Beautiful people: the Boutique in 1960s counterculture
Fashion and Textile Museum, London
September 03, 2021 – January 2022
“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” Marianne Faithfull
In the mid-1960s a handful of Chelsea boutiques sparked a fashion revolution. Changing attitudes towards gender and sexuality, framed by the socio-political climate of the time, inspired new ideas, freedom of expression and an opposition to establishment values. Freed and fuelled by this creative exploration and experimentation, Chelsea’s boutiques began selling radical clothing to a youthful counterculture. These outrageously flamboyant designs were inspired by romantic ideas of the past; Byron-esque frilled shirts were paired with Regency brocades and plush velvet trousers were mixed with influences from the Far East. Revolutionary designers blurred gender boundaries and rejected mass production in favour of vintage fabrics, creating an explosion of colour, pattern and decoration. Beautiful People explores fabulous and rare examples of both men’s and womenswear, created by era-defining stores and designers.
The exhibition celebrates the shared free spirit of Granny Takes A Trip, Hung On You, Apple, Biba, Mr Fish, Sam Pig In Love, Thea Porter and Ossie Clark, featuring examples of designs worn by the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. For these boutiques, individuality was the order of the day – a reaction to the modernist fashion, mass production and pop culture of Mary Quant and Terence Conran’s Swinging London. Style was now a bricolage of disparate parts; an expression of one’s individual taste. Small runs were produced and mixed with vintage ensuring the wearer had their own unique look, summed up in an Oscar Wilde quotation above the door of Hung on You: “One should either be a work or art, or wear of work of art”. Designers looked to the past for inspiration not just in their garments, but also in the décor of their boutiques. Hung On You and Granny Takes a Trip featured Victoriana-style interiors and Beardsley inspired graphics, while Thea Porter paid homage to the brightly coloured prints and rich embroidery of the Middle East. Meanwhile the psychedelic designs of Dutch design collective, The Fool adorned the rails and the walls of The Beatle’s Apple Boutique.
Chelsea’s boutiques, as stylised and committed to their rebellious aesthetic as the garments they housed, will be recreated for Beautiful People as captivating sets. Record covers, packaging, magazines and posters will showcase the graphic design of the day and the influence of Art Nouveau. ‘Dandie Fashions‘ will feature a cream brocade jacket in the regency dandy style, a design worn by Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix and Keith Moon. An Art Nouveau print skirt suit in psychedelic purple, blue and orange, a print that would go on to influence the now synonymous Biba logo, will form part of the display in ‘Biba’. By the 1970s men’s tailoring fabrics were no longer tied to conventions; vintage furnishing and dress fabrics from the 1940s were being reworked into now-iconic menswear designs. Perhaps most notable of these is the William Morris Golden Lily Print jacket by Granny Takes a Trip. The style, worn by George Harrison, was made in a variety of Morris prints and produced in furnishing fabric by Sanderson. Alongside this seminal jacket, key pieces on display will include a men’s Nehru collar maxi dress by Mr Fish, reminiscent of the design worn by David Bowie on the cover The Man Who Sold the World.
Famed for creations designed to push gender boundaries, Mr Fish’s garments provide key examples of the rebellion against traditional, conservative men’s dress. Further boundary-pushing designs include a bell sleeve tapestry suit designed by The Fool for Apple Boutique – a rare example from the store’s short tenure – and a silk-satin trouser suit in a chinoiserie inspired print by Celia Birtwell for Quorom boutique – the place for The King’s Road in crowd to congregate. A crushed green velvet suit, created by Tommy Nutter and worn by Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees will highlight the continued flamboyancy of menswear towards the latter half of the 1970s. With over 60 highly influential garments presented in their contextual settings, Beautiful People will create a truly immersive look at one the most visually rich and exciting eras of the Twentieth Century.
Beautiful People will also examine the way London and its fashions began to change as they moved in to the mid-1970s. Tommy Nutter’s flamboyant 1930s inspired tailoring, Thea Porter’s richly decorated patchwork, Alice Pollock’s fantasy inspired crepes and chiffons and Barbara Hulanicki’s revival of Hollywood glamour will each be explored. The exhibition will take visitors right through to the final months of this iconic period in fashion. By 1975 Big Biba, housed within Derry and Toms iconic Kensington department store, had closed and Vivienne Westwood’s SEX boutique had replaced Hung On You at 430 King’s Road. Safety pins had superseded psychedelia as the era of the beautiful people came to an end. Chelsea’s boutiques had irreversibly changed the future of fashion, creating a ‘rich bohemian hippie chic’, which is now synonymous with the style of the 1960s and 70s, and continues to enjoy revivals to this day. Beautiful People will bring this iconic style back to life, showcasing the fashions, boutiques, designers and famous faces of London’s rebellious, but luxurious, 1960s counterculture.