Home      

Home1966212345
 
Title: BEHIND THE SCENE

Pages: 18 - 29

                                    

Author: Ken and Kate Baynes

Text: 'Carnaby Street' has turned into one of those phrases that sets the adrenalin pumping into your bloodstream. It tends to make you feel either young, stylish and hyper-aware - or else old, old and old. Ken and Kate Baynes try to look deeper than these quick, surface reactions. They admire what Tom Wolfe has called "the entire chick ensemble": but, they suggest, it has more than an intrinsic interest. It could be the birth, however illegitimate, of a really thoroughgoing design movement.
BEHIND THE SCENE
Behind the scene
It is 11 years since Mary Quant and her husband Alexander Plunket Greene opened their shop Bazaar in the King's Road, and seven since John Stephen first rented a shop in Carnaby Street. What has happened since then is already a piece of design history, a development looked on in a variety of ways ranging from violent dislike to tremendous enthusiasm.
From the point of view of fashion design alone, the revolution has been dramatic. It has changed the image ofthe British fashion industry from riding crops and Harris tweed to the 'London look'. But almost unnoticed - the new clothes have been accompanied by a new approach to environmental design. In Eating Out Can Be Fun (DESIGN 206/28-37), we looked at the Wimpy world with its throwaway interiors and big investment in decor; now we consider more closely the source of the movement in fashion, and its significance for design as a whole.
The article sets out to do this in three different ways. First, it outlines briefly the origins and growth of the movement; second, it looks at the way changes in clothes have supported a parallel change in shop design and graphics; and third, it attempts an assessment of the values involved, and of the way in which these values have relevance outside the rag trade.

Origins and growth
The origins ofthe movement are deep in the larger revolution which has grown out of teenage affluence and the wider rejection of conventional val ues.
The clothes are a symbol of emancipation from the dreariness and stuffiness of attitudes left over from the nineteenth century. The whole story reflects the shift in patronage away from the wealthy and the aristocratic (who seem to have lost their nerve during the Industrial Revolution) to the mass market. In terms of individual experience, the change was summed up for us by Myles Antony, art director of the John Stephen Organisation, when he said, "Instead of young Johnny off wearing his dad's coat,a whole new world of fashion has been created". This new world is an entertainment world, inevitably linked with pop, and it reflects the same curious mixture of grass roots exuberance and big business success.
One of the most interesting things about the beginnings of the movement is that its originators do not seem to have realised that their clothes would have a huge market and an extraordinary influence on the environment, both visually and in less tangible
terms. There was no question at all of a deliberate effort to find a gullible public and take it for a ride.
When she looks back, Mary Quant says, "Although at the start we made every mistake anybody could, the need was so strong that we couldn't fail". But when she and her husband opened Bazaar in 1955, she expected to sell clothes to a small number of people who shared her own dissatisfaction with what was available for the post-war generation. She hated everything that was going on in fashion at that time, found the clothes buttoned up and formal and "disagreed with what women did to themselves". The idea that she might share this feeling with enough people to form the basis of a business linked with lo manufacturers just didn't occur to her.
In a similar way, John Stephen started by making clothes for a few friends before moving to a 7 a week shop in Carnaby Street in 1959. Now he controls a huge fashion empire, sells all over the world, and will within the next three years open many more boutiques in big stores across America. Even John Michael, who made a more calculated effort to base a successful business on "crystallising what people wanted ", had no idea that it was something which would build up from a tiny shop in the King's Road in 1957 to a public company in 1965. It is clear enough that these three people were in touch with a need in fashion in the late 'fifties which completely eluded the larger manufacturers, and which was alive before anybody set about providing clothes which satisfied it.

The second generation
Today there exists a second generation of designers who have developed the movement, so that it now embraces a big variety of clothes and a wide range of prices. It has pushed into couture and the chain stores. Many of the fashion graduates of the Royal College of Art have identified themselves with this world.
Perhaps the most distinguished of these designers are Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin, whose work at the more expensive end of the market is extremely inventive and influential. Another Royal College designer, James Wedge, owns Countdown and Top Gear in the King's Road, and Top Gear in Bristol. A recent article mentioning his boutiques in Woman brought a tremendous response, showing just how widespread the feeling for these clothes now is.
One of the most fascinating and successful organisations that has

(caption)
John Stephen, who now owns 10 boutiques in Carnaby Street and others in the London area, started like Mary Quant from very small beginnings. He came from a working class family in Glasgow to work at Moss Bros. After working in a friend's boutique, he began to design men's clothes, selling them from a room in Beak Street. They were so successful that in 1959 he rented his first tiny shop in Carnaby Street. The rent then was 7 a week - now it is 150, reflecting the growth of a phenomenon that has made a Soho back street world-famous.
The present scope of the John Stephen Organisation includes three factories in Britain working under contract, the one in Glasgow producing clothes specifically for his hugely expanding American market. His first boutique within a large store in Minneapolis was followed by a chain of 'shops in shops' in America and Canada. Within three or four years he plans to have between 150 and 250 boutiques throughout the world.
Perhaps more than any of the others, John Stephens' clothes are identified with the world of pop; his long standing connection with the Beatles symbolises the character of his market, which at the moment mainly consists of 15 to 25 year olds. Recently, because so many girls were buying the clothes he designed for men, he has opened several boutiques for girls in Carnaby Street.

developed recently is Biba,a 'pocket store' that sets out to provide cheap, well designed clothes and accessories which are often worn for a short time and then discarded. The owners, Barbara Hulanicki and her husband Stephen Fitz-Simon, achieve this by ordering relatively large quantities (up to 2,000) and introducing three or four new designs a week. Biba started as a mail order business, expanded to include a small boutique and now consists of a large shop in Kensington which is organised like a supermarket (but has quite a different atmosphere), and a shop in Brighton.
It is only recently that the success of these and other young designers, each with a distinctive approach, has become representative of the creative core of British fashion. Significantly, the big stores are now opening special departments for clothes which attempt to echo the boutique scale and the selling methods that were originally used. This development is probably more important for the future than the small boutiques which have sprung up everywhere on the crest of the wave.
It indicates that the movement has reached a commercial maturity; like most revolutions it has become institutionalised, complete with the paraphernalia of business methods.

Shops and graphics
It-is particularly encouraging that the link between mass production and high design standards that exists in the best of the clothes has been carried over into the environment where they are sold and the graphic design and packaging that goes with them.
There are two main reasons for this. First, some ofthe designers concerned have felt strongly about it; and second, they have realised that their young customers will respond to surroundings which are as colourful and modern as the clothes. The whole of the boutique approach is to make shopping enjoyable, and to replace what Mary Quant calls "grey striped wallpaper and chandeliers" with entertainment. Myles Antony of John Stephen says "We like to amuse. "
Of course the intended effect is to provide an environment in which it is easy to sell clothes, but the amusement and entertainment are none the less genuine. As with the Golden Egg restaurants, the starting point is a desire to escape from the dreariness of predominantly drab and depressing surroundings into something that comes much nearer to the dream world promised by twentieth century technology.
Inevitably with this kind of aim, standards vary enormously. There is a great difference between Foale and Tuffin's sophisticated shop and beautifully detailed graphics and the only half successful results achieved in Carnaby Street itself by the John Stephen boutiques.
Carnaby Street is stuffed with original and influential ideas, but they are often tattily carried out; and the same goes for a large number ofthe more amateur boutiques which are generally decorated on a shoestring. In fact, there are three main categories of shop where these clothes are sold. Those owned by the successful designer-manufacturers who use their shops as show
text continued on page 26

(caption)
The whole emphasis of the boutique approach is to make shopping enjoyable " - some witty examples of boutique graphics and packaging shown here. 1 Price tag for FoaleandTuffin Ltd designed by David Cripps. 2 and 5 Price tag and bag for Gladrags Ltd designed by Max Robinson. 3 and 6 Bags for Biba designed by Anthony Little. 4 Carrier bag for Bazaar designed by Alexander Plunket Greene. 7 and 8 Packs for cosmetics by Mary Quant Cosmetics Ltd designed by Tom Wolsey. 10 Carrier bag for Top Gear designed by Harri Peccinotti. 9 and 11 Carrier bags for Clobber designed byJeffBanks. 12 Price tag for Mary Quant's Ginger Group Ltd designed by Maureen Roffey, art director Tom Wolsey.

(caption)
Mary Quant and Alexander Plunket Greene started their shop Bazaar with Archie McNair in the King's Road in 1955. Soon after the shop opened, people were six deep outside the window, and in 10 days the entire stock was sold. They did not have the money to buy new material unless they could sell what was in the shop immediately. At this stage, there was an endearing amateurism about the whole operation. They say, "We were much more frightened of the customers than they were of us, and we had to have a bottle of Scotch handy to help us to sell. We started sharing it with the customers we wanted people to be at ease in the shop, and to be friendly. We employed the sort of girls who would never have sold in shops before". Some months after the opening, Archie McNair did a lot to make the affair more professional. The clothes were so evidently successful that manufacturers gradually (and almost reluctantly) became interested. Mary Quant began to contract manufacturing to the experts, using the best manufacturer in each market. She set out to learn what is technically feasible, and now makes deliberate use of the characteristics inherent in mass production. She works very closely with the top technicians in each of the 18 firms for whom she now designs. Today, her name is more important than the individual manufacturer's; and more of her clothes are sold in the USA than in Britain. In terms of price her designs come somewhere in the middle of the market. She recently received the OBE.

(caption)
John Michael now has a head office in that stronghold of tradition, Savile Row. He started his own firm nine years ago, after several years in women's fashion, buying and designing. He had no training whatsoever and claims he was in a ''complete and utter fog of ignorance, but not bogged down by conventional thought". He began with a very small shop at 170 King's Road, and developed his business until today he owns 17 branches.
His firm is now a public company, exporting to the USA through large shops and through J. C. Penney, a group that owns 1,700 American stores. He also exports to Europe, and his business is expanding all the time. Until recently he designed everything himself - clothes, shops, graphics, packaging - but he now has a design department employing several people.
He is design consultant to a number of other manufacturers, including some very big ones. He caters for two maricets the exclusive and more expensive clothes are labelled John Michael, and those sold at a more popular price are labelled Guy, which specialises in accessories such as ties and belts.
His market is rather separate from Carnaby Street and more expensive; his clothes are increasingly worn by professional people. Yet he still depends on a considerable slice of the Carnaby Street market, and he finds that "youngsters of 16 and 17 save up to buy a John Michael suit",

(caption)
Sally Muffin and Marion Foale left the Royal College in 1961 when Woollands' had just opened its 21 Shop, and could not find enough clothes to stool< it - there was only Mary Quant. Foale and Tuffin made clothes in very small quantities for the 21 Shop - three items of this and three items of that. Then their work was featured in Vogue, and became such a success that they had to manufacture on a much larger scale. Now they have two contract factories for quantity production, making 600-900 copies of each item. They sell to people with more money who really care about design and cloth, and find that their work is often copied more cheaply by other manufacturers. They say that Paris couture has been influenced by the young fashion designers working in London: "Five years ago, Paris fashion was designed for the middle-aged; now it is much younger in feeling". They license their designs to one American manufacturer, and sell through Paraphernalia, an American shop run on English boutique lines.

(caption)
Barbara Hulanicki and Stephen Fitz-Sirnon, the owners of Biba, started two years ago by selling a dress that only existed as an idea. They had a sample made up and it was shown in the Daily Mirror, priced at 1 5s. As a result, they found themselves with 6,000 orders and were in business almost overnight. The market was starved of reasonably priced well designed clothes, and they felt strongly that "As soon as something is well designed the malcers bung on the price like mad". Barbara Hulanicki was trained in fashion drawing at Brighton College of Art, and did six yearst freelancing. Her husband had experience in advertising. The small boutique which they opened in October 1964 was at first a showcase for their mail order business, but they were soon mentioned in Honey and Woman's Mirror, and in February 1966 were able to replace the boutique with their new shop in Kensington. Most of their sales are now made directly through this shop and the Brighton branch. The achievement of an extraordinarily wide choice at low prices is what makes Biba so distinctive, and the success of the whole operation depends on Barbara Hulanicki's ability to design clothes that anticipate the needs of her particular market among 16 to 24 year olds. Perhaps because they are so cheap, Biba clothes tend to be criticised as 'badly made', but we could find no support for this view among people who had actually bought and worn clothes made there. In any case, the whole fun of the Biba approach is that nothing is worn for lone and everything is always new.

(caption)
Lettering by the painter Derek Boshier for Palisades, a boutique in Canton Street. Inside the shop there is a joke box and a 'what the butler saw' machine.

places and organs of market research; the boutiques owned by semi-amateurs who may have a few machinists in a back room and who are often financially precarious and have a hard time competing in a mass market; and the specialist shop within a big store.
Examples of the first category are Mary Quant's Bazaar and John Michael's shops. Right from the start, Mary Quant and her husband saw the environment in which the clothes were sold as an essential part of their appeal. Her graphics are of a consistently high standard, and she is now able to control their quality by specific clauses in contracts with manufacturers. The packaging and the display stands of her new range of cosmetics are a breath of fresh air in a field notable for the pseudo-femininity of its design standards. John Michael too feels there is a close link between all fields of design in his business. His shops are elegant and easily recognisable, and have a definite house style.
In the second category is a tremendous hotch-potch of gay and eccentric, good and bad boutiques - anything goes in a movement that has now spread from London to the provinces. If nothing else, these shops have brightened up the High Street and made people stop and stare. Examples are Clobber in Blackheath and Gladrags in Croydon, both of which have particularly lively graphics.
The third category, which is outside the scope of this article, is descended from the long tradition of speciality shops within big stores. Here again, a high standard of design goes with the clothes, sometimes higher than in the rest of the shop. Examples are Cue at Austin Reed (which is an oasis in the desert of Kingsway) and Woollands'21 Shop, which in a generally good store is notable for its beautiful mural and carefully fostered boutique atmosphere.

(caption)
Label for Foale and Tuffin Ltd. Designers Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin.]

(caption)
Interior of GladragsLtd. Croydon, with owner Kate Gifford. This was formerly a butcher's shop, and some of the fittings have been retained. Designer Kate Gifford.

Values and attitudes
In this article, as in Eating Out Can be Fun, we have set out to look at an area of design that is thoroughly commercial, very successful, and arguably a tremendous improvement on what went before, at least so far as mass standards are concerned. The Biba girl, enjoying the fun of having lots of cheap new clothes that are (in their way) as much leaders offashion as those made by couture houses, is an entirely new phenomenon.
There are, however, a good many questions to be asked about the ultimate value of the link between fashion, society and mass production, particularly when it starts affecting new areas like furniture. This is suggested by Biba's own interior, with its specially designed Victorian-style wallpaper, nineteenth century furniture and mock Beardsley prints. As we have seen, lively modern interiors and good graphics are generally closely associated with these new clothes - but how deep does it go ?
Like the architect and the motor car designer, the fashion designer has a big advantage in that his is a subject that fascinates most people. But uniquely in fashion a mass market has developed in which there is a genuine communication between the designer and his public - a communication based on understanding. Fashion designers are known by name to a very wide audience, and have even become popular heroes. In fashion, as perhaps nowhere else, the traditional relationship between invention and exclusiveness has been stood on its head, and the best mass produced clothes are no longer cheap copies of Paris couture. Often enough, couture is simply an expensive hand-made version of a dress originally.
designed for the girl in the Golden Egg. Fashion has come to terms with the change in patronage in society, and has managed to do this while maintaining its integrity. These clothes are the antithesis of the hi-fi set lurking inside a Chinoiserie cabinet. The interiors and graphics are not as good as the clothes, but they are on the way.

Missing the point
It was easy to detect in some of the reviews of Mary Quant's recent book' the particular kind of distaste which this conjunction of mass production and an essentially youthful market produces. Mary Stott, writing in the Guardian, said, "She claims to have destroyed class barriers in dress - though Marks and Spencer did much more- but what in fact she did was to erect a new barrier - the barrier of age.... Mary Quant belongs to the world of the Beatles where impatience gets you much farther than patience, and where luck, flamboyance, improvisation and affair for publicity (not necessarily your own) seem to be as important as creative talent, and much more important than hard-won craftsmanship...."
It is a significant catalogue of criticisms, but it completely misses the point. Seen from the other end of the telescope, her success and that of other young fashion designers looks like one of the most hopeful things that have happened in any kind of design for a long time.
Mary Stott's "hard-won craftsmanship" is replaced by a new kind of craftsmanship - one dependent on machine methods of production, and relevant to the conditions of urban life in an industrial community. Hardly any reviewer of Mary Quant's book recognised the tremendous creative vigour of her clothes, or saw what an advance they and others like them mark in terms of young people's discrimination about colour, form and pattern.

Fun - a weapon of revolution
One day, 'Carnaby Street' could rank with 'Bauhaus' as a descriptive phrase for a design style and a design legend. Just as the Bauhaus has come to stand for a moment in the history of design when the nineteenth century assumptions were shal More than anything else, the increased freedom and spending power of the young are behind the movement away from dowdy good taste and over-seriousness. The Carnaby Street approach which started with clothes is now spilling over into other areas, and what has happened is of great significance for design as a whole. It seems likely that fun and entertainment - which people have always wanted from the things they use everyday - may even come to be accepted by designers as an important requirement.
Can any enduring design standards survive a close association with high speed changes offashion7 The answer must be a personal one, but we think the evidence shows that it can.

(footnote)
1 Quant by Quant, Cassell, 1 Ss

 

 

about        contact        terms of use        image credits        © 2008