Johnny Moke, who has died aged 63, was the London fashion luminary who will be remembered not only as a Mod exemplar and a leading member of the retail scene around Kensington Market and the King’s Road from the Sixties to the Noughties but also as the self-taught creator of elegantly crafted shoes who nurtured fresh design talent.
//Johnny Moke in his King’s Road shop, 2000. Pic: Robert Holmes//
Designer Antony Price recalls the footwear Moke supplied for a 1988 catwalk show. “Johnny produced exquisite black satin shoes with an extremely high heel to go with the architectural dresses I had come up with,” says Price.
“The underside was made out of peach-beige leather, which accentuated the pin-thin heel and made the models – including Yasmin LeBon, Talisa Soto and Naomi Campbell – look stunning.”
Born John Joseph Rowley in Walthamstow, east London, on September 2 1945, Moke developed a precocious interest in style. Interviewed for THE LOOK, he recalled that his dressmaker mother encouraged him in his first shoe purchase at the age of 13: a pair of pearlised crocodile Densons with Cuban heels and gold buckles.
In the early 60s Moke was a member of east London’s select group of clothes-mad modernists which also included Mark Feld (later Marc Bolan) and by 1967 was occupying the tiny work-room/basement of Granny Takes A Trip, selling antique clothes, mainly women’s. With partner Mickey Oram, this business lead to the formation of Rowley & Oram in Kensington Market.
It was around this time that ownership of a series of then-trendy Mini-Mokes inspired the new surname. “Mokey had one car in bright yellow with red bumpers,” says Lloyd Johnson. “We’d all leap in it and drive around being very ‘Swinging London’ for a laugh.”
//Exterior 396 King’s Road, London, 2000. Pic: Robert Holmes//
Fashion developed through personal relationships with pop stars: “I’d design, say, yellow and pink velvet trousers and somebody like Ronnie Wood would see them at The Speakeasy and ask for a pair,” said Moke, who also befriended Jimi Hendrix and made multi-coloured corduroy trousers for the guitarist’s festival appearances.
Moke was the first retailer to stock an outrageous new design from young shoemaker Terry de Havilland – three-tiered patchwork snakeskin platform sandals which proved popular with Bianca Jagger, Anita Pallenberg, Britt Ekland and Angie and David Bowie.
In the early 70s Moke opened the Hollywood Clothes Shop in Fulham. The designs and the interior paid tribute to the golden age of the movies. Cinema seats were installed, moveable fittings portrayed scenes from classic films and the clothes were placed on mannequins of 40s stars. Marc Bolan bought a sailor suit style pair of 30s pyjamas for a performance of Hot Love on Top Of The Pops.
Moke recalled how the most popular line was a bomber jacket with elasticated waists and cuffs in boldly-coloured Prince Of Wales check; one was so favoured by George Harrison that he wore it well into the 90s. The Hollywood Clothes Shop closed in 1972 and Moke opted out of fashion for a few years, travelling the countryside in a caravan and settling on a farm. In the late 70s he returned to the clothes business with Adhoc, which was established in the basement of Kensington Market with his associate Willie Deasey.
In 1979, as the mod revival went into overdrive as a result of the release of The Who’s film Quadrophenia, Moke’s name was introduced to a fresh generation of sartorialists when he collaborated with Richard Barnes on the book Mods!, to which he provided many original items.
//Interior 396 King’s Road London, 2000. Pic: Robert Holmes//
Adhoc was sold on the dissolution of his partnership with Deasy, and survives to this day with an outlet in the former BOY premises at 153 King’s Road. He launched his own outlet, a shoe shop, in 1984 at 396 King’s Road. The crafted footwear drawing on traditional forms soon attracted a faithful international clientele which included Bryan Ferry and Paul Weller.
In 1999 the Johnny Moke label was the subject of three intriguing ad shorts art-directed by Mike Keane and created by agency Broadbent Cheetham Veazey.
Johnny Moke held out longer than most independent boutiques against the invasion of the King’s Road by multiple retailers, chain-coffee shops and mobile phone outlets.
Expressing his disillusionment that fashion “finished with the 20th century” at the hands of globalisation and mass-marketing, Moke reinvented 396 King’s Road with a new label NOWE (an acronym for New/Old/West/East).
He augmented his shoe designs with ethnic clothing created by independent companies from all over the world. Moroccan slippers and Peruvian neck-chokers proved popular as did rails of vintage items such as Burberry raincoats and new lines by young British designers including Kate Sheridan, Alice Temperley and Alison Willoughby.
“The concept is to do anything I want, working with artisans from India to South America,” he told THE LOOK. “It may be fashionable, but it’s not fashion.” Moke finally closed his outlet in 2002 and in recent years his shoes have been available via international licenses, mainly in Asia.
//Two of Moke’s cards for RCA Secrets 2008//
Last year Moke contributed six pieces to the Royal College Of Art’s annual Secrets postcard art project.
Johnny Moke died of a heart attack in Mallorca on April 28.
Interviewed in the Financial Times, Antony says the 80s influence feels right for now.
“There is a touch of old Hollywood and, with a recession dictating that any money spent is spent well, it ticks a lot of boxes,” Antony explains.
“But there are two sides to the 1980s: a trashy, neon look, which appeals to younger generations, and a more grown-up, opulent look, which requires poise to pull off.”
Combining electric tones and sun-washed shades with Antony’s trademark elegant and sharp tailoring, the range of suits, shirts, ties, waistcoats and t-shirts draws on his close working relationship with such era-defining performers as Roxy Music and Duran Duran, as outlined in Chapter 17 of THE LOOK.
“I wanted to capture the lounge lizard/glam look and convey the feel of a long, hot summer,” says Antony, whose debut collaboration with The Look Presents in A/W 08 proved such a success that the new collection is also being stocked in Topman New York.
Double-breasted jackets, pleated trousers, lightweight cotton suits, short-sleeved shirts and cap-sleeved tops summon 40s Hollywood tough-guys such as Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum, while tight sharkskin and taffeta suits in electric green and vivid purple transpose Soul Brother 60s style via Bryan Ferry in the 80s to the present day.
Meanwhile, over at SHOWStudio there is an excellent career resume, including footage from Antony’s extraordinary 80s catwalk shows, a profile and never-before seen sketches, samples and original artwork.
THE LOOK is a rich source of material for the excellent documentary series Men Of Fashion currently on BBC Radio 4 – listen here to Paul Gorman‘s contribution to episode 13 The King’s Road: Granny Takes A Trip…Into Punk.
//Left: Colin Woodhead 1966. Right: John Pearse 2000. Images (c) Woodhead and Pearse//
//Left: John Stephen Carnaby Street 1966. Right: The King and Bernard Lansky, Memphis, 1956. Images (c) Rex + Lansky Bros//
Presenter Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen casts aside his foppish persona (apart from in the publicity shots) and emerges as an informed anchor harnessing the wide range of facts and views packed into the programme with authority.
Find the Men Of Fashion home-page here, where there is an opportunity to listen to other episodes on Teddy Boys, the influence of sport, Hollywood and royalty.
The 20 photographs of Vivienne Westwood taken at 430 King’s Road by art student William English in January 1975 have long been the holy grail of imagery to emanate from the boutique in its incarnation as Sex.
As a selling exhibition of framed prints from the photo-shoot is launched with a private view at London’s Maggs Bros Rare Books, we present a double exclusive: a preview of the show and an in-depth interview with English himself.
The photo-shoot took place at the request of English (who had been a customer at 430 since it housed Paradise Garage five years previously) for the photographic portfolio which formed part of his application for film studies courses at a couple of London colleges.
“Vivienne was friendly and happy to be photographed,” recalls English, who was intrigued by the environment, which included a sculpture of a severed leg left in the store by its creator and made a centrepiece of the interior display.
That day English shot a single roll of film on a Nikon borrowed from his friend, the late David Parkinson.
“After taking a few pictures I asked her to pose like a mannequin, to become stiff and awkward rather than the usual ‘relax and look natural’.”
Apparently it was Westwood’s idea to don the translucent rubber suit which had been hanging nearby; Malcolm McLaren was absent in America applying his energies to relaunching the drug-addled New York Dolls.
In the event the photographs proved a hindrance to English achieving his ambition. “I was turned down by both colleges,” he says. “During the interviews they just blanked the photographs, wouldn’t even discuss them. In retrospect they may have thought I was aiming to get involved in making porn films!”
This isn’t the first time the images have come to light; some have appeared in books and, in 2004, they formed the basis of an exhibition at the Aquarium gallery and a companion limited edition boxed set Venus With Severed Leg.
Curated by Carl Williams, who runs the counterculture section of Maggs’ modern books department, the show which opens today not only captures the non-commercial, almost innocent atmosphere of the exercise, but also provides a flavour of the eerily-lit Sex in all it’s kinky, Peeping Tom glory.
“The shop always had a very distinctive ambience and felt like an art installation rather than a place of business,” says English. “Of course everything was for sale but it felt unique, very much an extension of Malcolm and Vivienne’s personalities.”
Inquiries about Sex Against Fashion should be made to Carl Williams.
To discover more about the photo-session, as well as insights into bubble cars, the Leicester connection and avant-garde film-making, read the full interview with William English below.
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