Full of Eastern Promise Part 1: Afghans, Kaftans and the Hippie Trail.
Updated: Nov 20, 2020
This post has come as rather a surprise to me. I was always intending to write about the important influence eastern culture on the Beautiful People, but I wasn't quite sure how I could link it to the Morris & Co print jacket (which is my starting point for these posts).
But then I received an email from Paul Hughes-Smith saying: Thought you might like to look at this new online exhibition at the William Morris Society showing the influence of Islamic Art on his designs ties in rather nicely with all things Moroccan in the 60's.
And he's absolutely right. It's well worth a look (the link is below) and I found it particularly exciting as it was all new to me. I was very aware of the huge influence of the middle and far east on the Aesthetic movement after the Great Exhibition in London of 1871, and I've loved Morris' work since I was a teenager, but I was completely unaware of the direct influence on him, his daughter May, and the other print designers who worked for Morris & Co. So thank you Paul for expanding my education.
"To us pattern designers Persia has become a holy land, for there in the process of time our art was perfected, and thence above all places it spread to cover for a while the World, East and West” William Morris 1882 1
The exhibition shows drawings of Islamic designs discovered in a folio at Morris' London home, Kelmscott House. Dr. Sara Choudhrey identified them as being based on Iznik tiles similar to those in Lord Leighton's Kensington house (completed 1866 -95), and in collections at the V&A and the MET in New York. Iznik (in modern day Turkey) was a centre for ceramic tile production in the 16th century Ottoman Empire.
Morris was a keen mediaevalist and an acknowledged expert of middle eastern decorative art. In 1844 he was an acquisitions advisor to the V&A (then the South Kensington Museum) so some of the tiles which Choudhrey cited were actually selected by Morris for the museum's collection.
Above left is a sample of Persian wallpaper from the Morris Society exhibition, designed by John Henry Dearle. Dr. Choudhrey points to the symmetry of this pattern and the central floral motif, key elements of traditional Iznik design, and which influenced Dearle here. None of these elements are present in his Golden Lily design, so I'm not suggesting that there is any Iznik influence in our Morris & Co print Granny jacket. But I was very excited to see the similarity between these two designs which employ the same elements and motifs.
So as Paul Hughes-Smith said, this does tie in very nicely with the Moroccan themed interiors which Christopher Gibbs created in his own Cheyne Walk home, for Brian Jones and for the set of Performance. So, inspired by my new-found knowledge I decided to write about this important subject immediately.
Granny Takes A Trip
Granny Takes A Trip never really wholeheartedly embraced the Moroccan and Indian influences in the way that some of other London boutiques did, so examples were few. That's one reason I was so pleased to see the link from Dearle's Persian wallpaper design to our Morris & Co. jacket. But actually there is another Granny piece which Nigel Waymouth remembers showing the influence much clearer:
One morning Sheila and I went to Pontings in Kensington High Street and came across a pile of block printed Indian bedspreads; Sheila immediately saw their potential for dresses. She had some made to her design, and that summer of 66 they became our best selling item. 2
Of course we've got one of those Indian bedspread dresses to go into the Beautiful People exhibition, but I don't want spoil the show by revealing it here. So here's a few examples of women wearing them at the time. Jenny Spires (left) remembers getting hers slightly later than Nigel:
Sheila Cohen's indian bed spread dresses were early 67. That dress arrived first thing in 67, so it (the photograph on the left) was before my head sheet photo for English Boy.... I wore my satin trousers with my Indian dress. By the summer people wore them as dresses. We all had one. 3
And to prove just how popular they were here's a couple more famous women in theirs.
Jane Asher (left) wearing hers with Paul McCartney at the ashram in Rishikesh, northern India.
In February 1968 The Beatles, along with some other friends and musicians went to Rishikesh to study Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Practising meditation became part of George Harrison's rejection of drug culture which he'd began after a visiting California in Summer 1967.
Below there's a couple of photos of Joanna Lumley wearing hers. Her son Jamie was born in October 1967 and he looks about 18 months old to me, so I think that photograph is late 1968 or early 1969. She was at a transitional point in her career, from fashion model to actress, and had just been given a part in the new Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service. She remembers George Lazenby, who'd replaced Connery as Bond: ...teaching himself to play Hey Jude on the guitar. 4 (released as a single in August 1968).
The colour photograph looks to be taken in southern Spain or north Africa. I love it that the local boys obviously think it's a bit chilly, wearing their woollies, while Joanna is in her summer cotton mini.
And For Men...
Those bedspreads weren't only made into dresses. The colourful print and the reference to India became increasingly fashionable with musicians. No doubt due to The Beatles' increasing endorsement of Indian music and culture from 1965.
John "Junior" Wood of Tomorrow was photographed May 1967 wearing the entire bedspread as a poncho. Very fetching I'm sure, but I'm certain this has nothing to do with the Granny team. But it's quite a useful photograph giving us a good look at the 2 prints.
Below is another photo of someone wearing, what appears to be that entire bedspread, but this time it's much more artfully arranged than Junior Wood's.
It's taken outside of Dandie Fashions on Kings Road and, going by the fabulous hair, I'd say it's English Boy model Nicky Kramer wearing the bedspread.
My wife Cleo loves this photograph for the wonderful styling. It reminds her of what she and her friends looked like back then, dancing to Pink Floyd at UFO wearing a mix of vintage and ethnic clothes with 1930's torpedo scarves as belts. I just don't get that tied around the knee thing at all?
The cover of Tangerine Dream, the November 1967 debut album by British band Kaleidoscope, has front man, singer and lyricist Peter Daltrey (far left) is wearing that same print, this time as a kaftan.
You don't get a very good view of it on the album sleeve, but it's got an interesting different use of the prints. The border is on the body, which makes good use of the print with the button through front. The big floral print is on the arms like the dresses.
You'll be able to get a much better view of it in the exhibition as Peter Feely, who now owns Peter Daltrey's original jacket, is generously loaning it to the show.
It was quite a few years ago when Peter Daltrey bought his jacket, and he couldn't remember exactly where he'd got it, but thought it was either Granny Takes A Trip or Hung On You.
So I asked Nigel Waymouth about these Indian bedspread mens pieces and he said:
I don’t remember them being made into shirts by us, but maybe they were. The dresses I certainly remember. Quite often our ideas were picked up by others, so who knows? 5
Well luckily some one does and the mystery is solved. It seems Peter Daltrey didn't buy his kaftan in Granny's or Hung On You but in the Chelsea Antiques Market.
Sam Pig In Love Loves You, Emmerton & Lambert and Kleptomania
Below left is a photograph of Paul Reeves (left), Pete Sutch (centre) who together made clothes under the name Sam Pig In Love, Loves You, and Robert Orbach (right) of I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet (they're actually outside of the shop). On the right is a kaftan made by Reeves and Sutch from Peter Feely's collection.
Paul told me that in 1966 he and school friend Pete had designed some satin shirts. Pete's mother made them and they sold them to Adrian Emmerton and Vernon Lambert's in the Chelsea Antiques Market on King's Road.
Emmerton and Lambert were hugely important, as their discerning keen eye and superb taste meant they acquired some of the best vintage clothing which they sold to trend setters like Anita Pallenberg and Jane Ormsby-Gore (see the Granny Takes a Tip, Golden Lily Jacket, 1966 post for the Vogue article on her vintage influenced styling). Emmerton and Lambert's reputation and their hip clientele made them tremendously influential to the early counterculture scene and Reeves and Sutch, two sixteen year-olds, were supplying them with Sam Pig in Love designs. One of Emmerton and Lambert's customers was quite a celebrity but Reeves only discovered who they were, by chance, on a trip to America.
Paul Reeves had gone to the States to stay with a friend that he'd known since kindergarten. On the 25th July 1966 the Stones played at the Hollywood Bowl and Paul was more than surprised to see Mick Jagger (left) performing in one of his Sam Pig in Love satin shirts.
Once back in the UK, with the realization that their designs had potential, Reeves and Sutch branched out and began supplying Tommy Roberts' Kleptomania which had opened in the late summer of 1966, close to Carnaby Street at 10 Kingly Street.
Kleptomania mainly sold a mixture of Victoriana and furnishings and interesting weird bits of junk. Paul remembers that on his first visit to the shop, his friend bought a What The Butler Saw machine. That friend, who he'd first met at a Yardbirds gig in American, was Jimmy Page.
So in 1967 with the introduction of the Sam Pig kaftans the shop started to change its ambience from Victorian curiosities and knick-knacks. Tommy Roberts remembered
Kleptomania metamorphosed into an incense-filled, hippiefied haven... With Paul's shirt-coat kaftans came gypsy fringed shawls, psychedelic posters, joss sticks, peace n love badges and "grow your own" pot kits in boxes.
Here are four famous faces from 1967: Mick Jagger, Ringo Starr, John Peel and Jimi Hendrix all wearing Indian block print cotton kaftans made by Paul Reeves and Pete Sutch from Indian bedspreads.
Paul Reeves said: They're all bedspread prints, which were hand blocked and came in a myriad of designs, which is one of the reasons why I loved them. In fact I think Mick’s one is one of the original six floor length ones, as we lost the cuffs in the later shorter ones! .......The original six were full length (with a half belt to the back) and would have been created in the autumn of 1966, after my return from the US. After that they were shortened. Adrian Emmerton thought they were too extreme in the long version. 7
So while Paul Reeves and Pete Sutch were doing kaftans for the boys, Granny's did dresses for the girls. But this was completely independent of each other, with both sides oblivious that they'ed both hit on the same idea. They'd even bought them from the same department store, Pontins.
I don't really think I need to explain who Mick Jagger, Ringo Starr or Jimi Hendrix are, but maybe not everyone knows John Peel was a Pirate radio DJ (above left) who in March 1967 took over Radio London's London After Midnight slot from 12 - 2 am. This became Peel's Perfumed Garden. It was a radically different show from the highly commercial daytime broadcasting, dedicated to counterculture music from the UK and America.
Radio London was forced off the air by anti-pirate legislation in August 1967 and Peel became part of the BBC's new Radio 1. One of the first bands to feature in recordings made specially for the show (The Peel Sessions) was Pink Floyd on 25th September 1967.
And here (below) is front man of the Floyd, Syd Barrett in 1967. But he's not wearing a kaftan, and it's not an Indian block print pattern like those Sam Pig kaftans or Granny's dresses.
Syd's shirt looks to be of a much finer quality fabric and of the definition of the printing is much crisper. A small concensus of opinion (Anna Buruma, Cleo and me) think it's made from a scarf print, highly influenced by eastern patterns, but more than likely produced in Europe. It reminds me of the sort of thing Liberty had been doing since the early 1960s.
Bernard Nevill designed the Liberty silk print (above left) in 1964 which is based on an 11th Century tile pattern from an Isfahan mosque in Iran. I think it would have made a fabulous shirt, but you'd have been way ahead of the curve to be wearing a print like that in 1964.
But it also illustrates how the influence of the east had been in the air for some time before either Cohen and Waymouth or Reeves and Sutch discovered those bedspreads in Pontins.
After all that looking at kaftans, it's time to move on to another staple garment in the hippie wardrobe.
The Afghan Coat
In the picture above Ringo is wearing an Afghani sheepskin sleeveless jacket over his kaftan and John Lennon had a long sleeved one. There are lots of photographs of him wearing it through 1967 with an early public appearance being at the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream in April.
Lennon's coat (above left), which is now in the collection of Julian Lennon (picture with his dad), was bought from Granny Takes A Trip; and is a rare example of an actual ethnic garments sold in the shop. It's a traditional tribal jacket from Afghanistan with a silk, embroidered floral pattern and was in the first batch of Afghan coats be imported to the UK by Craig Sams.
Craig Sams (left) had first seen these coats whilst he was a student travelling light in Kabul in early 1965. On that same trip he'd also been given acid by a couple of Californians. The experience obviously had quite an effect on him and after finishing his business studies in Pennsylvania he began a radically alternative lifestyle.
In 1966 Craig moved to London and in the latter end of that year, with the help of a friend in the Anglo - Afghan society, he'd imported a batch of fabulous jackets. Sheila Cohen and Nigel Waymouth visited his flat to pick a selection for Granny's.
But Craig was really interested in food and macrobiotics: I imported books about macrobiotics that were sold at the Indica bookshop. I supplied brown rice snacks every week for the UFO Club from when it opened in December of 1966......Our clothes helped us identify each other. 8
From that beginning Craig, with his brother Gregory and wife Josephine, has built a hugely successful career around his alternative beliefs including Whole Earth Foods and Green & Black's organic chocolate. But I want to go back to Craig's travelling in Afghanistan and India as it's so important to the story I'm telling.
The Hippie Trail
From the late 1950s through to the 1970s mainly young people travelling and living as cheaply as possible would make the overland trip from European cities to India. People would travel by hitch hiking, local buses or trains or if they were lucky enough to have found a someone wanting to share the journey, in their car, van or even a bus.
By the 1970s the route was popular enough for organised tour companies like the Magic Bus company which provided a cheap alternative to going on your own with the advantage of an experienced driver who'd know good places to stop.
I guess the 1963 film Summer Holiday is a completely sanitised version of the overland story. Travelling in a bus with a group of young people, but only from London to Athens of course and not a whiff of dope, but the idea is quite similar even if the reality was completely different. Here (left) is a bus near Jerash in Jordan in 1966. It looks like it's either overheating or they've had to stop to top up the radiator. Fellow like minded travelers were immediately recognisable from the way they were dressed.
But not all of the travelers were hippies, and people's reasons for travelling were varied. Many simply wanted to travel and see cultures and landscapes very different from their European homes, for others there was the desire to discover themselves and the promise of a spiritual journey and of course for some the attraction of visiting Afghanistan and India was as centres of hashish and marijuana cultivation.
Following a similar route as the traders on the ancient silk road to China you might be able to bring back clothes or decorative items which could be sold to fund another trip. Some people like Craig Sams made a living from trading possibilities they'd seen on the overland trip.
Craig said I imported coats I’d seen in Afghanistan .......... The Beatles bought some at Granny Takes a Trip boutique on the Kings Road and set off a global craze. I also imported Tunisian kaftans, Tibetan shoulder bags and Chinese silks that Aedan Kelly would dye with blobby designs that were then tailored into shirts and dresses. 9
This coat worn by Jimi Hendrix was another one in that first lot which Craig imported...Yes (said Sams), one of the originals. The embroidery from Ghazni was the best. The Ghaznavid empire historically was probably the empire that was most dedicated to the welfare of all its citizens and to the promotion of art, craft, culture and poetry. In the end it is just one small corner of the multicultural fabric of Afghanistan. 10
It's certainly a really spectacular and beautiful example and if you had a good eye there were so fabulous pieces for sale along the way. Cleo, my wife, remembers hitchhiking and being picked up by a guy driving his VW van back to Pakistan. In a bazaar in Istanbul she bought some tribal silver jewelry and a beautiful antique fur lined, floor length, silk brocade coat which she then sold back at home in Portobello market.
As The Overland became more popular, more and more goods, decorative items and clothing, from different cultures along the route, made their way back to London providing the locals with a multi-ethnic dressing up box of in a range of styles radically different from European fashion. A pick and mix style of dressing began to appear with individual items of an outfit having their own history and story to tell. And this was very different to the commercial, mass produced, pop clothing which London had become famous for in the first half of the 1960's. In her book Loose Change, about the radicalisation of three women students, Sara Davidson recalls an encounter she had with a young male hippie: Bob was staring at my dress, my new red and white Mary Quant mini-dress. (He said) ‘there’s nothing really special about it' . 11
Although Davidson's story took place on the Berkeley campus in America it's still a great illustration of the contrast between Swinging London pop style and counterculture aesthetics. The multi layered, multi-cultured clothing is special, with a depth of history and traditional craft practice, in a way that a modern mass produced dress plainly isn't.
However this bricolage styling is not easy and relies heavily on an individual's own taste to combine the disparate elements and unite them into a successful and visually pleasing whole. But the best examples have become some of rock n roll's iconic fashion statements.
I particularly like the way John Lennon has put this outfit together. I think his styling is spot on. The Afghan jacket, the romantic dandy frill front shirt worn with that wooden(?) bead necklace, and the trousers, cut tight on the thighs, hips and bum with no pockets spoiling the line, resulting in Lennon's clever solution for somewhere to stash ones essentials, a sporran.
To me this look pulls together all the different cultural influences and references in a creative and playful way producing an unexpected coherent and visually pleasing whole. This bricolage approach is far more successful than simply wearing a complete outfit from another culture which has an inauthentic, fancy dress quality to it. And it's often completely inappropriate for the UK's climate. You don't even have to worry about imposing modern ideas of cultural misappropriation onto 1960s Britain. Fifty years ago, global warming hadn't made the UK's weather as mild as it is now, for most of the time it was just too damn cold.
But surely the best example of bricolage styling has to be Jimi Hendrix's global gypsy look. Seen here in 1967 he's wearing a pair brightly striped trousers from one of his favourite King's Road boutiques, Dandie Fashions, a purple paisley pattern shirt with a plain purple scarf . Over this is, I think, a Pashtun Afghani gold embroidered waistcoat and then, layered on top of that, is the Hussar's cavalry jacket which he bought from Robert Orbach of I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet.
Many people have seen the use of the Hussar's jacket as a subversion of military uniform and a deliberate political anti-war (Vietnam) statement. However I am more convinced by Michael A. Langkjær's compelling argument: ...that what characterized Hendrix’s clothing style was an African polyrhythmic feel for contrasts in colour and fabric that explains his finesse in bringing together and layering differently coloured and textured uniform jackets, trousers, shirts and scarves into a single picturesque ensemble.
It is the immemorial textile-aesthetic tradition belonging to the African Diaspora, and (with an admixture of Native American influences) is a visual reminder of the multicultural borrowings and hybridizations that the Atlantic world has undergone since the 15th century.
An outgrowth of this is hip black stylin’, where value is placed on personal expression through the uninhibited striking of an attitude centred on a flashy look, often achieved by putting together highly disparate textile and style elements, divorced from their original context, having acquired an independent, even idiosyncratic meaning. 12
I agree with Langkjær that Hendrix's black cultural heritage gives him an ease of stylistic expression making him more comfortable in the flamboyant dandy styled clothing which many of his British contemporaries in the music business rushed to embrace for fashion's sake, and just as they'd failed to adopt the values of the counterculture, they failed miserably to look convincing in the clothes. When Hendrix came to London in late 1966, the counterculture's sartorial expression still maintained a smart mod aspect which could be described as dandified. This was in sharp contrast to the American west coast counterculture which had a more dressed down, hippie style.
There's lots more to be said on this subject and I will be writing a posts devoted to dandyism. But as we come to the end of the first part of this story I think it's important to note that in 1967 the Afghan coat, as worn by John Lennon and Ringo Starr were part of the expensive, high end, exclusive items and therefore fit into the bohemian dandy aesthetic.
Above are a couple of illustrations of this from 1967. On the left are some Afghan coats in the window of Dandie Fashions and on the right is a Quorum fashion shoot with Kellie Wilson (left) in Ossie Clark's Giselle silk, Grecian dress. English Boy owner/model Sir Mark Palmer (centre) and Nicky Kramer (seated) provide some groovy hippie styling.
I'll come back to Afghans again in part 2 where I'll be contrasting life on the hippie trail with the rich bohemian playground of Marrakesh and continuing to look at how other designers embraced exotic influences, including Michael Rainey's aesthetic for Hung On You's new King's Road location, Michael Fish broadening menswear and Thea Porter adapting traditional ethnic clothes for western tastes.
I really want to say thank you to Nigel Waymouth, Paul Reeves, Craig Sams, Jenny Spires and Peter Feely, all who've been so helpful and given me their time in putting this post together. And thanks again to Paul Hughes-Smith for starting the ball rolling on this subject with the connection to William Morris and Islamic design. The link to the William Morris Society exhibition is first in the references below.
Waymouth, Nigel. Phone conversation
Spires, Jenny. Email correspondence
Lumley, Joanna (1989), Memoirs, Viking, p.86
Waymouth. Nigel. Phone conversation
Gorman, Paul (2012), Mr Freedom: Tommy Roberts British Design Hero, Adelita, p.22
Reeves, Paul. Phone conversation
Sams, Craig. Email correspondence
Davidson, Sara (1977) Loose Change: Three Women Of The Sixties, London: Collins) p.128 quoted in Blackman, Cally (2005), Clothing the Cosmic Counterculture: Fashion and Psychedelia in Summer of Love: Psychedelic Art, Socila Crisis and Counterculture in the 1960's, Liverpool University Press
1. Jimi Hendrix's Hussar's jacket - Great footage inside I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet with Robert Orbach
2. Eric Clapton & John Crittle Clapton, dressing down for the occasion, wearing an Afghan coat and football scarf to the opening of the Apple Boutique. Crittle's styling is dresses up his voluminous sheepskins, wearing it over his pinstripe suit.