothes 1600-1900.
McLaren had already introduced notions of music industry-provoking audio piracy into his work with the newly-formed Bow Wow Wow – who released their cassette-only debut single that summer – and pounced upon the shirt’s promisingly unstructured silhouette.
“I could see it being worn as a dress by the young paramour of a pirate captain, romping around his quarters with his belt, one of his waistcoats and a pair of his sagging buckled boots,” McLaren said in the mid-00s. “I rejected the rest of Vivienne’s ideas but kept the shirt, to which I added the vision of pirates to give a certain look, style and pop panache. We then built the Pirate collection around it.”
The choice of the garment is noteworthy. According to Waugh (who had lectured at London’s Central School Of Art and run the costume department at the dramaturg Michel Saint-Denis’ London Theatre Studio in the 30s), men’s tailoring did not start in Britain until the end of the 18th century; prior to that “men’s clothes had a distinctly dressmaker quality”.
By rejecting two centuries of fashion progress – just as they had rejected the pop culture developments of the 60s with the establishment of Let It Rock in 1971 – and fusing the results with the utterly contemporary, McLaren and Westwood once again moved into unexpected territory with clothing which struck a chord outside of fashion and music.
McLaren’s choice of name for the new iteration at 430 King’s Road came from the final destination on the front of the 31 bus; the last stop on the route was Limerston Street, just a few yards west of McLaren and Westwood’s shop.
“The thought of the world ending, the apocalyptic, suggested to me the potential for cultural change,” said McLaren in 2008. “I thought Worlds End (note absence of apostrophe) could do that by having a clock that went backwards around not twelve, but thirteen hours – something impossible to conceive. Something unreal. Something magical.
“Worlds End was meant to represent a pirate galleon setting sail out of this muddy hole called England, a place I had learned to loathe by then due to the conditions I had to meet because of the English courts and the music industry generally.
“Vivienne wanted to destroy and not have anything further to do with Punk. She hated it. So, this store became a way of sailing away from the Kings Road. I wanted the store to ‘float’ as on waves. The little windows in the front were to create that part of the galleon where the captain would often have his chambers.”
When developing a logotype and label ident for the new collection, McLaren resorted as ever to research. At Foyle’s bookshop he came across a copy of A General History Of Pyrates, the highly entertaining 1724 volume by Captain Charles Johnson which is attributed to Daniel Defoe. The author of Robinson Crusoe, one of McLaren’s favourite books, Defoe had lived not far from where McLaren was born in Stoke Newington.
Famously Defoe was pilloried in 1703 for seditious libel over his satirical pamphlet The Shortest Way With Dissenters; it was this archaic charge which inspired the name McLaren gave to 430 King’s Road in 1976.
One of the chapters of the Johnson book is dedicated to the exploits of Edward Teach, the notorious Black-Beard The Pyrate whose appearance excited McLaren’s interest: “The beard was black, which he suffered to grow of an extravagant length…and was accustomed to twist it with ribbons, in small tails. In time of action he stuck lighted matches under his hat which burned slowly at the rate of about 12 inches an hour.
“Appearing on each side of his face, his eyes looking naturally fierce and wild, made him altogether such a figure that imagination cannot form an idea of a Fury from Hell to look more frightful. In the commonwealth of Pirates he who goes the greatest length of wickedness is looked upon with a kind of envy amongst them.”
In the illustrations by Benjamin Cole, the fearsome figure is shown with one muscular arm holding a Saracen sword, a weapon also favoured for its deadly properties by the likes of the infamous Anne Bonny.
As McLaren/Westwood afficianado Stuart Swift has pointed out, the logo was taken directly from the flag of another subject of A General History Of Pyrates: the privateer-turned-pirate Thomas Tew, who traded in gold, silver, jewels and slaves and is alleged to have founded the Madagascan pirate colony Libertalia (where he appointed himself Admiral). While Blackbeard’s story fascinated McLaren, the pirate’s standard – the skeleton of the devil raising a toast as he pierces a heart – lacked the impact of Tew’s.
This symbol of romantic rebellion was then applied to labels, brooches and even the clock spinning backwards outside 430 King’s Road when Worlds End opened at the end of 1980.
Johnson’s book also produced a name for the first Worlds End collection; a vessel commanded by these desperate men and women is designated “the Pirate”, as in: “I followed their advice and went on board the Pirate…” This is why the clothing produced by McLaren and Westwood in the first part of 1981 is grouped under the singular.
Watch the BBC’s 1985 documentary To The World’s End – about the great lost 31 bus route – here.
Diana Crawshaw – who designed for such boutiques as Mr Freedom and Paradise Garage – has contacted me about an appearance she made in an early pop promo clip: Piers Bedford’s short for the 1968 single Long Haired Boy by American singer-songwriter Tim Rose.
Malcolm McLaren exhibition: The roots of Savages + his copy of Mable Morrow’s folk art book Indian Rawhide
Among the most revealing exhibits at the Malcolm McLaren show Let It Rock is the cultural iconoclast’s copy of a folk art book which proved a rich source of reference when he came to design the Savages collection with Vivienne Westwood in 1982.
McLaren’s consistent approach to creative activity always began with deep research (from the first publicly recognised manifestation, the Teddy Boy outlet Let It Rock, to his final film artworks Shallow 1-21 and Paris: City Of The XXIst Century).
And in the early 80s, McLaren’s copy of Mable Morrow’s Indian Rawhide, published by Oklahoma University Press in 1975, proved inspirational for this lifelong fan of Native American Indian culture.
McLaren’s recasting of this folk art in the sphere of fashion aligns his work in the 70s and 80s with the post-modern practice of appropriation which infused all spheres of artistic endeavour at the time, from literature to film and fine art. It is arguable that he and Westwood were the first and the greatest to incorporate the approach in clothing design.
When Savages debuted in October 1982 at Olympia’s Pillar Hall in west London, the repurposing of Native American tribal prints across a range of fabrics and garments – some overprinted with block capital slogans such as “Breaker” and “Girly” – and meshing with contemporary urban black culture and streetwear proved groundbreaking in fashion terms, as can be seen in this film commissioned for the event by McLaren:
Indian Rawhide and the clothing featured in this post are among the many rare and unique exhibits in Let It Rock: The Look Of Music The Sound Of Fashion, which is at the Crystal Hall in Copenhagen’s Bella Center from August 3-6.
Read more here.