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Dressed To Kill

Dressed To Kill Punk Fashion ©2009 PERSONS UNKNOWN ;-)




Virtually every element of punk's style, attitude, subversive politics, musical tastes and even personnel emanated from two tiny and peculiar clothes shops on Chelsea's King's Road. Those two shops were Acme Attractions at 135, in the basement of Chelsea Antique Market, and, at number 430, SEX, situated at the most westerly point, World's End. But who was that cool guy in a leopard skin waistcoat, dreads and shades wreathed in a haze of weed and sternum- shuddering dub at Acme's counter? Don Letts, Roxy DJ, award-winning filmmaker, BAD member and then-boyfriend of the other assistant, the gorgeous, permanently mini-skirted Jeanette Lee, who would join Flowers Of Romance-era PiL and much later steer the career of Jarvis Cocker as Pulp's manager. Acme's accountant was Andy Czezowski, who would manage The Damned and launch punk's first venue, the legendary Roxy. Its owners, Steph Raynor and John Krevine, opened the first high-street punk store, BOY, and managed early punk band Chelsea. "Acme was more than a shop; it was a club, a lifestyle, an attitude, a forum for talent," says Letts. "I can honestly say that Acme was the happiest time of my life. It reflected the way London was going; it was about multi- culturalism." Among those who teetered down Acme's steep staircase to the rhythms of Dreadlock Dread and MPLA were John Lydon, Mick Jones, Tony James, Billy Idol, Sid Vicious, Jon Savage and Patti Smith. Another frequent visitor was Bob Marley, attracted not only by the availability of spliff but also the charms of Jeanette Lee. Acme's inclusive nature was reflected in its range: '60s suits, skinny ties and tab-collared shirts for modernists; '50s peg slacks and "Tommy Steele" jackets for retro- stylists; fluffy jumpers, Big Smith painter's jeans and plastic sandals for wedge-haired soul-boys; and Brighton Beach Riot and John Wayne Gacy T-shirts and plastic trousers for punk's spiky-haired first wave. Acme’s atmosphere was at odds with the hard-edged environment of SEX. In the '60s this site had been hippie magnet Hung On You and later Mr Freedom, where Tommy Roberts sold pop-art fashion to such customers as Mick Jagger, Peter Sellers and Elton John.

Among Roberts' regulars were a penurious couple, perennial art student Malcolm McLaren and sometime supply

Among Roberts' regulars were a penurious couple, perennial art student Malcolm McLaren and sometime supply teacher Vivienne Westwood. One day McLaren, then Malcolm Edwards, purchased a pair of quilt-topped D-ring blue suede brothel creepers at Mr Freedom. "Those shoes were probably the most important things I ever bought, It was a symbolic act to wear them." Roberts proved to be something of a mentor. His stewardship of Ian Dury's Kilburn & The High Roads provided a blueprint for managing the Sex Pistols, but in 1971 Roberts drew McLaren's attention to the fact that the latest incarnation of 430, Americana outlet Paradise Garage, was faltering in a mist of debt and drug-associated business problems. In November McLaren, Westwood and friend Patrick Casey deposed Roberts' former partner Trevor Miles and installed themselves in the back room of the shop as Let It Rock. Early pictures show McLaren dressed head-to-toe in Ted garb while Westwood sports lurex pedal pushers, fluffy jumper and a spiky, dyed hairstyle which is believed to have made an impact on early visitor David Bowie, then planning a new look to complement his forthcoming album The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars.

Selling Teddy Boy jackets, straight and narrow-cuffed trousers run up by Westwood and original '50s records (which were snapped up by an avid youthful collector, one Charles Saatchi), McLaren describes the shift from art study to fashion as "like jumping into the musical end of painting". Decked out in the style of a '50s suburban sitting room complete with jukebox, Let It Rock soon engulfed the entire store. "It was like entering the set of a B-movie; there were old Teds, dwarfs and generally disfigured people hanging around," says Raynor. Within 18 months, McLaren and Westwood had tired of the innate conservatism of their neo-Edwardian clientele and refashioned 430 in homage to Britain's early '60s "ton-up" boys. Now it was called Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die, with studs 'n' chains biker jackets, custom-made zoot suits and black sleeveless T-shirts emblazoned with motorbike insignia and slogans. Among the strangest creations was the tee with VENUS spelt out on the front in studs and tiny rubber tyres over the shoulders, which were also festooned with horsehair, while the nipples were covered by peephole zips. Another featured the letters R-O-C-K in bleached chicken bones purloined from a local takeaway. One of these was bought by Alice Cooper during his first British tour, while other customers who also took to the ready-made stage wear included the New York Dolls, Iggy Pop, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Lou Reed. By the summer of 1974, when Saturday boy Glen Matlock started to talk to shop regulars Paul Cook and Steve Jones about forming a band, the restless McLaren had experienced Manhattan's sleazy underbelly as de facto manager of the rapidly disintegrating New York Dolls. Fired by his experiences he reopened 430 as a fetish and bondage outlet. Over the shop front, four-foot high pink rubber letters spelt out SEX and were sprayed with 17th-century clergyman Thomas Fullers dictum: "Craft must have clothes but truth loves to go naked." Inside, the pervy lingerie, rubber and leather costumes and outrageous T-shirts hung from gym exercise bars while the rubber-draped walls and ceiling were peppered with quotes from the SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) manifesto as set out by Valerie Solonas, the militant feminist who shot Andy Warhol. There were also Situationist aphorisms, including the question: "Does passion end in fashion?" inscribed by 430 acolyte Bernie Rhodes who later suggested "Passion is a fashion" for a militaristic shirt worn by his charge Joe Strummer.

The shop assistants included Chrissie Hynde (a struggling musician who had not long given up her job as an NME scribe), the openly gay Alan Jones and the extraordinary Jordan, the shock-haired, rubber-stockinged fashion plate who would later star in the film Jubilee and manage Adam & The Ants. Having constructed the laboratory from which punk would spring, McLaren displayed the firmness of his grip on pop culture’s pulse in the early summer of 1975. Wearing a grubby white shirt which bore the words "Be Reasonable Demand The Impossible", he told tabloid hack Rick Sky, then working for short-lived music mag Street Life: "I think kids have a hankering to be part of a movement that's hard and tough and in the open, like the clothes we're selling here." As the clientele coalesced around the Sex Pistols, who settled on their line-up in September 1975 and played their first gig two months later, so punk's protagonists came into focus: not just Hynde and Jordan, but also Sid Vicious, who became another assistant, while the customers ranged from the Bromley Contingent and Mick Jones to the generation who became movers and shakers in the '80s pop world: Adam Ant, Boy George, Chris Sullivan, Steve Strange and Siobhan Fahey. It was also the first place Nancy Spungen sought out on her arrival in the UK. McLaren and Westwood's pathological contrariness was underlined when another facelift in December 1976 unveiled 430 as Seditionaries: Clothes For Heroes. The new name was etched onto a small brass plaque fixed on the anonymous, frosted glass exterior, while inside all was post- apocalyptic courtesy of David Connors and Ben Kelly, who later designed The Hacienda. With a grey industrial carpet, the walls displayed a giant upturned view of Piccadilly Circus as well as images of bombed-out Dresden. Jagged holes were poked into the ceiling, through which blinding arc lights shone. Shopping at 430 had always been a forbidding, almost anti- retail experience, yet the popularity of punk meant that it now had crowds of kids there, and the frontage was often kicked in and /or sprayed with graffiti. It lent the shop a siege atmosphere as the Pistols were physically attacked on the street and banned from playing live.

By now BOY had opened at 153 King's Road, peddling zippered, burnt and torn versions of Seditionaries gear, and similar shops proliferated; in nearby Beaufort Market X-Ray Spex's Poly Styrene, Banshees manager Nils Stevenson and rock 'n' roll fashionista Lloyd Johnson all operated punk stalls, while Boy George was selling winkle pickers at Shades in Chelsea Antiques Market. Westwood & McLaren refashioned 430 once more as World's End (which it remains to this day), giving the designer Roger Burton a brief which drew on The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari, Alice In Wonderland, The Olde Curiosity Shoppe and 18th- Century galleons. As they moved into New Romanticism, "punk" clothes became available to all, from Miss Selfridge to the classified pages of the music press. These days knock-off Cowboys T-shirts, Destroy muslins and tartan bondage trousers are for sale in shops from Trash & Vaudeville on St Mark's Place to Rellik in Golborne Road, though neither Westwood nor McLaren has ever shown the slightest inclination in claiming copyright infringement to what is now a worldwide multi-million pound trade in their astounding designs. "In the shop's various incarnations I made clothes that looked like ruins," McLaren wrote in his foreword to my book The Look. "I created something new by destroying the old. This wasn't fashion as a commodity; this was fashion as an idea." And what an idea - so revolutionary that it continues to reverberate today.

As 1977 dawned, Clash manager Bernie Rhodes realised that visual style would become a major

As 1977 dawned, Clash manager Bernie Rhodes realised that visual style would become a major factor in distinguishing the group from their rivals the Sex Pistols - who dominated the media image of the new movement - and the also-rans. Eastender Rhodes had strong fashion sensibilities, having been a top mod, hob-nobbed with John Pearse of Granny Takes A Trip fame, peddled bomber jackets on the King's Road and helped out with ideas at SEX. Enter Nottingham art student Alex Michon, who had witnessed not only early Sex Pistols but also The Clash's performance at the Royal College of Art in 1976. "Bernard had met someone I knew and said that he wanted to start making clothes for the boys” says Michon, now an artist at Hackney gallery Transition. "I leapt at the chance. He'd scrawled this drawing of a jacket on a piece of paper and I made it with Christina Kolowska [later at fashion house Michiko Koshino]. He liked it and we were hired." Michon says that Rhodes' overriding instruction was:

'There's going to be a lot of fighting in the streets. We're gonna need clothes which are tough and hard-wearing." Drawing on the Jackson Pollock paint spatters which were the band's first look, Miction came up with hard-wearing militaristic outfits, with zips replacing the paint lines.

"Because I didn't really know what I was doing, I over sewed everything, and that also became part of the style." Paul Simonon was the band member who participated most fully in the design process, but Michon fondly recalls the way each adapted their clothes. "I made a shirt for Joe and when I next saw it he'd stitched a ripped up photograph onto the front, which looked brilliant.” Michon worked with the Clash on and off throughout the life of the band, refining the style and taking on board a range of influences, from cowboys to rockabilly to the cavalry. She was also part of Rhodes' abortive venture into fashion retailing with the Upstarts label. "It was a fantastic time in my life," says Michon. "We all worked and lived together, feeding off each other's ideas. One time Joe came in looking exhausted and I asked him whether he wanted a new shirt, because the clothes got so knackered on the road. He said: 'No, I want a new body.'"

Boy George

Boy George My big line is: Anarchy In The UK became Avarice In the UK, but

My big line is: Anarchy In The UK became Avarice In the UK, but it's true, isn't it? At the beginning punk was really a fashion statement but it didn't take long for it to be about student politics and violence. I was already a Bowie freak going to London clubs and hanging out in the West End when I spotted Vivienne wandering around Soho trailing this troupe of strange, dressed-up people. I was too scared to go and talk to her so followed them at a safe distance. That's how I found out about SEX. We used to sequin, bead, stitch, dye, print and alter Oxfam clothes. Then we'd parade down the King's Road, looking in at Acme and daring each other to go into SEX. The clothes were so expensive and Jordan was intimidating, though Sid was sweet when he worked there, really goofy. When it changed to Seditionaries I saved £30 and got £30 more off my Dad for a pair of red tartan bondage trousers. My Mum said she could have bought a new suite for that money.

Dad said he would give me the money as a cheque but refused to put "SEX" on the stub: "What would my accountant think?” When I got them home I persuaded my Mum to make four more pairs. One day Vivienne saw me wearing some made out of a Union Jack and got really suspicious. I was really embarrassed when I told her my Mum had made them! Once I went into the shop in 1977 in a leather jacket I had studded with "Elvis" across the back. She started having a go for being so backward-looking when all I was trying to do was point out how great he was. Only a few years before she had launched her career on rock 'n' roll iconography!

I had loads of their gear: the Piss Marilyn T-shirt, the

black suede boots with that white strap, but soon I started wearing stuff halfway between Seditionaries and my Culture Club look. One night I went to a gig in bondage trousers, a frilly blouse and a full face of make-up. That was enough

to provoke somebody to pour a pint of blackcurrant and lager over my head. You started to get a lot of animosity because punk had suddenly become straight pedestrian. That felt odd because punk was always supposed to be about outsiders, and then you felt like an outsider from punk.

I use punk slogans and imagery in my label B-Rude; it has

the DIY ethic, but the safety pins are sequinned and look glamorous. We draw on the bondage clothes but merge them

with sportswear, hoodies, etc.

I think Vivienne is still the queen of fashion but these

days you can't just look unusual. MTV and stylists are on the rampage and you can fool people more. Put enough eyeliner on a boil-in-the-bag pop starlet, add a CBGB T- shirt and there it is: fake cool. That's not what punk was about at all.

Some Product

Top 10 Punk Garments

01 - Anarchy Shirt

Some Product Top 10 Punk Garments 01 - Anarchy Shirt Created by Westwood after she noted

Created by Westwood after she noted shop assistant Jordan's home-bleached shirt, the Seditionaries classic featured vertical dyed strips, slogans such as "Only Anarchists Are Pretty", patch images of Mao or Marx, plastic pockets encasing nudie playing cards and armbands featuring swastikas or the encircled anarchy A.

02 - Brothel Creepers

swastikas or the encircled anarchy A. 02 - Brothel Creepers A hangover from when 430 was

A hangover from when 430 was as a '50s emporium, the thick- soled Teddy Boy shoes made by George Cox were what attracted Glen Matlock to the shop - he had seen his hero Ronnie Lane of the Faces wearing a pair. Not only did they provide provocation during 1977's Punk vs Ted wars, but their heftiness also granted a degree of protection. Strummer and Simonon wore them to reflect their respective rocker and thuggish demeanours.

03 - Mohair Jumper

03 - Mohair Jumper Rattily knitted, these harked back to McLaren's days as a beatnik in

Rattily knitted, these harked back to McLaren's days as a beatnik in the early '60s, but came in bright colours with holes and rips deliberately torn into them. Proto-punk and future Dexys leader Kevin Rowland recalls a visit to SEX in October 1976. “There were piles of mohairs everywhere at £30 each: a week's wages in those days."

04 - PVC Trousers

a week's wages in those days." 04 - PVC Trousers The cheap-to-produce PVC keks launched at

The cheap-to-produce PVC keks launched at SEX were taken up by the rag trade as punk and new wave gear business boomed. Retailers such as the Northern-based X Clothes were knocking them out in the back pages of the NME.

05 - Levi's

05 - Levi's When Let It Rock started selling straight-leg Levi's back in 1972 they made

When Let It Rock started selling straight-leg Levi's back in 1972 they made a statement about Britain's flared post- hippy world. "Like trousers, like brain," quoth Joe Strummer.

06 - Manifesto T-shirt

like brain," quoth Joe Strummer. 06 - Manifesto T-shirt Alongside the Vive Le Rock and Cowboys,

Alongside the Vive Le Rock and Cowboys, this 1974 manifesto by Bernie Rhodes named objects of adoration (Eddie Cochran, Jimi Hendrix) and shamed sacred cows (Bryan Ferry, Yes, Elton John).

07 - Leather Jacket

07 - Leather Jacket Originally sold as part of Too Fast To Live's ton-up collection, the

Originally sold as part of Too Fast To Live's ton-up collection, the classic zip-fronted jacket as worn by The Ramones on the cover of their debut was made archetypal by their most famous fan, Sid Vicious, who was rarely seen out of his from late 76 until his demise two years later.

08 - Bondage Trousers

76 until his demise two years later. 08 - Bondage Trousers These were based on US

These were based on US marines' fatigues, with added fetish elements: restrictive zips up the calves and thighs, and another from the pubis underneath the groin. Still produced by Westwood and a thousand imitators around the world; worn today by the likes of Gwen Stefani.

09 - Muslin Top

09 - Muslin Top Best exhibited in the version which featured the proclamation DESTROY over an

Best exhibited in the version which featured the proclamation DESTROY over an inverted crucifix, day-glo swastika and the postage stamp Queen's head, with lyrics from God Save The Queen, the shirt was deliberately distressed and crudely stitched.

10 - Wraparound Shades

distressed and crudely stitched. 10 - Wraparound Shades The '60s mod sunglasses which covered the pinned

The '60s mod sunglasses which covered the pinned eyeballs of NY punks and junkies were sold in Acme Attractions and gave the likes of Don Letts, Billy Idol and Chrissie Hynde an edgy urban cool which referenced Warhol's Factory set.

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