Beautiful People......What's in a Name?
Updated: Jul 27
As we're right at the beginning of our Beautiful People posts, I thought I’d start by saying that the mid to late Sixties is a period which has already been covered extensively in books and online. There is some really excellent work out there and I want to acknowledge the fabulous work done by..
All of these are all excellent sources of superb research, done by people with a passion and in-depth knowledge of the subject; I've revisited them many times over the years and recommend them to anyone interested in this topic.
In these posts I'll be taking a different approach, sometimes quite personal, but it's essentially my take on the subject, drawing together some of the background information and important influences that contributed to the culture and style of the period.
I’ve always been fascinated by making connections and discovering the relationships between seemingly disparate topics. The clothes made by a few, mainly Chelsea based shops in the mid to late sixties were influenced by and reference the past in so many different ways, and it just so happens that many of the subjects they reference are those that both Cleo & I are really passionate about. So this period is particularly exciting for us as it's like having all your favourite things rolled into one.
I think it must have been at least ten years ago that we started to think how wonderful it would be to create an exhibition of the most fabulous clothes from very specific group of boutiques and designers: Granny Takes A Trip, Hung On You, Dandie Fashions, Biba, Mr Fish, the Apple boutique, Quorum with Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell, Thea Porter and Tommy Nutter. To us there was a unifying thread that runs through the aesthetic of all these shops and designers which may not be immediately apparent from their very different individual styles.
Although America and Europe had their own responses the changes that this period brought about, we wanted to concentrate on the British scene with its unique and peculiar style. It's a period which, in musical terms, begins with psychedelia and ends with the start of punk, so if I was marketing it for bite sized, easy consumption, it's from All You Need Is Love to Anarchy in the UK. If only Hung On You's first shop had been 430 King's Road we'd have a perfect arc to our story ending with Seditionaries opening in December 1976 at that same 430 Kings Road address. But unfortunately it's not quite as neat and simple as that. We're starting with the opening of Hung On You in December 1965 (below left) and ending with the closing of Big Biba (below right) in the former Derry and Toms Art Deco department store on the 4th October 1975. An event which for many people marked the end of an era.
So where did we get the name Beautiful People from?
And what exactly is it that unifies all the different styles made by different shops over more than a decade?
It's about an aesthetic shared by a small group of young, rich, creative, free spirits. And at its core it's about dressing up. Both in the theatrical dressing-up-box playing sense, but also the opposite of minimalism, to make a big statement, to be grander, more flamboyant, dressing to create a visual impact and larger than life impression, to become a dandy. This is a topic I want to explore in more detail in a future post, but for now I just want to suggest that being a dandy is far more than just wearing flamboyant clothes, it's about what's on the inside that matters.
Journalists began using the phrase “The Beautiful People” as a short hand way of describing a group of rich, young and privileged individuals. They included the likes of The Beatles, The Stones, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Anita Pallenberg and Marianne Faithfull to name but a few.
But we were drawn to the name for a more specific reason and in explaining where it came from, a whole string of those connections that I love so much, all become apparent.
The photograph below was taken on 25th June 1967 just before the BBC live performance of All You Need Is Love as part of the Our World television programme: the first ever international satellite transmission to 400 million viewers across the globe. For the actual performance the band changed into more flamboyant clothes made especially for them by the Dutch design collective The Fool. And of course by the end of 1967 the Beatles would open the Apple boutique with clothes designed by The Fool as part of their Apple Corp project. But it's the clothes they're wearing in this photograph that are particularly interesting as they show a whole range of styles and influences that were all parts of the beautiful people aesthetic.
Paul wears a white double breasted jacket and a purple floral print and Nehru collar, shirt. George wears an Indian print Nehru collar shirt under his Granny Takes A Trip, Morris & Co Brer Rabbit print jacket. Ringo has an Afghan embroidered waistcoat over an Indian print cotton kaftan accessorized with a couple of strings of beads. John has a high buttoning double breasted pinstripe jacket from Dandie Fashions (the shop that the Beatles would eventually own in 1968, re-naming it Apple Tailoring), a white shirt and tie with a jeweled pendant on a chain.
So we've got references to India, to the Arts & Crafts movement, Paul's jacket certainly has a touch of 1930's styling, whereas John's has a bit of Regency influence. The colours, prints and accessories are a long way from traditional menswear. They're far more relaxed, softer with an androgynous feel. But far more important is that if you were to see someone wearing any of the different styles, you would immediately recognize that they were part of the counterculture. The clothes signal their tribal identity telling you about the wearer's values are; their attitude towards authority, war and The Bomb, sex, drugs, race, gender politics, sexual equality and censorship... I could go on. Marianne Faithfull summarized the rebellious counter-cultural attitude perfectly saying:
“We were young, rich and beautiful, and the tide – we thought – was turning in our favour. We were going to change everything, of course, but mostly we were going to change the rules. Unlike our parents, we would never have to renounce our youthful hedonism in favour of the insane world of adulthood.” 1
It's the rejection of everything that the previous generations stood for which is crucial to understanding the spirit and mindset of those mid-sixties revolutionaries.
"The sixties saw a revolution among youth — not just concentrating in small pockets or classes, but a revolution in a whole way of thinking." 2 John Lennon.
For many people by the mid sixties the Beatles had become pillars of the post war optimistic new British society and were endorsed by the establishment by being awarded MBE medals by the Queen on 26th October 1965.
On the 17th June 1967 Paul McCartney told Life Magazine that he'd taken LSD. The UK press seized this opportunity and two days later Independent Television News (ITN) broadcast his admission.
As I've argued above, on the 25th June 1967 BBC broadcast the rest of the band very clearly signalled their allegiance to the counterculture and its "hippie" values expressed in their anthem to world peace, All You Need Is Love.
On the B side of All You Need Is Love was Baby You're a Rich Man. A song that John Lennon had written the day after he'd been in the audience at the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream: a "happening" and one of the major counter-cultural events of 1967.
Lasting all night, the Dream was a multi-artist performance including: the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Soft Machine, the Move, Tomorrow, the Pretty Things, John's Children, Alexis Korner, Michael Horvitz and Yoko Ono and headlined by Pink Floyd who finally took to the stage at dawn. Its main purpose was to raise funds to support the underground newspaper, International Times whose offices had been frequently raided by the police earlier in the year.
The poster (above) for the event was designed and printed by the graphic art design duo Michael English and Nigel Waymouth calling themselves Hapshash and the Coloured Coat. Together they made some of the finest British psychedelic posters for bands and gigs during 1967. Both Michael and Nigel were models for Sir Mark Palmer's English Boy model agency and Nigel was also a founding member of Granny Takes A Trip, the boutique which made George Harrison's Brer Rabbit print jacket...... but I digress....let's get back to John Lennon's song Baby You're a Rich Man as this is where the name of our exhibition comes from opening with the question...
"How does it feel to be one of the Beautiful People?”
I've always wondered if someone asked him the same question that night? He certainly looked the part in his embroidered Afghan jacket. Very few men in the audience that night looked as alternative as Lennon in his proto-hippie outfit. He's pictured here at the event in conversation with John Dunbar, co-owner of the Indica book shop and art gallery, and Marianne Faithfull's ex-husband (Marianne was, by this time, Mick Jagger's new partner).
It was in November 1966 at the Indica gallery that John Lennon first met Yoko Ono. She was installing her Unfinished Paintings and Objects, an exhibition of her DIY artwork, where viewers were instructed to participate in the work.
Add Colour was a white canvas displayed with tins of paint and brushes. Another was a piece of fruit on a perspex plinth titled APPLE.
Barbara Hulanicki remembers Biba shop assistant Rosie helping Yoko Ono choose a dress she wanted to borrow for her exhibition that night. "Later, as we were watching the TV news, Yoko came on and cut up our smock into tiny little pieces in front of a million viewers. Next day Rosie wondered if she still had a job." 3
Peter Asher (left), Barry Miles (centre) and John Dunbar (right) were founding partners of Indica gallery and bookshop which opened in February 1966. It was ideally placed in Mason's Yard near to the Scotch of St James night club which had just replaced the Ad Lib as the night spot for members of the growing underground scene.
Barry Miles had organised the International Poetry Incarnation at the Royal Albert Hall on 11th of June 1965, another tremendously significant counterculture event, and with John "Hoppy" Hopkins launched the International Times newspaper in October 1966.
Both men were absolutely central to the counterculture movement.
Peter Asher was half of singing duo Peter and Gordon who had a hit in 1964 with Paul McCartney's A World Without Love. His sister Jane was a celebrity actress and since 1963, Paul McCartney's girlfriend. Paul and Jane were living in the Asher family's home in Wimpole Street and became quite involved, financially and practically, in setting up the bookshop, even designing the flier (above) with Barry Miles.
John Lennon bought his copy of The Psychedelic Experience from Indica in April 1966. He'd unwittingly taken LSD at a dinner party in March 1965 with his wife, George Harrison and Patti Boyd on some sugar cubes put into their after dinner coffee. Barry Miles recalls Lennon saying that ..."You are never the same after it" 4, so the book being described as "a manual" would have been of particular interest and it inspired Lennon to use some of its more poetic phrases as song lyrics.
When in the summer of 1966 the book shop relocated to 102 Southampton Row, the flat above became a place for friends to hang out, and it was here that Lennon and McCartney started working on John's new lyrics creating a song with a working title Mark 1. On page 14 of The Psychedelic Experience was the line...
"Turn off your mind, relax, float down stream"
When it was finally recorded at Abbey Road, the song would become the ground-breaking sonic onslaught which closes Revolver, Tomorrow Never Knows.
So the "Beautiful People" were the subject of John Lennon's song Baby You're A Rich Man which has a direct link to the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream, which connects to the International Times, Barry Miles, John Dunbar, Indica gallery & bookshop, esoteric mysticism, Yoko Ono, Biba, Granny Takes a Trip, Hapshash's psychedelic posters, English Boy models, The Fool, Indian influenced philosophy, music and clothing, LSD, that all important anti-establishment attitude of never having to renounce youthful hedonism for the insane world of adulthood, and the idealistic plea for world peace, All You Need Is Love. Fashion, music, art and culture all inseparably entwined.
When Paul McCartney was asked about the Beatles involvement with the Apple boutique he commented.. “I suppose the fashion thing was a kind of eruption. We were erupting anyway, as The Beatles: and it is very difficult to separate the Beatles eruption from the fashion or the cultural or the mind eruption. It was all happening at once as a whirlpool” 5 John Lennon made a similar but more general comment "Whatever wind was blowing at the time moved the Beatles too." 6
So for us, this is a particularly fascinating period with its web of connections across so many different subjects linked by a youthful and challenging attitude. It's true the clothes were very expensive and only really affordable to a privileged and exclusive elite. But they were made with an idealistic notion placing aesthetic beauty and artistic creativity above financial considerations.They were works of art and that brings us back again to Oscar Wilde...
"One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art"
I called this post "What's in a Name?" and hopefully I've convinced you that there is so much to explore within the name of our show.
Over the next few posts I'm going to use our Granny Takes A Trip Morris & Co print jacket to illustrate and explore some more of those influences that fed into that Beautiful People aesthetic.
1 Marianne Faithfull: Faithfull; Harmondsworth: Penguin books; 1995 p80
2 The Beatles; The Beatles Anthology. San Francisco: Chronicle Books; 2000
3 Barbara Hulanicki; From A to Biba; V&A publications 2007 p89
4 Robert Rodriguez; Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock n Roll; Backbeat books; 2012 p56
5 The Beatles; The Beatles Anthology. San Francisco: Chronicle Books; 2000
6 Robert Rodriguez; Revolver: How The Beatles Reimagined Rock n Roll; Backbeat books; 2012 p95
Barry Miles: Hippie; Cassell Illustrated 2003