Boutique explores the boutique phenomenon of the 1960s and 70s, with an emphasis on the boutiques of London. It’s a book I’d been meaning to buy for a while now, so I was pretty delighted when Mod Betty of Retro Roadmap emailed saying she’d found a copy and did I want it. Well, yes, I’d be happy to take it off MB’s hands.
Most people who know a bit of fashion history know the big names of the London boutique movement: Mary Quant, Biba, Ossie Clark. What makes a book like Boutique valuable is that it also fills us in on some lesser known people who played a big role in the movement – people like Gerald McCann, Bernard Neville, and Georgina Linhart.
Boutique starts the story where most historians start this tale – with Mary Quant. Quant is so associated with the look of the mid 1960s that one tends to forget that she and partners Alexander Plunket Greene and Archie McNair opened Bazaar, their King’s Road boutique, in 1955. The above photo shows a Bazaar shop window, from the late 1950s or early 1960s. Unfortunately, and this is a real weakness of the book, so many of the photos are not dated. But it does clearly show that the Mod look did not spring forth with the birth of Quant’s design career.
Fogg even addresses the age-old question: Who invented the mini-skirt, Quant or Courreges? According to her it was neither. It was John Bates who designed as Jean Varon and who was responsible for the look of Mrs. Peel in the 1960s television series, The Avengers.
But there is no denying Quant’s influence on the fashions of the 1960s. Because of her success many other young designers, like Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin were inspired to “do their own thing” in fashion. Fashion for the young, by the young, was here to stay.
By 1967 Mod was mainstream, and so the fashionable London set was off to the next thing. A softer, more androgynous look began appearing – a look that began to reference historical dress.
This photo is of The Fool, a group of hippie designers from Holland, who were somehow put in charge of the Beatles’ Apple Boutique in 1967. You can see the historical references and the beginnings of psychedelic design. In the book, Fogg mistakenly refers to the boutique as The Fool.
And that leads me to something that has to be said; this book was in need of a good editor, one that knew the subject and could help fact check. It wasn’t until I was over half way through the book, in a chapter about Youthquake in the US that I began noticing problems. I’m not sure if that is where the problems begin, or if it is just that I’m so much more familiar with the history of American fashion.
In talking about J.C. Penney, she referred to him as making decisions about developing a more modern image in 1963, when in fact at that time he was 88 years old and was merely an honorary member of the board of directors of the company that bore his name. Then she explained that the Puritan Fashion Corporation was not, in fact in the fashion business, but was a maker of overalls. But Puritan was a fashion company which had been making dresses since 1909, and was known for its low cost adaptations of European couture. The New York store, Henri Bendel was misspelled as Bendell two times in the text. I could go on, but you get the picture.
And it is a real shame, because these types of small errors cast doubt on the entire text. I’m assuming that Fogg, being British, is more familiar with the London part of the story, but unless one actually knows that story, how are you to know whether or not the inaccuracies extend to that part of the book? I’ve learned that “facts” on the internet ought to always be double-checked, and this is a good reminder that books have errors as well.
I guess this is why I’ve been so reluctant to write a book. Here on the blog I can make an error, get pretty swift feedback and correction, and it’s no big deal. But somehow a book is so permanent, and unless there are additional editions, errors go uncorrected. And often books have honest mistakes which subsequent research reveals. These types of errors are simply unavoidable.
Just one more, and then I’ll cut Fogg some slack. She refers to this skirt by Yves Saint Laurent as a maxi skirt. Actually, I’d call this a midi.
But even with all the little problems, this is a good book to have, especially if you are really interested in the clothes of the 1960s and the early 70s. There are lots of photos that I’ve never before seen, not even on the internet. And as the icing, there are several pages of designer sketches that are just marvelous.
From Celia Birtwell
From Bob Manning
I’d be interested to hear what British readers think of this book. Have you noticed little errors in the text in reference to the UK boutique scene, or does Fogg get it right?