Next Saturday, 29th March, I'll be taking a trip to James Long's sample sale 'pop up' over at The Hackney Shop, 99 Morning Lane to take up residence for an afternoon as a shop girl so come and see me for a gossip. James is known for his fabulous menswear, knits and womenswear and I've been a fan since I saw his shows at Fashion East a few years ago. Anyway it got me thinking about my previous illustrious days on the shop floor...
My first ever shop assistant role was in 1978 at PX in James Street, Covent Garden with Steve Strange and deejay Jay Strongman. It was a part time job, we opened around 11am in and finished around 7pm. The shop initially was off Floral Street in a defunct fruit and veg shop as Covent Garden market, then boarded up was being renovated into the shopping centre we see today. The area was bleak in those days but PX became known as the home of the new romantic era. Designer Helen Robinson took the task of creating a neo-futuristic look worn by the dandy's of the day, press studded shirts and 'peg' trousers complete with piping were mixed with retro items such as German storm trooper leather trench coats, vests, and various vintage accessories such as medals, caps and diamonté broaches sourced by her partner Stefane Raynor who had by then moved on from BOY to create the lo-tech shop. Our playlist included Kraftwerk, Bowie, Iggy Pop and Grace Jones. I would go to work caked in makeup, beehive, cinched in waist and on blues (speed) and we'd basically sit around all day smoking, catching up with the gossip and rearranging stock.
Michael Jackson came in one day but most of the time we were visited by friends, although people would travel to London to see what it was all about. Marc Almond told me a funny story recently that I was totally unaware of, about how he came down from Leeds and visited with a friend. They went shopping in the area and spent all their money at Paul Howie's on Longacre. By the time they got to PX they were too frightened to come in as they thought they should buy something but they still wanted to visit the shop. I was in that day Marc told me, but as we didn't know each other then he just peaked round the shutter to have a look! I wish they had come in, I've always been a huge fan of Marc's and had heard of him even then.
I still worked at PX when they eventually moved to Endell Street, the look had changed, ruffles, taffeta and velvet were the order of the day. With the help of designer Claire Thom we introduced a women's line of bespoke creations and Stephen Jones set up his first millinery salon in the basement.
Outside the PX Endell Street store courtesy of Shapers Of The 80's / photo Martin Brading
In the late 80's and into the 90's my next shop job was at World, Michael and Gerlinde Costiff's shop in around 1986/7 where I took a part time job once again. The shop on Litchfield Street, WC2 near Cambridge Circus represented an eclectic life of travel. Michael and Gerlinde took a fascinating journey collecting African beaded dolls and accessories, Brazilian headdresses and Asian artifacts. Mixing it all up with flashy NYC 14th Street gold jewelry (think Neneh Cherry in Buffalo Stance or Man Child, she and Judy Blame came by to stock up for said video's), fake designer track suits, bum-bags, Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf T-shirts and the designers in London such as Rachal Auburn, Michael Kostiff's own logoed 'World' designed T-shirts, plus the club T's of the late 80's... Schoom, Spectrum etc.
Pages of Michael Costiff's recent book Michael & Gerlinde's World' courtesy of Charlie Porter.net
I worked there with deejay Martin Confusion and model and muse and singer Roy Brown (aka Roy Inc) once again our time was taken up with gossip and folding t-shirts. We'd have mix tapes in those days, usually soundtracks created by Martin himself. From the shop came the club Kinky Gerlinky which monthly night started at Legends on Old Burlington Street and later moved to The Empire, Leicester Square. Of course we all deejayed there as well with Roy on the door in an outrageous get up prized nipples exposed along with Tasty Tim, also trés beyond. The shop closed in the early 90's. Michael Costiff still has a shop, you can find World Archive in Dover Street Market nowadays where Michael mixes his ornate finds with his own designs and screen prints.
My own career in deejaying took off by the 90's and I haven't thought of being a shop girl since really, mind you if I did it would have to be a very special shop, the sort that opened around midday and sold an interesting mix of clothes and nicknacks... (& have a sneaky fag in) perhaps I should take it up again and open my own!
James Long website