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Bravura + brilliance: Tommy Roberts, February 6 1941 – December 10 2012

Dec 10th, 2013
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//Tommy Roberts, 1987. Photo: Christopher Clunn//

Sad to note the anniversary today of the death of Tommy Roberts, flamboyant design entrepreneur and subject of my book Mr Freedom.

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//Dedication (right) with (left on cover-flap) list of abiding interests (courtesy Eve Ferret + Mark Summerfield) and Brian Aris portrait//

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//Roberts opened Kleptomania with Charlie Simpson in Kingly Street, central London, in 1966//

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//Neon arch sales counter display designed by Jeffrey Pine for Mr Freedom, opened with partner Trevor Myles at 430 King’s Road in September 1969//

Here – with a selection of images from Mr Freedom – is an extract from an essay I have written about Roberts’ role in the development of design in Britain for Chris Breward and Ghislaine Wood’s book British Design: Tradition & Modernity, which will be published by Bloomsbury next year.

It is arguable that wider recognition for Tommy Roberts’ audacious innovations in the promotion of street style, furniture, gastronomy, home-wares, interiors and collectables was undercut by his refusal to observe the sensitivities of England’s post-war design world.

Roberts adopted an ebullient public persona to match his stout physique and broad Cockney accent. “I’m the most vulgar man in fashion, darlin’!” Roberts proclaimed to the no-less outrageous Sunday Times fashion editor Molly Parkin in the heyday of his Pop Art fashion and objects emporium Mr Freedom.

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Flocked + tiger-striped: The Paradise Garage Ford Mustang

Jul 6th, 2013

//Trevor Myles, Mustang and 430 King's Road, late summer 1971. Photo: Michael Roberts//

//From Michael Roberts' article Men & Their Machines, Club, October 1971//

Trevor Myles’ decision to incorporate a flocked and tiger-striped 1966 Ford Mustang as part of his retail space Paradise Garage naturally attracted a lot of attention during the brief existence of this unusual fashion outlet at 430 King’s Road in Chelsea’s World’s End in 1971.

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Memories of Zanzibar and the nights Iggy Pop and Johnny Thunders left their mark on Fulham

May 10th, 2013

//Signed bar menu. Courtesy: Jonathan Ross//

//Signed back cover of So Alone, Johnny Thunders, Real Records,1978. Courtesy: Jonathan Ross//

As demonstrated by my recent post, the west London house of collector/gallerist Jonathan Ross became a hive for the art/boho/punk crowd flooding the capital in the  70s.

Among the visitors were Johnny Thunders and Iggy Pop, who both left their marks in different ways.

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When Kilburn + The High Roads played the King’s Road Theatre 1974: Ian Dury in Let It Rock ‘Alan Ladd’ suit + feather tie and Sue and Simon Haynes’ extraordinary Tower Bridge stage set

Apr 12th, 2013

//Keith Lucas and Ian Dury onstage at the Kings Road Theatre, November 1974. Photo: Simon Haynes Collection//

As these rarely seen photographs show, when the subject of my last book the late Tommy Roberts took over management of Kilburn & The High Roads he sought to elevate them from the pub-rock scene by upping the visual ante on every front.

//From left: Lucas, Dury, David Rohoman, Charlie Sinclair and Davey Payne//

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Bowie Style tonight: In conversation with Boy George at the V&A

Apr 9th, 2013

Tonight I am hosting an event at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum: an ‘in conversation’ with Boy George about the importance and influence of popular culture’s greatest manipulator of visual identity, David Bowie.

//George O'Dowd overlooked by Big Brother in his room at a squatted house in Carburton Street, central London, 1978.//

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Graphics: Simon Haynes’ designs for City Lights Studio 1972

Mar 11th, 2013

//Swingtag, printed card, 4" x 2", 1972//

Artist/designer Simon Haynes has allowed me access to some of the treasures in his archive. Over the next few weeks I’ll be dipping into it and presenting a selection of artworks, display items, stage sets and graphics he has created over the years.

//Design on silk swatch for fabric for shop interior fittings, 1972//

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Exclusive: Inside Paradise Garage at 430 King’s Road with Electric Colour Company, 1971

Jan 27th, 2013

//Interior, 430 King's Road, Chelsea, May 1971. Note coconut matting, shack-style dressing room doors, trompe de l'oeil gate painted on stockroom door... and fake tiger. Photography: David Parkinson.//

I first wrote about Electric Colour Company – the design studio formed in the East End by four fine art students in the late 60s – in The Look and then in more detail here.

//Amid the singlets, printed sweatshirts and appliqued denim, a bamboo cage housed birds of paradise, suspended from the matting covered ceiling.//

In my view, ECC deserves much greater recognition for executing some very clever work in the field of retail design and interiors in the period 1969-1973.

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70s fashion: Ika in Ossie + Celia by Herb – but whose are the shoes?

Dec 29th, 2012

Herb Schmitz’s lost London demi-monde: City Lights Studio, Yvonne Gold, Katharine Hamnett, Ika Hindley, Piggy, Barbara Trentham, Marrion Womble et al

Nov 2nd, 2012

//Marrion Womble + Barbara Trentham in City Lights Studio clothes, London, 1973.//

Herb Schmitz proudly describes himself as a photojournalist.

From the start of his career in London in the late 60s, the Dusseldorf-born Schmitz has turned an unerring eye to all manner of subject matter: seascapes,Turkish gangsters, the WW2 head of the Polish government in exile, the social scene in latterday Shoreditch (where he has operated a studio for more than 25 years)…

//Ika Hindley models Hamnett bangles, 1973.//

In the wake of a recent exhibition at Amsterdam’s Unseen Photo Fair, Schmitz has opened his archive of early 70s fashion photography for me, revealing images of a lost London demi-monde clad by such hallowed enterprises as City Lights Studio (the Covent Garden boutique operated by the subject of my latest book, Tommy Roberts) and Katherine Hamnett’s label Tuttabankem.

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The Face 1983: Geoff Deane applies the Practical Styling principle to pop

Sep 26th, 2012

Such was the shadow Tommy Roberts cast over popular music that even Practical Styling, the 80s central London furniture, office and homewares outlet he ran with partner Paul Jones, was cited as an influence by performer Geoff Deane.

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