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//
Johnny Moke died of a heart attack in Mallorca on April 28.