Granny Takes A Trip, Golden Lily Jacket, 1966.
Updated: Oct 5
William Morris had a golden rule:
“Have nothing in your homes that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”
Cleo & I have believed his work to be beautiful for many years and his work surrounds us in our daily lives: in our wardrobes on prints on our personal clothes, framed in prints on our walls, on furniture coverings, throws, cushions and even the kitchen table cloth. Of course there are many examples of his prints in our extensive vintage clothing collection but my absolute favourite has to be Morris & Co. Golden Lily jacket by Granny Takes a Trip.
This is a photograph of me outside 488 Kings Road taken in 2016. If I could have travelled back in time fifty years and gone into Granny Takes a Trip, on the rails there would be a small selection of jackets like the one I'm wearing. Unfortunately in summer 1966, I’d have just had my 5th birthday and I don't think I’d have appreciated the experience very much!
For me, this jacket encapsulates everything I love about this period. All the myriad references and connections to this one item are deeply embedded in the music, art, fashion and culture of sixties London’s psychedelic scene. Unravelling those references and connections creates an understanding of so much about that time and aesthetic of those Beautiful People. And it's for that reason that we decided to make it a feature garment in the Beautiful People exhibition; introducing our main themes which are present throughout the show.
The jacket has developed a life of its own since it came into my possession. It's appeared on BBC TV a couple of times and in 2012 was featured on one of Royal Mail's Great British Fashion stamps. Originally it belonged to Nigel Lesmoir Gordon, a man who was very much a part of the counter culture and who I want to talk more about in a later post focusing on the underground. But for now I'm just concentrating on that jacket.
The William Morris jackets were of course just one item that the Granny team made in 1966, and one might argue that it's not even particularly representative of the clothes that they sold. But it is a truly wonderful and exuberant example and perfectly illustrates so many of the connections and themes that we will address in the exhibition, that I thought I'd use it as a starting point for exploring those themes and connections and delving into some of the details. So my first topic is one that speaks to our hearts: it's the Morris & Co print itself.
Morris & Co. "Golden Lily" Print Furnishing Fabric, Sanderson 1965
The use of print for this jacket is truly striking. It demands your attention with a direct immediacy. It’s a great and lasting tribute to the strength and beauty of John Henry Dearle’s original 1897 Golden Lily wallpaper design (below) that the intricate complexity and delicacy of the of the twisting floral forms remains so visually compelling to this day.
Obviously the visual impact of the Morris print was a major factor in choosing it for a new line of jackets at Granny Takes A Trip. The manufacturers, Sanderson, who have owned Morris & Co. since 1940, intended it to be used as furnishing fabric, but if you wanted something more visually exciting than the range of suiting fabric made for tailoring in mid-sixties Britain you had to be more imaginative sourcing your cloth. The jackets were made in in a number of Morris & Co. prints including these three below, all designed by William Morris himself.
"Chrysanthemum" 1877 "Bachelor's Button" 1892 "Brer Rabbit" 1880
All four prints made fabulous jackets and were bought by some of the most famous London's celebrities and rock stars. Here is three of them to illustrate my point, but I don't want to focus too much on Granny's rock star clientele now, I'll save all of that for a later post. So (below) from left to right are Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, George Harrison and Noel Redding (Jimi Hendrix Experience).
However, As Nigel Waymouth points out "The William Morris print jackets were less about what the shop was originally about and more about where it went." 1 Here he is referring to the rock star clientele that the shop attracted. But he was very keen to point to the original inspiration behind the name of the boutique.
Granny Takes A Trip - Blow Up and The Vintage influence
Nigel Waymouth came up with the name for the shop in a moment of inspired genius. He called it Granny Takes a Trip because the clothes they were going to sell were Sheila Cohen's enormous collection of vintage clothing. But vintage clothing is a relatively modern term, and "Sheila and I always referred to them as grannies clothes" 2 said Waymouth. And calling it Granny Takes A Trip really nailed their colours to the counter-cultural mast with such an incredibly blatant LSD reference; but more on that in a later post.
Nigel remembers that Sheila "......wouldn't buy new clothes, but was obsessed with Victorian, Edwardian, twenties stuff - anything that was old." 3
Her collection had grown over the years and far exceeded what she actually wore. Nigel had worked previously as a journalist based in 488 Kings Road and was aware that the premises was becoming available to rent, so the couple decided to set up shop with a young tailor they'd met, John Pearse.
The sequinned and beaded tabard worn by Verushka (right) in Antonioni's Blow Up in 1966, is a fabulous example from Sheila's collection. Of course, originally it would have been worn over a dress and no matter how bohemian and risque your granny might have been back in the day, she certainly wouldn't have worn it in quite the same way as Verushka does here!
In his discussion of Blow Up in Another Man magazine, Philippe Garner describes how Antonioni carried out extensive research for the film, spending time with significant people in involved with fashion in London in 1966 and was scrupulously attentive to details of their mannerisms, clothes, music, cars etc, anxious to capture their essence for his characters.
In the film we see fashion photographer Thomas (David Hemmings) working on shoots with Jane Birkin, Jill Kennington and Vanessa Redgrave who wear contemporary fashion by Courreges etc. But the shoot with Verushka is both remarkable and memorable as the most erotic and sexually charged sequence in the film. And Antonioni would have been very aware of the counter-cultural significance of the costume choice for the scene, dressing Verushka in a vintage dress from Granny Takes A Trip.
At that point in the 1960's vintage clothing and referencing certain eras from the past such as Art Nouveau or Victoriana were essentially a signifier of early psychedelic counter-cultural allegiance. So when Antonioni filmed Verushka in the summer of 1966, we are seeing a powerful alternative fashion statement under pinned with an expressive sexual freedom and permissiveness; one of the counterculture's core values.
Antonioni's next film Zabriskie Point (1970), focuses on the fully fledged Californian hippie counterculture while Donald Cammel and Nicolas Roeg's Performance (produced in 1968 but not released until 1970) is undoubtedly Blow Up's follow up as a depiction of Chelsea's counterculture. But back to Blow Up and Garner's assessment of the accuracy of Antonioni's depiction of mid-sixties London:
"I think what one needs to remember about that moment in 60s culture is that it was a very small group of people who were making a difference, who were in the news, on television, in the press and in the media, coming to represent this idea of this exciting, expressive city. So yes it was happening, but it was happening for a very select club." 4
One of that very select club, Andrew Loog Oldham, quotes Nik Cohn in his book Stoned, illustrating just how small that club was: “People now fantasise about the swinging 60’s, but in 1964, England, apart from 200 people, was unbelievably conservative, grey and grim.” 5 Even though Cohn's description of the London scene is two years earlier than Antonioni’s, its size would still be relatively small. And though Blow Up may not have been very representative portrayal of London as a whole, its accurate in its depiction of that small minority. And actually that minority could be divided into two: the "Swinging London" in crowd of Mary Quant, David Bailey and the early Fab Four/Mop Top Beatles, and the new, smaller, alternative group, represented by Veruska in Blow Up, which would eventually become a separate entity. By 1966 The Beatles were already becoming part of that breakaway group in their transition from a pop group to serious rock musicians. Of course these renegades from the Swinging London set are our Beautiful People. Marianne Faithful puts it succinctly:
"The beautiful people .....were essentially an extension of Mary Quant’s London, only with drugs.” 6
In an interview in The Guardian on the 10th of October 1967, Mary Quant makes it very clear that she sees their clothes as setting them apart from her Swinging London set:
“The Beautiful People are non-violent anarchists, constructive anarchists. They are a real breakthrough. But I have been worrying about the way they dress. It can’t be called fashion, because it’s all old clothes, and it’s always depressing to wear clothes of the past.” 7
Vintage Clothing and the Chelsea set
Nigel Waymouth told me that he and Sheila were aware that vintage clothing was being worn by some of the well connected and influential movers and shakers in London and remembers in particular the January 1966 edition of Vogue which featured Jane Ormsby-Gore (below), the 23 year old daughter of Lord Harlech. The editorial, written by Christopher Gibbs, describes her distinctive and individual style in romantically lyrical prose that contrasts so dramatically with Mary Quant's comment that "...it’s always depressing to wear clothes of the past.”
"She thinks there should be far less difference between day clothes and evening clothes...... she scours the Portobello Road and antique shops and markets throughout the land, searching for ........ beautifully made clothes of any age and kind. She has boots of Russian leather, endless shirts of cream or white lace, embroidered velvet coats falling almost to the ankle, striped silk stockings, huge plumes of ostrich and egret tumbling from floppy 1900 hats, and, above all, a jewel box stuffed with glittering treasures. She finds most people very dismally dressed…” 8
Christopher Gibbs (right) was Ormsby-Gore's friend and one time employer in his original Islington antiques shop and was also known for his extraordinary dress sense, being described by Nik Cohn as the most avant garde dresser Britain had ever known.
His Cheyne Walk home was exotically decorated in bohemian style with Moroccan furniture, rugs and hangings. Antonioni chose it as the set for the dope-smoking party scene in Blow Up, and less than two years later, it inspired Donald Cammell to employ Gibbs to recreate the same ambiance for Turner's home (Mick Jagger's character) in Performance.
Prince Stanislaus Klossowski de Rola, aka Stash, (above centre) was another aristocratic dandy with a very distinctive personal style. He has said "For my own part......I always strove to wear extraordinary original clothing. In 1965, I wore actual eighteenth century clothes..." 9
In a 1966 Rave magazine article he told the interviewer that his latest purchase came "From Damascus - Not Carnaby Street. I'd never wear clothes that everyone else could get hold of. In fact, I've just bought a 'new' coat made in 1718 - it's the only thing I've seen that I like.” 10
I want to come back to all three of these people in a later post, but for now it's just worth noting that Stash was a close friend of Brian Jones and was arrested with him in May 1967 on drugs charges. During the trial he stayed with Paul McCartney and after Brian's death in early July 1969, became closer to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
When Jane Ormsby-Gore appeared in Vogue in January 1966 she was Michael Rainey's partner (owner of Hung On You). They were married in October 1966.
Christopher Gibbs was a friend of influential gallery owner Robert Fraser aka "Groovy" Bob who had introduced him to Anita Pallenberg, Brian Jones, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful. Gibbs and Fraser were both at Redlands, Keith Richards' home, on 12th February 1967 with Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful on 12th February 1967 the night of the famous drugs bust. The image of Fraser and Jagger displaying the handcuffs linking them famously became the subject of Richard Hamilton's "Swingeing London 67 (f)".
The above detour really emphasises Phillipe Garner's comment "that it was a very small group of people who were making a difference, who were in the news, on television, in the press and in the media, coming to represent this idea of this exciting, expressive city." Christopher Gibbs made a similar observation of that group from an insider's viewpoint when he remembered "....walking down the King’s Road and knowing, if I met anyone who looked at all nice, that they’d be a very old friend." 11 Gibbs' fond recollection illustrates just how small this group of people was and the close relationships between them, but also, and importantly for this discussion, that their clothes and their individual style marked them out from the crowd, making them instantly recognisable, even at a distance.
In 2017 Cleo and I were asked to take part in an evening's discussion of Granny Takes A Trip with John Pearse, Nigel Waymouth and Jenny Spires (English Boy model and one time girlfriend of Syd Barrett) in one of the Royal Albert Hall's Summer Of Love: Revisited series of events. We also provided the Granny clothes for a mini fashion show with some enthusiastic young volunteers suitably writhing to Cleo's favourite psychedelic song, Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit.
In the days preceding the event I was keen to speak with Jenny Spires as she'd modelled and wore Granny's clothes at the time. I was particularly interested that she thought they were so divorced from contemporary sixties mainstream fashion that she saw them as an anti-fashion statement.
This is a view expanded by Cally Blackman who argues that the recognisable style of alternative clothing worn by elite minorities during 1965-67, a period she calls the "psychedelic era", "...evolved into the full-blown hippie look fashionable throughout the second half of the decade and into the 1970's....(and) just as "psychedelic" dress was only worn by an elite minority within the alternative culture, so the more widespread hippie look that followed on from it and was informed initially by it was never wholly adopted by the mainstream; it was a style that subverted and ran counter to conventional or high street trends. As such it cannot be called "fashion"; rather, anti-fashion, in that it constituted an oppositional statement visibly mediated through clothing that challenged sartorial norms and rejected established consumer values." 12
She goes to conclude with a quote Jennifer Harris, Sarah Hyde and Greg Smith "....to those outside its cosmic circles (it) presented a decadent and therefore threatening lifestyle of radically alternative values....the hippie way of life was a rejection of capitalism itself." 13
This is a sentiment which would have brought a warm glow to William Morris' heart as he was a romantic, idealist rebel who detested Victorian industrialised manufacturing which he saw as responsible for killing the handcraft tradition and in the process alienating the workers from their produce.
After reading Marx in the 1880s Morris referred to this as Capitalism, but they were ideas which he'd held since he was young man in his 20s when as a student in the 1850s he'd met the Pre-Raphaelite painters Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti and fell under the spell of their medievalist philosophy.
In a letter of 1883 Morris wrote: "At this time the revival of Gothic architecture was making great progress in England and naturally touched the Pre-Raphaelite movement also; I threw myself into these movements with all my heart......all of the minor arts were in a state of complete degradation especially in England, and accordingly in 1861 with the conceited courage of a young man I set myself about reforming all that.....Both my historical studies and my personal conviction that art cannot have a real life and growth under the present system of commercialism and profit- mongering" 14
Reading Morris' words I was struck by the parallels between his attitude and that of the young entrepreneurs Sheila Cohen, Nigel Waymouth and John Pearse, who set up shop on the King's Road with a collection of vintage clothing, a love of the romantic past and, with "the conceited courage" of youth, set about changing fashion; their rebellious attitude reflected in the name, Granny Takes A Trip, clearly signalling their allegiance to the counterculture.
And I wondered if they also shared Jenny Spires' view and that the clothes they made and sold were intended as an anti-fashion statement? Did they think of themselves as being in opposition to the commercial, mass produced fashion typified by Mary Quant's highly successful Ginger Group label? And was the choice of Morris and Co. fabrics for those iconic jackets a self-conscious and deliberate reference to Morris and the Aesthetic Movement of the 1880s and 90's? Down to the detail of buying prints for Granny's shirts and jackets in Liberty's, a shop which became so synonymous with Art Nouveau, that in Italy it is known as stile Liberty. After all Arthur Lasenby Liberty (the store's founder), was an important friend of Morris and closely associated with Arts and Crafts Movement and Aesthetic Movement, so the choice of Liberty's seemed yet another a reference to that specific history and all its artistic and romantic connections. But was this all deliberate? It certainly fitted with the concept behind Nigel Waymouth's exterior design for the boutique with its fin de Sciecle Art Nouveau styling.
In beginning to answer these questions Nigel Waymouth told me of Granny's first customers who were mainly gay men and Chelsea's dope smoking debutantes. He said "Brigitte Bardot's sister, Mijanou, would come to the shop every couple of weeks and buy up a lot of stuff to put into her shop in Paris." 15 These discerning clients stripped the shop much quicker than the owners had expected, eager to cherry pick from the fabulous examples that Sheila had taken years to collect.
Cleo and I (along with all the other vintage dealers we know) will tell you, it's very easy to sell your best pieces. The big problem is finding more of the same quality to replenish your stock. And Nigel says that was exactly the case for them, when buying trips to Portobello market became increasingly frustrating as stall holders very often reserved their best vintage pieces to sell to their regular customers like Vernon Lambert and Adrian Emmerton from the Chelsea Antique Market.
"It all became far too tedious really and we started designing our own clothes, male and female. We went to see Mrs Trott, John knew about her, a little old lady in New Cross who made shirts. We bought the fabric from Liberty's, flowery fabric, and redesigned the collars and put them on the shelves at 5 guineas each which was very expensive in those days, and they couldn't get enough of them. They just sold and sold" 16
An early example of the Liberty print shirts with the distinctive beagle ear collar and Byronesque full sleeves is the one worn by John Lennon on the back cover of Revolver, seen much clearer in the colour shots of the band by Bob Whittaker taken on May 19th 1966.
Anna Buruma, Liberty's archivist told me that print used for Lennon's shirt is called Makates and was first produced at Liberty’s Merton printworks, just upstream on the river Wandle from Morris, in 1958. Later in the 1960's it was printed on cotton in Lancashire.
This Granny mini skirt (left), made from Liberty furnishing fabric printed with Clementia dating from the 1890’s is in Anna Buruma’s opinion “….. one of Liberty’s most iconic Art Nouveau designs... It was part of the early revival of Liberty Art Nouveau when they printed a group of designs in 1959 which were issued in 1960 and which put their name back on the map internationally." 17
In fact Liberty had been re-issuing some of their archive Art Nouveau prints since the late 1950s, and with Bernard Nevill as a consultant designer from 1960, they continued to revisit them, sometimes re-colouring them like the Harry Napper design called Cristobel (above left). It wasn't until 1967 that Liberty first used Rene Beauclair's Ianthe print (above left) from C.1900 which has become inseparably linked to the store ever since.
Bernard Nevill said of his time lecturing: " I was very interested in William Morris in those days, so we're talking about the late 1950s, I did this thing with the Textile students using William Morris wallpapers as a starting point and then the fashion students designing for them.
I think to begin with young students wanted to be swinging and with-it and rather looked down at things from the past, but once they became more educated, their eyes and their minds, they began to understand what a wealth there was to mine in this previous work." 18
Here I think should admit that Cleo and I are passionate about Liberty. Cleo has collected Liberty clothing from the late 1890s through to the early 1980s and that collection was used for the 140th celebration of the store in 2015 for the Fashion and Textile Museum's Liberty in Fashion exhibition. The same goes for Liberty as I said about Morris at the beginning of this blog, I wear Liberty print shirts and Cleo has dresses, blouses and scarves in their prints and the collection has at least 200 pieces.
But I digress. Let's get back to the Morris and Co prints bought in Liberty for those jackets; did they intend that reference to the past?
John Pearse answered:"....on discovery it was a no brainer a " Gift from designer heaven" 19
And Nigel Waymouth replied: "We were after something different (from the mod look of bum freezer jackets etc). With these vintage clothes: Oscar Wilde, the Aesthetic Movement, that romantic look, we were out to change all that." 20
But were the clothes anti-fashion statements? "No. We weren't anti-anything" Waymouth replied "Well except war and the (nuclear) bomb ", but we weren't against what Quant, or anyone else was doing. We just wanted to shake things up and break the rules," 21
In fact Mary Quant herself had used the same Liberty Clementia print earlier than the Granny team in 1965, for this suit (below right) worn here by Jane Asher in a publicity shot for Alfie, the 1966 which Asher starred in with Michael Caine. Jane was a notable actress and Alfie was tremendously popular with the public and critics. Jane was also Paul McCartney's partner at the time and so she was very much in the public eye.
Also in 1965 Quant used William Morris' 1875, Marigold wallpaper design printed on cotton for this trouser suit for her Ginger Group label.
Having said that these clothes are far from representative of Quant's typical style and they really aren't part of her aesthetic.
So you may well be asking why is the use of Morris & Co prints for those jackets so remarkable?
After all it's not as if it was the first time that someone had used them on clothes. Weren't the Granny team just part of the zeitgeist, picking up on the growing popularity of Art Nouveau?
Well yes, they were. But what makes the use of the print so remarkable is not that it's the first time it was used for clothing, but that it was used on a man's jacket.
As Nigel Waymouth said: " It's much more of a statement when it's on a man's jacket.....We thought why can’t men wear these prints?" 22
Creating a brightly coloured, large scale floral print jacket for a man was truly a bold if not revolutionary fashion statement. To recall that comment of Nik Cohn's that I quoted previously: “People now fantasise about the swinging 60’s, but in 1964, England, apart from 200 people, was unbelievably conservative, grey and grim.” and by summer 1966 things may have changed slightly, but not that dramatically. So the bold floral had a transgressive quality as prints of this scale would only ever have been used for women's clothing and it therefore has an androgynous quality to it, stepping outside of traditionally defined menswear.
In order to fully appreciate just how radical it was, you need to place in the context of menswear in the mid sixties, and that's what I'm going to focus on in my next post.
But in conclusion I want to emphasise the importance of the influence of the Aesthetic Movement and Art Nouveau on the Beautiful People. Its influence extends beyond the fashion to the shop decoration and graphic art of album covers and posters where it was the major visual reference and influence for psychedelic art.
Nigel Waymouth in a telephone interview with me for this blog.
Nigel Waymouth telephone interview
Paul Gorman, The Look: Adventures in Rock & Pop Fashion (Sanctuary 2001), p.68
Nik Cohn, Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom Quoted in, Andrew Loog Oldham: Stoned, Vintage 200,1 p334
Marianne Faithfull, Faithfull (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books 1995)
Mary Quant, quoted in, Jenny Lister, British Fashion 1966-1970, You Say You Want A Revolution; Records And Rebels 1966-1970, British Fashion (V&A Publishing 2016) p237
Christopher Gibbs, Vogue January 1966 (Conde Naste)
Stansilas Klossowski De Rola in personal email.
Maureen O'Grady, The Prince of Pop, (Rave Magazine 1966)
Nik Cohn, Today There Are No Gentlemen quoted in Cally Blackman Clothing the Cosmic Counterculture: Fashion and Psychedelia in Summer of Love: Psychedelic Art, Socila Crisis and Counterculture in the 1960's (Tate Liverpool and Liverpool University Press, 2005) p219
Cally Blackman, Clothing the Cosmic Counterculture: Fashion and Psychedelia in Summer of Love: Psychedelic Art, Socila Crisis and Counterculture in the 1960's p202
Jennifer Harris, Sarah Hyde and Greg Smith: 1966 And All That (London: Trfoil Books, 1988) p26. Quoted in Cally Blackman, Clothing the Cosmic Counterculture: Fashion and Psychedelia p202
Gillian Naylor, William Morris by Himself (Little, Brown & Co 1996), letter to Andreas Scheu (5 sept. 1883), p.15-17
Nigel Waymouth telephone interview
Nigel Waymouth telephone interview
Anna Buruma email correspondence
John Pearse email correspondence
Nigel Waymouth telephone interview
Nigel Waymouth telephone interview
Nigel Waymouth telephone interview