When it comes to music, I’ve waved the U.K. Rock Team flag my entire life. Okay, I realize those skinny boys stole a lot of riffs and rhythms from their American R&B heroes of the ’50s. But there was something about their electric British sound and haughty, mod style that turned me into a Union Jack junkie from my earliest Beatle-loving days. So, in honor of London hosting the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, here is Part One of my series on British rock medal winners: The 1960s Style Icon Competition.
From Carnaby Street to The King’s Road (once described as “a wilderness of stoned harlequins,” by antiques dealer Christopher Gibbs), swinging London was the center of the universe for hip ’60s culture. As The Kinks succinctly summed it up: “Everywhere the Carnabetian Army marches on, each one a dedicated follower of fashion.” Boutiques with names like Granny Takes a Trip and I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet were the hot spots for U.K. rock royalty. The Beatles added to the scene when they opened The Apple Boutique, described by Paul McCartney as “a beautiful place where beautiful people can buy beautiful things.” Glad-rags galore! Given the enormous influence of English musicians and designers on popular culture, I hereby present my awards for 1960s British sartorial splendor.
Gold Medal Winner: Brian Jones, founding member of the Rolling Stones, was a talented, versatile artist and the ultimate ’60s fashion plate. The tie-dyed American hippies didn’t know what hit them when Lord Brian descended from the heavens to attend the 1967 Monterey Pop festival. “Brian, in mind-shattering gold lamé coat festooned with beads, crystals and lace, was the unofficial king of the festival,” reported New Musical Express magazine. In his book Stone Alone, bandmate Bill Wyman lists the items purchased during a typical Brian Jones shopping spree: a mandarin coat, a pink fringed coat, pink velvet cape, a flannel-and-lace jacket, embroidered and velvet jackets, two velvet scarves, four pairs of trousers, two kimonos and two scarves, two strings of bells, a blouse and a pink beaded belt. Alas, the fragile Jones, a father of five, died in a swimming pool at age 27 a few weeks after his Stone-mates booted him from the band in 1969.
Silver Medal Winner: Rod Stewart has donned many a flashy fashion: leopard print suits, gauzy jumpsuits, tartan scarves and caps, and blood clot-inducing disco pants. But he was at his style peak in 1965, when he sang with Steampacket and Long John Baldry’s Hoochie Coochie Men. With his back-combed, perfectly coiffed hair, high-heeled boots, checked pants and leather back-belted coats, he was the darling of the London club scene. Even the generally staid BBC took notice, featuring the 20-year-old in a 1965 TV documentary titled “Rod the Mod.” Members of many bands – The Kinks, The Who, The Small Faces – styled themselves as Mods, but Rod topped them all. “I’ve always been very flashy.” Rod once said. “Even when I was at school I had to be the best dressed.” And for a few brief years in the mid-60s, he was just that. At age 67, he still dazzles audiences with his tousled locks and coats of many colors.
Bronze Medal Winner: Ringo Starr was a hep-cat long before he became a Beatle. As the drummer for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, he stood out from other early British Elvis wanna-bes with his beatnik beard, string-ties and heavily ringed fingers. All the Beatles looked boss in their psychedelic, India-inspired styles (with Paul being the least adventurous), but Ringo always looked the most effortlessly sharp. He was hip without being flamboyant. He had an excellent sense of color and chose tasteful outfits that perfectly suited his 5’6″ frame. His clothing, like his drumming, was understated, yet striking. Just take a look at the “Abbey Road” album cover. Need I say more? He’s still fit and trim at age 72, and remains one of the classiest Brits in the rock business.
And while we’re on the subject of 1960s British style, I have to deliver a big thank you to Welsh designer Mary Quant, who enabled all of us female rock fans to look every bit as as fab as our male music icons. The lovely Ms. Quant virtually invented the London look that took the world by storm. She summarized the style of the ’60s as “arrogant, aggressive and sexy.” And even if we never saw Her Majesty wearing one of Mary’s trademark mini-skirts, it’s good to know the Royals appreciated her talent. In 1966 they awarded her the Order of the British Empire for her “outstanding contribution to the fashion industry.” The U.K. rocks!
Feel free to vote for your own favorite ’60s scene-stealer in the comment box below. Click here to read part two of the British Olympic Style Competition – The ’70s.
Here is a montage of photos showing Brian Jones in all his glory, cut to David Bowie’s “Fashion.”
By Dana Spiardi, August 5, 2012
Photo of Ringo in the blue suit: by Tom Murray