So disappointed that I’m 39 years too late to get my free Marc Bolan poster. Dang.
When you collect and devour as many vintage magazines as I do, there are a few important life lessons you begin to realise. The first is that regardless of what they may say, all photos now are airbrushed. You can tell this because all photos in vintage magazines are not airbrushed. People have blemishes and bumps, you either re-shot the entire editorial or you put it in, warts and all. The second is that people’s major life problems and desires are no different now to how they were then. There might be a little more of a whiff of old-fashioned values, but, ultimately, people just want a rewarding job, sizzling sex life and somewhere nice to live.
A more interesting and less generic lesson is this: Not everyone who has a large magazine feature about them and their talent is guaranteed any level of success. Surely most people are somewhat susceptible to that green-eyed monster, when they see a rival (or, worse, someone they’ve never heard of) featured heavily in a magazine article about ‘up and coming’ talents or ‘renowned authorities’. You wish nothing but success for fellow human beings, naturally, but you may wonder why you have been overlooked or fear you have missed some vital step on the road to becoming a major player in your chosen field.
But the number of magazines I read, which feature ‘up and coming’ new fashion designers who even I have never heard of (me, boutique-geek, not the foggiest….), is astonishing. This particular article from 19 Magazine is one of the most striking. The incredible photo, the incredible clothes, the fact that they are the main feature in an article which also covers Wendy Dagworthy. Tell me, who on earth has ever heard of Preston and Saunders? I’ve googled, and googled. Unless I’m missing something, there’s nary a trace of them anywhere.
Which is a shame. Clearly they had talent. But what happened to them? Where are the Preston and Saunders clothes? Why is this the only reference in any magazine I’ve ever seen?
I must admit, I’m really hoping that either will google themselves and find me. I really want to know what happened to them! I also think this is a very good quote, and remains an important point to make in 2011.
Laverne Preston and Sue Saunders have just formed Preston & Saunders with no capital at all. They’ve been offered backing, but it’s a case of once bitten, twice shy.
Of the designers we interviewed, we found that Laverne had the most ‘experiences’.
“l’ve lost thousands of pounds . . . people I’ve done collections for that have made a fortune out of me, and, of course, names! I’ve made two companies complete, you know, names, and earned very little money out of it for myself.
So we decided to eliminate such people. That’s why we really don’t want backing, a few thousands, yes, but not real backing. Once you get that, you make a name for the company, you get masses of Press, you get a story for them—and then, that’s it. “I had four years at art college, a year in Paris making tea, before I became a designer for Maggy Rouff under an architect called Serge Matta. This had the biggest influence ever on my designing because he was so pure and I was very into architects, anyway.
“Then I went to Kiki Byrne, Young Jaeger, Consortium, C&A Modes and, finally, Maudie Moon, which was great fun. I then decided to give up the whole rag trade, buy antiques, study embroidery, etc. I tra- velled all over England looking at different handicrafts.
“After this, I worked again for another company and was nearly had up for assault—I blackened an eye—so I left, called Sue and said, `Why don’t we get together. because I can’t keep blackening people’s eyes’, and that was it.”
Sue Saunders has had gentler experiences. She spent eight years at art colleges, start- ing in the provinces and end· ing up at The Royal College of Art. then she taught silk-screen printing in the graphics department of East Ham College of Technology for two years, and freelanced.
“I started up the printing studio with a company called Luckies, which used to do pop furniture. It went bust so I got out of that. Then I met Jane Wealands, whom I was with at college, and we set up OK. Textiles, which was just short runs of our designs, We could not get them into production as nobody wanted to buy that sort of thing. We started off wanting to do furnishing fabric, but it ended up with most of our designs being used for things like men’s shirting.
“We did lovely stuff for Johnson & Johnson and Alkasura, and have done jackets for Rod Stewart and Marc Bolan and people like that. It was at that time that I met Laverne. “Jane wanted to go into graphics and I was left on my own. I wanted to do something worthwhile and design for an end product. I had no control over the things I sold – what they were used for.
“They were usually men’s things and I thought it would be nice to do things for ladies for a change. It also gave me an outlet for my sprayed fabrics, which are hand··sprayed with spray guns, as well as printed. I would much rather do one-off things than produce yards and yards of fabric.
“I can do any print I want, but I do change things for Laverne if it doesn’t fit the pattern of the garment. The kimono I’m wearing (it had a beautiful Egyptian print) was done for my boyfriend, Jeffrey Mitchell. He’s just got a new band called Hollywood, and I guess we’ll be doing things for them. It’s nice to do special things for people. This is specially for Jeffrey, because he’s into Egyptian things and so am I.”
Did she think that art colleges helped one to get jobs in a practical sense?
“No, I don’t think they do. They are good in that they give you some time to be able to learn certain things and be able to experiment. One can’t do that once out of college and into a set-up like ours. College gave me the opportunity to do mad, inflatable things which I wouldn’t be interested in doing now. I’ve got it out of my system. I think students should spend a month a year working for a commercial company and then go back to reassess their thinking.”
Preston. & Saunders will be a fairly expensive label to start with. They have done a range to sell exclusively at Elle shops, and all the garments will be a mixture of tamber beading, hand embroidery and hand-padded flowers in relief on velvet.
Laverne adds: “The more money we earn, the more staff we can employ, and the prices will come down. I don’t want to use factories. All they want to do is shove through an order for 800 garments at a time. “There are masses of women at home who have children and can’t go out to work because of them, and this gives them a chance to do something interesting.
“There is no reason why we can’t do hand embroidery just because we’re living in 1974. I always wear antique clothes and love anything with embroidery or texture. One of the reasons I went into this is because the really beautiful antique clothes are completely out-priced.”
Happy Birthday to my beloved Mr Bolan, who would have been 63 today. Spread the sparkly love around…. This interview is from Honey, November 1970. I love that the interviewer describes Marc and Mickey as “hairy and melodic”.
If the Revolution is anywhere, it’s somewhere between Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove. You walk through scruffy streets filled with big houses filled with bedsitters filled with either enormous black families, or else pale young people in velvet trousers who burn joss sticks and spend their lives trying to get it together; and no doubt when they succeed something’s going to give like it hasn’t given before.
This is where the Underground is, with all its religions, philosophies, prejudices, freedoms, newspapers, organisations and music. And this is where Marc Bolan lives, which is where the Underground is as well.
Marc Bolan is the original founder of Tyrannosaurus Rex, that twosome who warbled their way into the lives of millions when Top Gear first came on the radio. A lot of people switched off immediately and signed up with Tony Brandon or Jimmy Young. But a few people kind of clutched their heads and went ‘Wow!’ and have been seen at the Roundhouse ever since, where they listen to T.Rex singing how they want it sung, and J. Peel saying it how they want it said.
Marc Bolan lives, as has been said, just off Ladbroke Grove. You go up through a house where bits of prams and peeling paintwork set the tone of the place, and then you go into his flat, which is all plain colours with music drifting out of the bedroom and a nice bunch of flowers on the scrubbed wood table, and the smell of incense hanging in the air around the colour television set. There you see Bolan Child sitting at the table in velvet trousers and a little jumper which ties up in the front, and in shoes with straps on them, and he’s really the prettiest little thing you ever did see.
Over a pleasant cup of coffee we got to talking about the past. Before Marc got into music, his main claim to fame was as King of the Mods in Stamford Hill.
“I never liked school very much, so I started getting into clothes when I was about twelve. Clothes were then, I suppose, wisdom and knowledge and getting satisfaction as a human being. In those days all I really cared about was creating a sort of material vision of what I wanted to be like. If I go out and buy clothes now, it’s either because I feel down or because something looks nice. And if I wear that to do something it’ll make me do it better. But it’s not the goal any more, you see. At that point if you designed a new suit or a pair of light green shoes with buckles all over them, it was like you conceived it and saved up for it—which might take you three months—and then you got the shoes, and those shoes were, for three months, the only thing that made you go. Whereas now, it’s just a day, or like I’ve just bought a new guitar which cost me £400, which I’ve always wanted, but it’s a practical thing. I don’t sit there going ‘Wow!’; whereas then, a pair of shoes was like meeting God—it was a very strong buzz.”
Not exactly chain-store sales talk, but he had me more convinced than any sweating little man measuring my inside leg might hope to achieve. He talks a bit like he sings, with his voice going up and down, almost bubbling.
We got on to integrity next, which is one thing these fellows from Notting Hill are very hot on, seemingly unbesmirched by the nasty ploys of money-crazed businessmen.
“When I was fifteen it was very important for me to be in the public eye. Now it’s important only as a means to an end—I write now, and that’s what gives me pleasure. The end product is getting it to the people and having them appreciate it, but not worshipping it, because that’s very boring.
“A lot of kids I speak with are very sheltered—they’ve never had the experiences that I’ve had or that someone else that writes has, just because they’ve had strict parents and they’ve never read anything,can’t afford anything, and they look to you as someone they want to be like. They don’t really know what you are, any more than I know what I’m like. They just see the shell which you create, which perhaps is more real than the real thing—it’s what you want to be like. I’m very truthful as a person really, so I’m like what I appear to be. Whether that’s nice or not I don’t know.
“I try to be the same on stage as I really am. The only way it’s worth being successful is when you’re exactly what people think you are, otherwise you’re not successful, you’re the product of something. Which is only exciting when you are the product, because then you eliminate all the pressures—you are what you appear to be.
“The whole Top Twenty thing must be an incredible pressure. It’s like every time you put out a new single your career’s in the balance. You have 25 hits and one bomber and you’re finished. If you’re an LP seller like me, it’s important that you maintain a momentum of excitement, but it’s not a great pressure. Fortunately we’ve been lucky with that.”
Tyrannosaurus Rex, if you didn’t know it, consists of Marc and new member Mickey Finn, both of whom are hairy and melodic, singing about joy and love rather than street fighting (“I can’t get into Mick Jagger’s head”), and they manage to get very close, if not right into, their audience, because the audience and group are all very much a part of the same thing, and that’s what the talk turned to next.
“Gigs in England are like meeting friends instead of performing, although London is the least exciting place to play of all—we get better receptions in Scotland than we do in London, where it’s always nice but quite reserved ; whereas out of town they really freak. It’s only vibrations. You’re playing the sounds on instruments that men designed two thousand years ago to satisfy their fingers—it’s just pieces of string on wood—and you plug in and you’re doing it for them. No matter how much you enjoy the performance, if the audience don’t, you’re brought down. I believe people should be joyous.
“I think that to probably 75 per cent of the people who listen to us, the things that I’m saying are very new, but it’s only what I’ve read and thought and know about.
“I think people that come across as very humble are just insecure really, and they do believe they’re a bit of a groove but they’re frightened to say it. You’ve got to basically enjoy yourself because that’s all you have to start with—awareness of yourself is an up.”
Time was drawing to a close and Marc’s wife came in wearing a patch over one eye, with a dollar sign on it, covering a scratch recently inflicted by some unhip dog. We chatted a little bit more about how people refuse to accept things, how they question everything and how Marc chose the name of the group as a reminder that there were once animals walking this earth which were so fantastic and beautiful that they made fools of people who didn’t believe in dragons and the like. We listened to T. Rex’s new album A Beard of Stars, where they’ve gone electric and have shown that they can do much more than the gentler sounds of Unicorn and Prophets. (“There are spirits that live in chords and if you do a C to A minor chord, it’s magic—like every rock song is that chord”), And then we closed with some serious discussion.
“I do believe very much in the immortality of the spirit, I believe—I know for me it’s real—in reincarnation. I know this is only a lifetime for me to work out the Karma—it’s a thing I’ve got to do.”
So I went out into Ladbroke Grove knowing that there is a little corner of W. 11 that is forever India and, until I’d waited 20 minutes fo a number 52 bus, I was living on Cloud Nine.
I think the main reason I adore them so much is that they are the perfect example of how pervasive the glam-look became in the early Seventies. As a natural successor to the mod and then the psychedelic dandy (both of which you could use to describe early incarnations of both Marc Bolan and David Bowie), glam rock was as peculiarly popular with men as it was with women. It makes less sense for men than either mod or dandy. Both of those looks were smart and instinctively retro. The kipper ties and paisley prints were flamboyant, but they harked back to the fops and dandies of the past.
Glam, however, was like nothing before it.
I appreciate that most men wouldn’t have been wandering around in full make-up, seven-inch platform boots and silver lamé. But the fact that proper ‘blokes’ like The Sweet would appear on TV and in magazines dressed as such, must have heavily influenced the general street style. Away from the gorgeous young things styling themselves on Marc Bolan, men did wear flares; they wore super tight t-shirts, brighter ‘feminine’ colours and, yes, they did wear moderate platforms.
This period is possibly the last time men would, somewhat paradoxically unselfconsciously, just dress however they liked. Without fear of mockery or being thought effeminate. Every other street style subculture since then has been rigidly regulated and adhered to, and only by those with enough confidence to try. This lot were just having fun.
Watching the latest glut of ‘guitar heroes’ and ‘I’m in a rock band’ type programmes on the BBC lately, even the grimiest, blokiest of rockers were wearing skin tight t-shirts and flared jeans, and is that a hint of a heel I can see there? Can you really imagine that happening now? Please excuse me while I drift into a reverie about men being manly enough to walk around in flares and tight t-shirts….
I don’t even need super-fit, super-lean young specimens of the sex. I find the chunkier, hairier, gruffer ones the most endearing.
Which brings me back to The Sweet.
They weren’t pretty like Bolan. They weren’t weird like Bowie. They weren’t goofy like Slade. They weren’t flamboyantly arty like Roxy Music (although, Eno is another good example of a most unlikely candidate for ostrich feathers and make-up, but he rocked it pretty impressively). They were four blokes who had already tried the psychedelic route, and failed with their version of Slow Motion (a Miss Peelpants favourite when it was done by The Magicians).
It’s a rather sad story, really. They were so desperate for success they allowed themselves to be moulded by the Chinn and Chapman hit factory into strange parodies of Bolan and Bowie*. They had little control over their musical output and, presumably, their appearances. They were even replaced by session musicians on some early tracks, despite being very competent musicians. But they seem to have thrown themselves into the glam style with great enthusiasm and flair, whether or not it was something they would have done to that extent without influence.
When they eventually broke free of the manufacturers, the first self-penned hit was Fox on the Run, they wrote some of the greatest material of their career. But while the make-up was toned down, and the costumes consigned to glam history, they continued to wear tight flared jeans and t-shirts – despite the spread of comfortable living and age starting to show.
I don’t suppose they had enough identity after this point, which is why they weren’t so able to metamorphose into a more serious rock band for the late Seventies. And the New Romantic love for glam rock was far too snooty and serious to take much influence from them. I remember being very sad when Brian Connolly died in 1997. He had been a heavy drinker and the failure of his career post-Sweet just exacerbated this. I’ll definitely visit him when my time machine arrives and I’m doing the rounds of hugging random people from history….
*That said, I love this era. I love the music, the clothes and everything. And I’m sure, in retrospect, they loved it too. It was just unadulterated, lightweight fun.
You cannot keep me seated when Blockbuster is playing. Seriously.
I have a confession to make; I’m afraid I go weak at the knees for guys in stripes. Not any old stripey thing, I hasten to add, but nicely tailored Sixties or Seventies numbers (and a bit of early Eighties stripey shirt action, Duran-style). I’m not sure where it came from, or why it has such a strange effect on me, but I’m not sure I really care. I’m just enjoying the view…..
….In the “those sadly no longer with us category”.
Clark Gable. Not so much for Gone With the Wind services, but for It Happened One Night which is one of my favourite films of all time. The sexual chemistry between Gable and Claudette Colbert is crackling, and it renders him totally irresistable. I was umming and aahhing between Gable and Gregory Peck for the ‘old school’ filmstar Vintage Bloke, but decided Peck (though gorgeous and wonderful in Roman Holiday particularly) was far too clean and smooth looking for my tastes.
Gareth Hunt in The New Avengers. I’ve had a soft spot for poor Gareth Hunt (poor because the man became rhyming slang for something unrepeatable) for years. But seeing him in his youth more recently in The New Avengers. Rowrrrrrrrrr!! He’s a proper blokey bloke, but very sweet with Purdey (the luminous Jo-Lum) and well, it’s inevitable I’d like him isn’t it? He’s so Seventies it hurts!
Marc Bolan. Le sigh. Pretty pretty pretty!! He wore ladies clothes with great aplomb and had the most phenomenal hair. He’s just indescribable, so I’m not going to try…
George Harrison. Seems I chose the right Beatle for my favourite (John Lennon is the only one who has never been my favourite, I think he’s a bit too prickly for me to love him unconditionally). And now he’s sadly left this world, he can’t ruin it all and taint our view of him like Paul and Ringo regularly do. His songs are also my favourite of all Beatles songs, and I think his solo career has been my favourite too. Soulful eyes, beautiful hair and that mystical, serious, quiet persona. If I can still love him after reading Pattie’s autobiography, which is incredible but so sad it can be very hard to read at times, then it must be true love.
Oliver Reed. If I had known Olly in his youth, or at any point quite frankly, I know I couldn’t have put up with him. I’d have probably thumped him one on a regular basis, if he didn’t thump me first, and knowing that he liked his women to have ‘traditional’ values he probably couldn’t have put up with me either. But the man was a walking chunk of sex. If you’ve never quite ‘got’ the Oliver Reed thing, just watch The Assassination Bureau with Diana Rigg. Trust me. I know I still haven’t ever recovered.
If some millionaire wishes to purchase this piece for me, I’d be very grateful!
….I have not disappeared, I am beavering away behind the scenes on some new listings and an almighty blog post about jumpsuits. I kid ye not! I’m also trying not to get lured outside into the newly arrived sunshine too much, for both the sake of my skin and the website!
Word to the wise, the delightful Lulu’s Vintage blog are having a bit of a vote-type thing for the top ten vintage sites. I know I’m only an ‘umble site on this ‘ere interweb thingy, but if any of you who might like Vintage-a-Peel (and if you’re on my blog, I sincerely hope that you do) feel like voting for me, I’d be very chuffed and honoured and all that.
Back soon with goodies galore!! In the meantime, please enjoy this gratuitous Marc Bolan photo….
Super rare piece of Glam Rock memorabilia from the early Seventies. This frankly awesome jacket is externally pretty fabulous with its yellow and purple panels and bright yellow buttons. The silhouette and colour scheme is very reminiscent of Mr Freedom pieces, and its definitely a manufactured piece, but sadly any label it may have had is no longer there.
The real excitement comes from the inside though. The repeat print of Marc Bolan is just so vivid and so fabulous I can’t even put it into words. If you’re a Marc/T-Rex fan – you absolutely need this jacket. It’s a rare piece of early Seventies fashion, and a rare slice of pop history!
Over at eBay (alongside some other incredible goodies, including Miss Mouse, Ossie Clark and Bus Stop!)