In the autumn of 1972 the small King’s Road boutique Let It Rock, which had been open for less than a year, received a fillip when the owners Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood were asked to contribute costumes to the production of 50s Britrock movie That’ll Be The Day.
Preparation for my paper at Ben Kelly’s interior design symposium Dead Or Alive has coincided with the refurbishment of the Worlds End shop at 430 King’s Road in Chelsea.
The address is the subject of my talk; I’ll be detailing the history of 430 and how and why it was an important social and cultural locus over a number of decades.
I’ve been aware of the existence of the Kensington boutique Roxy for some time, particularly since the store name was used as the title of the feature on London street fashion in a 1972 edition of Japanese magazine An An.
But my curiosity was pricked recently while browsing that same issue of An An which appears in Freddie Hornik’s scrapbook (see last post).
I highly recommend John Pidgeon’s blog; Pidgeon is another favourite unpindownable figures in the cultural landscape. His considerable talents have been expressed from music journalism and magazine publishing through roadie-ing for The Faces and composing songs with their recently departed and already much missed keyboard maestro Ian McLagan to commissioning stunning design work from Barney Bubbles and producing BBC documentaries and radio comedy (and in the process promulgating the hit series Dead Ringers, Little Britain and The Mighty Boosh).
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//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.
//Malcolm McLaren, 1973. Photo: David Parkinson. Bryan Ferry, 1976. Photo Richard Wallis//
A couple of years back I showed examples of photography by the late David Parkinson to car-nut graphic design maestro Jules Balme; I knew he would be interested in the incorporation of a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado in a 1973 Let It Rock fashion shoot.
What drew Balmes’ eagle eye was not the car fin detail, but the fact that Malcolm McLaren in the shot below sported a tie of the same distinctive Atomic-style 50s pattern as worn by Bryan Ferry in the video clip for his 1976 solo hit Let’s Stick Together (and subsequently on the sleeve of the compilation of the same name rushed out to capitalise on the single’s success that year).
//McLaren and models in Let It Rock attire – right are examples of the so-called “Alan Ladd” and “Jazz” suits – photographed in Acre Lane, Brixton for Club International by David Parkinson, summer 1973//
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.
“I started out in art school as a painter. I studied there for eight years and most of my education was based around the visual arts. I learnt all my politics and understanding of the world through the history of art.”
Malcolm McLaren speaking on British arts documentary series the South Bank Show, 1983
Among the exhibits at Let It Rock, the Malcolm McLaren room at this autumn’s group exhibition Art In Pop at Magasin in Grenoble, are never-previously exhibited photographs of the late cultural iconoclast’s paintings taken by his teacher Barry Martin during McLaren’s student days in the 60s.
These are discussed in this extract from the exhibition introduction:
In the summer of 1969, at the end of his first year of the fine art course at London’s Goldsmith’s School Of Art, the 23-year-old student Malcolm Edwards showed 10 or so gestural paintings, mainly oils on canvas with some integrating text statements and others used as the basis for mixed media experimentation incorporating chicken wire, hammered wood planks and, in one case, an inverted paper envelope against depictions of leaf forms.
During a 90-minute critical review by his teacher Barry Martin, Edwards (soon to revert to his birth-name of McLaren) declared his rejection of the limitations imposed by traditional art forms, in particular painting.
McLaren subsequently destroyed all but one of the works. In a symbolic statement the exception, the largest canvas – the 7ft tall Map Of British Isles With Yellow Star And Hole, into which he had already kicked a sizeable hole – was left to rot in the summer rain in the yard at the back of the college. Eventually it was torn apart and taken away by the dustbin-men.
McLaren dedicated his remaining two years at Goldsmith’s to organization of events and film-making, one about his hero, the early British rock’n’roller Billy Fury merged into an unfinished commentary on consumerism centred on the history of London’s main commercial thoroughfare, Oxford Street.
In doing so McLaren was inserting himself into the lineage back to Duchamp which included such figures as the Dutch Situationist Asgar Jorn, who had proclaimed “Painting is dead” in 1958, and in particular Andy Warhol, who explained his sponsorship of The Velvet Underground in 1967 by saying: “Since I don’t really believe in painting anymore we have a chance to combine music and art.”
McLaren later described his decision to open the boutique Let It Rock in London’s King’s Road on exiting the art school system in 1971 as “jumping into the musical end of painting”; here McLaren blazed the trail dictated by his formidable art education by creating new artworks as fashion pieces out of the juxtaposition of found objects.
Thanks to Barry Martin for his insights and assistance in putting together the Malcolm McLaren segment of Art In Pop. Martin continues to practice as an artist and sculptor; this is his website.
Art In Pop, which opens on Saturday, is curated by Magasin’s Yves Aupetitallot with John Armleder, Young Kim of the Malcolm McLaren Estate, John Miller and I. The exhibition runs until 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.
In the shop’s various incarnations I made clothes that looked like ruins. I created something new by destroying the old. This wasn’t fashion as a commodity; this was fashion as an idea.
From his foreword to The Look: Adventures In Rock & Pop Fashion, Malcolm McLaren, 2001
The first exhibition to examine the late cultural iconoclast Malcolm McLaren’s engagement with fashion in the 70s and early 80s is to be held next month in Copenhagen.
Let It Rock: The Look Of Music The Sound Of Fashion – curated by Young Kim of the Malcolm McLaren Estate and me – is being staged from August 3-6 as part of the Copenhagen International Fashion Fair; creative directors Pierre Tzenkoff and Arnaud Vanraet have commissioned the show in conjunction with an exhibition entitled Industrial by Nature by streetwear guru Virgil Abloh.
Let It Rock will investigate McLaren’s deep roots in fashion (his mother + stepfather operated the womenswear brand Eve Edwards in the 50s and 60s and his grandfather was a master tailor’s cutter) and will also demonstrate how he drew on his art-school investigations into environments to become the progenitor of the pop up shop concept.
Let It Rock revolves around an installation dedicated to the shop from which it takes its title, complete with a recreation of the frontage in black corrugated iron and pink rock&roll signage McLaren designed when he opened the premises with Vivienne Westwood in 1971.
The exhibition is divided into six sections each dedicated to the manifestations at 430 King’s Road as well as Nostalgia Of Mud, the outlet operated by McLaren and Westwood at 5 St Christopher’s Place in London’s West End from 1982 to 1984.
These sections will all feature rarely-seen and never previously publicly-exhibited clothing designs, photography, sketches, notes, magazine spreads and even pages from McLaren’s notebooks.
Among the exhibits is McLaren’s own ‘I Groaned…” t-shirt from Sex, the Chico hat and grey Crombie coat he wore in the famous portrait for the Witches collection taken by Steven Meisel for Vogue in 1983, the short sheepskin jacket worn through the Buffalo Girls and Duck Rock period and a Let It Rock drape suit fitted personally by McLaren for guitarist songwriter Marco Pirroni.
Ben Kelly – who realised the design for the exterior of Seditionaries in 1976 and is now professor of interiors & spatial design at University Of The Arts London – is contributing photographs taken of his work at the time for his portfolio and there is a very special leather t-shirt bearing a Let It Rock label during the transition in 1974 to the incarnation as Sex.
Contributors also include photographers Robyn Beeche, Bob Gruen, the David Parkinson Estate and Sheila Rock as well as others close to McLaren during his game-changing adventures in the fashion world.
Find out more about the show on the CIFF site here.