Glam

  • The Look Has Got It Down: The Post Hippe Stylngs of Fashion Labels: Swanky Modes & City Lights

          

    Styled by the influential Caroline Baker and shot by Helmut Newton, the sassy, sexy spread underlines both labels’ disavowal of the prevailing post-hippie mood in favour of retro/kitsch designs and use of synthetic materials.

    Swanky Modes was set up in 1972 by Willie Walters, latterly Central Saint Martins fashion course director, and her sister Mel, wife of pop producer Clive Langer, who also both lived above the premises in Camden Town.

    Co-owner Judy Dewsbery was a major design force at the company, while other designers included Racheal Fleming and Sue Foulston, who went on to collaborate with Jasper Conran when he launched his fashion career from the notorious house in Regents Park which provided shelter for members of The Clash and their designer Alex Michon.

    For the first few years Swanky designs were available via mail order and from outlets such as Kensington shops Che Guevara.

    Then, in the mid-70s as their vision rode the zeitgeist, the retail outlet opened on the ground floor of 201 Royal College Street, which was shared for a while with Jane Norris’ long-forgotten label Ace Notions.

    The address became one of the hubs for like-minded trendsetters; Malcolm McLaren’s friend Fred Vermorel recalls the first time he met the Sex Pistols was at a party above Swanky Modes (the label’s designers had appeared at a London fashion forum at the ICA along with McLaren, Vivienne Westwood, Miss Mouse and Howie a couple of years previously).

    Such was it’s drawing power, that, in 1980, the label was the subject of a BBC2 Arena documentary about the launch of a new collection.In 1993, however, Swanky Modes finally shut up shop. Still, up until the early Noughties, there was a single display mannequin bearing a glam dress in the bow window, through which passers-by could gaze into the vacated premises (subsequently annexed by the expansion of the pub next door).

    The saucily playful and fetishistic Swanky ethic appealed to many a siren, from Bette Bright of Langer’s 70s glam/cabaret group Deaf School (she also lived above the shop with her other half, Suggs of Madness) to Siouxsie Sue.

    In his punk memoir, Bromley Contingent member Bertie “Berlin” Marshall clearly recalls Siouxsie wearing a Swanky Fifties-style polka dot “Betty Boop” dress on their first visit to legendary Poland Street hangout Louise’s.

      

    City Lights Studio was an equally pioneering proposition - as detailed in Chapter 16 of  THE LOOK, following the closure of Mr Freedom owner Tommy Roberts scored a fashion first by opening his new store in Covent Garden, then a flourishing fruit and flower market.

    City Lights was established in a disused banana warehouse at 54 Shorts Gardens a full half-a-decade ahead of the pack of media and fashion businesses which began to flood into the area following the shift of the market south of the river to Vauxhall in the late 70s.

    Roberts also veered away from the pop-art themes of his previous outlet and created a muted feel with dim lighting, dark colours, hard surfaces and thick chains. The floor was polished black and sprinkled with gold. Bones and skulls were displayed in a medicine cabinet and the gloomy strains of Schoenberg filled the air.

    “It was all so heavy nobody understood it!” cackles Roberts, who commissioned clear plastic sandals so that the wearer appeared to be walking on air.

      

    Belts were supplied by Claude Montana and a pair of City Lights glittering Boston creepers - possibly designed by Mackay’s friend and regular Roberts collaborator Pamla Motown - were worn by Andy Mackay on the inner sleeve of Roxy Music’s 1973 album For Your Pleasure.

    Although City Lights only lasted a couple of years it had a significant impact on the first wave of Japanese designers then making their mark in the west, while the most enduring design was the box-jacketed suit worn by David Bowie on the back cover of 1973’s Pin-Ups and the front cover of the following year’s’s David Live.

    “Bowie just wore it and wore it,” says Tommy.”We had to have that suit copied in his size about 50 times he loved it so much.”

    Everything sourced from THE LOOK

    Categories: Fashion, Menswear, punk, Glam