Monday, 22 August 2016

Whatever Happened to Stephen Topper & Topper Shoes?

               Whatever Happened to Stephen Topper & Topper Shoes? 

If you were to browse through the men's fashion section of every other issue of Rave magazine from the mid 1960s onwards, I guarantee you would soon notice that the names Stephen Topper & Topper Shoes usually follow one after the other on a fairly regular basis. Much favoured by stylish young men about town, Topper Shoes were without a doubt one of the most happening footwear brands of the era. The clientele list included the British pop hierarchy such as The Rolling Stones, The Small Faces and The Who, as well as visiting international acts like Bob Dylan and Johnny Halliday...and yet, they seem to have 'almost' vanished from history. There is barely a trace of their legacy to be found online apart from the occasional Carnaby Street reference and a couple of interesting threads posted on 1960s/1970s style forums. Although in fairness, they have been name checked in several books and slightly elaborated upon in others through the personal stories of former customers, but there is no definitive account of the brand's heritage or any archival examples available all in one place that I am currently aware of. 

Topper shoes were already well established by the early 1960s, with three branches in London, one located at 68 Queensway in W2. and the others at 34 Coventry Street and 57 Shaftesbury Avenue in W1.  But they really came into their own when 18 year old Steven Topper, the owner's son, took the reins and headed for Carnaby Street. I don't have an exact date but he was definitely trading there by 1965, however, the earliest reference that i've come across in print from my personal magazine collection dates back to the 'London Swings' issue of Rave magazine from April 1966. Topper Shoes located at 45 Carnaby St is included in the poptastic illustrated Raver's Map of London along with a brief description of the shop on the next page.

By the following year they were featured in the Gear Guide a 'Hip-pocket guide to Britain's Swinging Fashion Scene' and while still brief, it gives a more detailed account of how things were progressing.  There were now two Topper Shoe shops on Carnaby Street, they were still at No.45 but also had a branch at No.9. The first one catered for men only, it was open Monday-Saturday 9.00 am-6.o0 pm with late night shopping until 7.00 pm on Thursday and Friday, with the range costing between three pounds to ten Guineas.  The other shop at No.9 had a 'beautifully cool interior in weird purply shades' it kept the same opening hours as the previous one but catered for Girls and Men..I've never seen any examples of their Girls shoes but apparently they had a wide and original range which cost from three pounds to five pounds-fifteen for shoes and from ninety-nine-and-elevenpence to seven pounds-nineteen and six for boots! All of the collections, which perfectly complimented the latest clothing for sale on the street were designed by Stephen Topper himself, and manufactured to a high standard in France and Italy.

According to Tom Salter's book about Carnaby Street there were a total of five Topper shoe shops in 1970,  i'm assuming at this point that he is referring to the original three that I have mentioned plus the last two..but then again, maybe not, perhaps some of the originals had closed and there were more branches in Carnaby Street or at new locations? It also says that the owner was a chap called 'Monty Stewart'...So, was Topper merely a business name rather than the actual family surname? While researching material for this post I came across a photograph of another branch at 146 Markham Street in SW3 (undated) and also a piece of film footage which features a Topper Shoe shop located on the King's Road circa 1977 but unfortunately the trail runs cold after that..Which leads me back to my original question...Whatever happened to Stephen Topper and Topper Shoes?

The Fortunes, suited and booted, outside Toppers at 57 Shaftesbury Avenue, London W.1., 1964. Photograph © Jeremy Fletcher .

                                                        Early 1960s Topper Shoes business card.

                                                 TOPPER SHOES ★ CARNABY STREET
The Raver's Map of London, an illustrated guide to the most happening Boutiques, Discotheques and Restaurants in the Capital as featured in Rave magazine's 72 page London Swings issue of April 1966...and Topper Shoes make the list!  The description of the shop on the following page says that it sells reasonably priced mod designed shoes, and that they always have the latest! Designed by Steve Topper, at prices ranging from £2 10s to £7.

A close-up of the Raver's map, According to this, Topper Shoes located at number 45 Carnaby Street is situated between John Stephen's Tre Camp (No.46) and Ravel (No.44), but in reality it was actually next to Inderwicks the Tobacconist & Pipe Specialist on the left and Ravel on the right. (April 1966).

A rare photograph of the Topper Shoe shop facade at 45 Carnaby Street, you can just about see Ravel, but the door on the left is clearly Inderwicks the tobacconist shop, which intriguingly also seems to be located at number 45 Carnaby St! (perhaps it was an a&b situation?). Photograph © mario de biasi/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images. (1966)

Inderwicks, the Pipe & Tobacco Specialist at 45 Carnaby St, illustrated by Malcolm English for Tom Salter's Carnaby Street book in 1970. The company was founded in 1797 by John Inderwick, the original shop located on Wardour Street was one of the earliest tobacconists in London. They may have seemed out of place in the midst of the Carnaby St pop explosion but stayed put nevertheless, resisting several tempting offers on their lease throughout this period. The pop revolution actually enhanced their business rather threaten it, as curious Carnaby St shoppers spilled off the busy pavement and ventured in to buy their specialist tobacco blends, cigarettes and the long clay Churchwardens, Corncobs and Meerschaum pipes which they had been selling for 170 years. Above Inderwicks was the very first Aristos Boutique, it comprised of two rooms on the first floor, a small shop area in the front and a workroom in the back in which Constantinou Aristos ran up garments for girls. The son of a master tailor, he had graduated from the London College of Fashion in 1965 and with the profits from the fledgling boutique he soon opened up his second shop named Blooshp at 45 Newburgh Street, W1. He was eventually joined in the business by his younger brother Achillea, the two went on to expand the company, later renaming it Ariella in 1971.

Bob Dylan photographed by Barry Feinstein, trying on shoes in Topper's (1966). He was at the end of a world tour at this point in time, playing The Royal Albert Hall twice while in London on May 26th & May 27th, so this was more than likely taken sometime on or around those dates. There seems to be a wall of fame in the background, perhaps made up of other well known celebrity customers, included are 'The Who' on Bob's immediate left, unmistakable in their pop art regalia.

High sand suede boots with leather linings to keep water out. Also in black leather and olive suede. From Steve Topper, Carnaby Street, London, W.1. Price £7 19s. 6d. (November 1966).

Brian Jones with his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg. December 3rd 1966. Brian is wearing a pair of two tone basket weave laced-up shoes by Topper.

          The side and back view detail of Brian's two tone basket weave lace-ups by Topper, December 3rd 1966.        

All of the shoes featured here are by Topper.  Left: Shirt, £5 19s. 6d. Cape and topcoat for spying! Coat, £9 19s. 6d, cape £2. 19s. 6d. Trousers, £3 19s. 6d. All from Take Six, Wardour Street, W.1. Shoes, 69s, 11., from Topper.  Middle: Prime ministerial shirt in purple satin with super puffed sleeves, £2 15s. Black trench coat, £17 17s. 6d. Wool hessian trousers in charcoal, £4 9s. All from Adam W.1, Kingly Street, London, W.1. Shoes, 99s.11d., from Topper. Right: Aristocratic double-breasted suit from John Stephen, price 18 gns, 16s. 6d. Pink seersucker shirt from Paul's boutique, 79s. 11d. Macao canvas and leather shoes, 85s., from Topper. (February 1967).

Ian McLagan of The Small Faces photographed at home for an article in Rave, he's wearing the same style of basket weave laced-up shoe from Topper of Carnaby Street that Brian Jones has on in the previous photos above. (April 1967).

Harris Tweed suit with waisted jacket and turn-ups. It costs 16gns. at Take Six Boutique, Wardour Street, London, W.1.  Also from Take Six is the fabulous skinny sweater in bright green. It's got a purple band on the roll neck collar, and costs 40s. 6d. Completing the outfit are casual shoes from Steve Topper, Carnaby Street, London W.1. They're in red-brown and black leather. Price £5 9s. 6d. (February 1968).

In spite of this issue's slew of teenage worries, there's still just enough space left to promote the new summer range from Topper Shoes, these are from the branch located at No.9, Carnaby Street. Left to Right: Slip-on in hessian, Natural or Ice Blue, 59s. 11d., Cord boots in Camel or Brown, 59s. 11d., Lace-up in Navy or Natural, 49s. 11d., Canvas slip-on in White or Brown, 49s. 11d. All shoes are lightweight and ideal for the beach. (August 1968).

Signage over one the Topper  Shoe shops on Carnaby Street.

Topper Shoes, 45 Carnaby St (just seen on left next to Ravel) still going strong eight years later in October 1973. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images).

A rare colour photo which clearly shows Topper Shoes at No.45 Carnaby Street, taken sometime after the area had been pedestrianised in October 1973. Special thanks to Kosmo Vinyl for the image.

                                           TOPPER SHOES ★ KING'S ROAD

The facade of another Topper shoe shop, which was included in a short news report for Thames Television in 1977 about the 'health concerns' associated with the fashion fad for wearing platform shoes! I'm not sure of the exact address of this branch, I think this is most likely to be the side view of the building rather than the main entrance, but it is definitely located somewhere on the King's Road. The precise number of the shop could be close to 59b, which is just seen on a door above the head of the interviewer for a couple of seconds at one point. I can't quite make out the name above the premises behind the Topper van opposite, but just beyond is a branch of Irvine Sellars' Mates boutique. Several interviews take place throughout the footage, there is one in particular filmed right outside Topper's with a young chap who seems to be fairly knowledgeable about the customer base, I can't help wondering if this is the manager of the shop or perhaps the elusive Steven Topper himself? I've also included a link to some footage of outtakes from the same film at the end of the post which provides excellent examples of popular street footwear and fashion of the time, lots of platform shoes, boots and wedged heels worn with flares, maxis and minis! Although, there is some discrepancy regarding the correct date via Pathé, who have credited it as 1970 this time round rather than 1977. 

Post Update: 17/8/2017 After some further research, I have recently discovered that the side window view of Topper Shoes in the photograph above, is located at 59B Wellington Square, just off the King's road. The shop makes a brief appearance in a Fashion Report about Menswear made for Spanish Television in 1973. I've included a couple of screenshots from it below.

Topper Shoes, Kings Road, 1973. Located on the same side of the road as The Chelsea Drugstore, but at the opposite end of the block, where the corner turns on to Wellington Square.

In the background (right) a better view of the entire side profile of the building in which Topper Shoes was located, on the corner of King's Road and Wellington Square 1973.

     The original location of  Topper Shoes at 59 Wellington Square, off the King's Road, as it looks today in 2017.   

Post Update 31/8/2017: Toppers on the King's Road also makes several appearances in Coffee, Tea, or Me, a Romantic/Comedy Drama from 1973. Starring Karen Valentine, John Davidson, Louise Lasser and Lou Jacobi.

Above right: A Topper shop sign in another scene from Coffee, Tea, or Me (1973). It's from a shopping spree scene which is meant to take place on the King's Rd, although you can't actually see the complete facade, i don't believe it to be the same shop as the one above. There were two branches in the same area and I think this sign could be above the front entrance of the branch on the corner of Markham St & Kings Road Chelsea SW3 on the opposite side of the road. You can see an example of the Markham Street view in the photograph below and  i've also posted the entire film clip further down.

                          Topper Shoes, 146 Markham Street, Chelsea SW3. Photograph courtesy of Sixties City.

      A Topper Shoe shop, next to a Barclays Bank on the Kings Road, in a scene from Coffee, Tea, and Me (1973).

Could this be the elusive Stephen Topper being interviewed in a short news report for Thames Television in 1977 about the 'health concerns' associated with the fashion fad for wearing platform shoes? 

An example of a pair of Lace Up, Leather Ox Blood, Bubble Toe, Crepe Wedges with matching suede side panel - which were available from Topper's in Carnaby Street circa 1972/73, they also came in black with a grey suede side panel. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who is still in possession of a pair of these or who knows the whereabouts of a pair for sale, and also any other information relating to  Stephen Topper & Topper Shoes. Note: Also known as/or referred to as Steven and Steve, throughout various original 1960s magazine articles).

                                                                  IMAGE CREDITS
All images credited in descending order: The Fortunes 1964. Photograph © Jeremy Fletcher courtesy of Carnaby Street The Musical, Topper Shoes business card courtesy of the Mod to Suedehead thread on StyleForum, Raver's Map of London & close-up scanned by Sweet Jane from Rave Magazine April 1966, Topper Shoes facade 45 Carnaby Street © mario de biasi/Mondadori 1966, Inderwicks the Pipe & Tobacco Specialist illustrated by Malcolm English scanned by Sweet Jane from Carnaby Street by Tom Salter 1970, Bob Dylan © Barry Feinstein 1966, Just Dennis/Topper Shoes scanned by Sweet Jane from Rave Magazine November 1966, Brian Jones & Anita Pallenberg December 3rd 1966 Photo courtesy of Bentley Archive/Popperfoto/ and J. Wilds/Keystone/Getty Images, Just Dennis/Topper Shoes scanned by Sweet Jane from Rave Magazine February 1967, Ian McLagan scanned by Sweet Jane from Rave Magazine April 1967, Johnny Rave scanned by Sweet Jane from Rave Magazine February 1968 & August 1968, Topper  Shoe signage screenshot from The History of Carnaby Street archive footage, Topper Shoes, 45 Carnaby St 1973 courtesy of Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images, Topper Shoes 146 Markham Street courtesy of Sixties City, Topper Shoes King's Road screenshots courtesy of Thames Television via British Pathé. Ox Blood Crepe Wedges courtesy of the Mod to Suedehead thread on Styleforum. 

                                                 LINKS & FURTHER READING
Watch 'Eat The Document' a documentary film of Bob Dylan's 1966 tour of the United Kingdom directed by D.A. Pennebaker here. View the aforementioned outtakes from the Thames Television 'Platform Shoes' news report. A review of Sympathy for the Devil - The birth of the Rolling Stones and the death of Brian Jones. You'll find an example of an Inderwicks Shell Bulldog Pipe here. Participate in the Mod to Suedehead thread on Styleforum here. Visit the Sixties City website. A pair of Topper shoes featured in 'The French Cut' article over on Film Noir Buff - Nobody Expects the Sartorial Inquisition. Discover more about the early years of Ariella. Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads? And finally, The Buzzcocks wanna know Whatever Happened to? (well, quite a lot of stuff actually!) here .

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Rags for Riders 1971

Left to Right: American baseball t-shirt, various colourways, from Kleptomania £3.25. American denim jeans, tight n' flared £5.00, from Kleptomania. Yellow and purple woolen two-piece £8.40 from Che Guevara. Detective Luff an Oz Obscenity Trial t-shirt, teamed up with Stirling Cooper canvas trousers, £5.75 from Che Guevara.

                                                             Rags for Riders
Until recently in motorcycling lore, there were only two respectable modes of dress, neither of which had particularly favourable social connotations: The rocker uniform of blue jeans and leather jackets and the ankle length storm coat and baggy rubber oversuits of an earlier generation. Now, as the popularity of biking spreads across a wider social spectrum, such sartorial rigidity is being ignored as more and more riders (and their chicks) opt for jazzier threads that gladden the eye whilst still maintaing reasonable standards of practicality. The firm most responsible for this revolution in motorcycle garb are TT Leathers, who do a healthy mail order business out of Montalbo Road, Barnard Castle, Co. Durham, (they'll happily send you a catalogue). Most of their wide range of designs - some styled on American lines - available in a variety of eleven colours and the suppleness of the leather and the quality of craftsmanship belie their extremely reasonable price. TT also sell through dealers.

TT Leathers recently introduced an oiled cotton trials suit - the Ruffryder - available in red, blue, green and black. Lighter and more flatteringly cut than competitive garments, the Ruffryder adds a welcome dash of colour to the trials scene and a seventy mile motorway dash in driving rain, (August is the monsoon season in England), proved to Bike's editor that they're also damned waterproof! Other firms such as D.Lewis and Rivetts are also waking up to the appeal of flashy riding gear and are including coloured leathers in their ranges. So as it looks as though coloured clobber is here to stay, we've dug out some of the snappier but nevertheless practical outfits from around town and juxtaposed them with examples of the more inspired traditional biking gear.

Left to Right: Green 'Ruffryder' trials suit (jacket £9.95, trousers £6.75). in several colours from TT Leathers. Ex-Firemans' boots, (excellent for trials and scrambles) £2.95 from Lawrence Corner. Soft leather scrambles glovers with protective rubber strips over fingers and knuckles, £2.50 from D. Lewis, 'Wrangler' denim jacket from The Westerner together with wide flare denim jeans from The Emperor of Wyoming. £5.00. 'Honeybunch Kaminsky (jailbait of the month)' an Oz Obscenity Trial t-shirt. £1.50. BSA Victor 250cc trail bike, £309.00 (supplied by Sid Morams of Slough).

Left to Right: 'Bronx' black leather jacket with tons of zips and buckles, £15.75 from D. Lewis (in men's and women's sizes). Heavy pile cotton baseball jacket with quilted lining in several colours, from Paradise Garage. Both ladies are wearing Stirling Cooper canvas trousers from Che Guevara.

Left to Right; Blue denim jacket with brown leather shoulder patches from The Westerner. Yellow jersey jacket, very waisted with wide lapels, £9.95, with matching canvas trousers £5.75, both from Che Guevara. Zipped blue leather racing gloves with chamois leather patches on back to wipe goggles, also in other colours, £3.00 from D.Lewis. Protect 4 helmets in various candy colours, ACU approved for competition use, £5.50 from Stadium.

Outside, Left to Right: Black Stirling Cooper canvas suit with zipper jacket, £19.50 (available in other colours) from Che Guevara. Genuine American overalls in blue denim from Paradise Garage. 

Left to Right: American baseball t-shirt, various colourways, from Kleptomania £3.25. American denim jeans, tight n' flared £5.00, from Kleptomania. Yellow and purple woolen two-piece £8.40 from Che Guevara. Detective Luff an Oz Obscenity Trial t-shirt, teamed up with Stirling Cooper canvas trousers, £5.75 from Che Guevara.

Yellow 'Mach ll' jacket with quilted leather padding on elbows and shoulders, also in others colours, £21.00 from TT Leathers, American denim jeans from Kleptomania, £5.00. Everoak 'Clubmaster MK. ll' low-crown helmet, ACU approved and in various colours, £6.10. Plain black racing gloves, £2.40 from D. Lewis. 750 cc Norton Commando with customised half-fairing, gas tank, racing-style seat rear-set foot-rests and exhaust system supplied by Gus Kuhn (Motors) Ltd.

Left to Right; Secondhand American denim overalls from Paradise Garage. Embroidered cotton shirt (like the country n' western dudes wear), various colours and patterns, from £6.00 at the Emperor of Wyoming. Genuine cowboy boots with hand-stitched patterns down front, various colours, from £13.00 at The Westerner ■ Oz t-shirt, £1.50, Denim flare jeans. £5.00, at Kleptomania. Hessian and leather 'U.S. Mail' shoulder bag from the Westerner, Belts from a selection at Emperor of Wyoming ■ Secondhand American striped boiler suit, with large Esso fabric badge, from a selection at Paradise Garage. Cowboy boots with hand stitching and applique, from The Westerner. (Similar boots are also available at the Emperor of Wyoming from £12.00).

                                                         IMAGE CREDIT & LINKS
All images scanned for the Sweet Jane blog from Bike Issue No. 2 Autumn 1971 with thanks to Brad Jones, Editor Mark Williams, Photographer & models uncredited, but the guy on the chopper is Mickey Solomon and Mark Williams is on the BSA Victor 250cc trail bike.  View one of my previous posts about Biker Fashion here, You'll find examples of other gear from Kleptomania herehere, Discover more about the late great Billy Murphy ''Founder of The Emperor of Wyoming, a Chelsea emporium which sparked a vogue for vintage Americana'' here and also here, the shop was named The Emperor of Wyoming after the opening track on Neil Young’s 1968 debut solo LP, my personal favourite from it here, View rare photographs of Paradise Garage 430 King's Road as it looked in 1971 via Paul Gorman here & it's 70s Workwear Revolution here plus the story behind the shop created by Trevor Myles over on The Wonder Workshop website here, The ‘Schoolkids’ Oz, Mucky Books, and the Downfall of the ‘Dirty Squad’' here, 'I was an Oz Schoolkid'' a personal account about the creation of the infamous Oz issue No.28, by Charles Shaar Murray here, And finally,view documentary footage about the Oz Obscenity Trial Part one  & two.

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