Exclusive peak inside Peter Grant’s incredible 70s domain

A significant crossover area for rock and pop fashion has long been the expansion into other areas of design, from art, artefacts and antiques to furniture, home-ware and interiors.

The operation of eye-popping boutiques and creation of eye-catching gear has enabled many to make the leap from clothing and apply the same set of aesthetics to objects and collectibles, thus making them fashion items.

//Inside Big Biba: Pic Alwyn Turner//

Tommy Roberts was probably the pioneer. As we’ve seen, his four-floor Kensington shop Mr Freedom was launched in 1970 with specially-commissioned furniture, lighting and other homeware items, two years ahead of Barbara Hulanicki’s ambitious and ultimately disastrous decision to recreate Biba down the road as a huge department store on the former site of Derry & Tom’s, selling everything from bed linen to baked beans.
Big Biba

//Site of Big Biba, Kensington High Street//

By the time Big Biba opened Roberts had moved on to source antiques for the likes of Rod Stewart and Jimmy Page, and later set up the stores Practical Styling in the 80s, retro outlet Tom-Tom in the 90s and today’s Two Columbia Road.

From Acme Attractions/BOY founder Steph Raynor‘s Lifestyle Co in Spitalfields to Lloyd Johnson’s sorely-missed Tiki-themed store in Portobello Road (which also sold lounge records, South Seas artefacts and Spaceman watches), many other individuals in THE LOOK caste their nets wider than fashion – and long before every Tom, Dick or Harriet branched into perfumery, handbags and eye-wear.

//Paul Smith in his first Nottingham store, early 70s. Pic: Paul Smith//

Paul Smith’s first store in Nottingham included an art gallery in the basement named after pioneering graphic design group Pushpin, for example, while his first London store (opened 1979) set the template for his world-beating “lifestyle” formula, retailing all manner of era-defining goods including the Filofax and James Dyson’s G-Force vacuum-cleaners.

Smith has placed his trademark stripe on HP Sauce bottles, Bonneville bikes and bicycles and collaborated with leading architects and interior designers to keep his retail offer fresh; among the stores designed by Sophie Hicks is his “shop within a house” in Notting Hill.

More recently Eley Kishimoto have earned themselves the nickname “the patron saints of print” by effortlessly moving between print design, high fashion, interiors and architecture. Their famous “red flash” print graces clothing, Converse trainers, a Bearbrick and a G-wizz which can be seen buzzing to and from their South London studio.

//Eley Kishimoto’s red flash Bearbrick//

Among the exemplars in this field is Paul Reeves. His labels Sam Pig In Love and Alkasura Wholesale and Fulham Road store The Universal Witness proved a magnet for stars such as The Beatles, The Stones, Hendrix and Led Zeppelin and David Bowie in the late 60s and early 70s.

//From Ideal Home magazine 1976//

Reeves – whose The Best Of British Design auction and exhibition opens at Sotheby’s next week – made his break from fashion retailing in 1973 with a very unusual money-no-object commission; the awesome Led Zep manager Peter Grant invited him to refurbish his new Kensington mews house from top-to-bottom.

//From The Observer magazine 1975//

The job took nearly two years, at a time when the 6ft 5in Grant (who died in 1995) was travelling the world with the biggest-selling rock group of all time.”I told him I’d only do it if he didn’t come near,” Reeves says in THE LOOK. “I involved friends from the Royal College and we did everything from cutlery to textiles.”

Prominent among Reeves’ collaborators was architect and artist Jon Wealleans; when the job was finished the pair were featured in The Observer and Ideal Home magazines, excerpts from which THE LOOK exclusively features today after more than three decades.

The scale of the undertaking is impressive; every detail of every room has been addressed, often to dizzying effect. Wealleans created a plaster-covered spiral staircase and furniture which drew on Ettore Sotsass’ Memphis design collective. One of the tables was supported by cylindrical legs made of Lalique glass.

Both Wealleans and Reeves recall the trepidation they felt when Grant – whose fearsome reputation was backed up by his hulking frame (he was 23 stone by the time he was 23 and had been a wrestler and bouncer in his time) – finally viewed the job.

//Peter Grant on the road with Led Zep 1974. Pic: Bob Gruen//

“I opened the door and it may be a cliché, but he literally blotted out the sun,” laughs Wealleans. Reeves, meanwhile, had prudently put some champagne on ice. “He spent around five minutes looking around, not saying a word,” says Reeves.”Then he pronounced. ‘I gotta say Paul…it’s fucking amazing!’ We got the champagne out and a couple of grams of coke and everything was alright!”

Barbara Chandler said,

August 22, 2008 @ 1:25 pm

wow! I’m the writer of the cutting featured from Ideal Home – 1975 or 76? The type is too small for my now aged eyes. Isn’t the web wonderful,bringing back mags from the dead. This page has been kindly forwarded by Rory of Designers Block. All my cuttings were eaten by squirrels in the loft…love from Barbara (still writing and taking photos…)

rockpopfashion said,

August 25, 2008 @ 10:28 am

Great to hear from you Barbara and glad you liked the piece.

We can probably dig out a scan of the article if you would like it.



Pamela said,

May 10, 2011 @ 9:56 pm

I used to do some work for Acme Attractions on Portobello Road and Kings Road and also when it changed names to Boy.
When I worked there ‘John’ owned it and ‘Peter’ (who previously worked for Levi Strauss) was attempting to re vamp the business side of things…… anyone remember them? (I have forgotten their last names but Peter liked to drive around in a black cab that he purchased). The era of ‘Babylon By Bus’ Album, Bob Marley.

Pamela said,

May 10, 2011 @ 9:57 pm

The year would have been around 1975-76 ‘ish…..

rockpopfashion said,

May 14, 2011 @ 10:51 am

Thanks Pamela – more likely 76. Acme had that space in Portobello that year and the transition into BOY was spring 77.

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