Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Dedicated Followers of Fashion: Warren Gold, Lord John of Carnaby Street

Lord John, Carnaby Street in 1967
Very sad to hear that Warren Gold, proprietor and founder of the legendary Lord John shop in Carnaby Street in the 1960s, has passed away. Here's an article and interview we did with Warren Gold for Issue 2 of Up&Atom magazine, originally published in December 2013.

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The codswallop fashions of perverted peacocks!” - so one newspaper christened Carnaby Street in the 1960s.

Far from being ‘codswallop’, Carnaby Steet was revolutionising fashion. The sixties youth - tired of wearing clothes their dads or granddads might have liked - wanted something new, daring, colourful and different, and Carnaby Street did just that.

John Stephen’s His Clothes opened on Carnaby Street in 1957 and more followed. John Stephen had as many as eight shops on Carnaby Street alone, and they were joined by Irvine Seller’s Mates, Tom Salter’s Gear, Henry Moss and Harry Fox’s Lady Jane boutiques, and of course, Warren Gold’s Lord John.

One of the most iconic and enduring symbols of Carnaby Street is the world famous Lord John boutique. In the late Sixties it was painted with a huge psychedelic mural, making it one of the most photographed buildings in London at the time. Up&Atom sent Simon Parr, a 60s fashion enthusiast and sales exec for Gibson London menswear, to catch up with Lord John himself - Warren Gold.

Lord John opened it’s doors for the first time in 1964. Warren Gold and his brother, David had originally began trading on Petticoat Lane, but as Warren explained, the foundations for what became Lord John began long before then. ‘That really goes back many years,’ Warren told us. ‘David and I lived in Stamford hill, North West London. David was studying to be a master tailor which he achieved. My interest was more on the artistic side of the clothing industry and window displays and then I got involved in actually drawing and designing clothing. We complimented each other. My late father, Joseph known as Johnny Gold, was in the mens clothing business as well and I suppose it's in the genes. I knew nothing else.’

The move to Carnaby Street seemed inevitable. Carnaby Street had quickly become the fashion centre of the world. The Gold brothers opened two shops at 27-28 Great Marlborough Street, just off Carnaby Street and what would become the world famous Lord John boutique at 43 Carnaby Street.

Warren recalls it wasn’t an easy start. ‘David and I opened our first shop in Carnaby Street on February the 13th 1964. The rent was £3000 a year. We had to pay a quarters rent up front. We had a bit of money in the family, something like £700, but we didn't have enough to satisfy the landlords. We asked an uncle if he would lend us four or five hundred pounds, but he said, "No, I can't do that because my money is my business.” He was a money lender; a very wealthy man. We managed to overcome that and got the money. As the years went by, this same Uncle, Uncle Len his name was - a lovely man! He wanted to invest in our business when we had about 15 or 16 shops, and being very respectable, from a nice Jewish family, we politely told him to piss off!’

In the sixties, fashion designers became celebrities in their own right for the first time. Warren remembers a taste of this, ‘At times I used to sign customer’s receipts. They said, "Lord John would you please sign this?" and I'd say ‘With pleasure, yes’. They loved it!’
Up&Atom Issue 2, signed by Warren Gold, Lord John of Carnaby Street

Lord John catered for the new ‘mod’ look which was sweeping the nation in the mid sixties. The latest trends were stocked - whatever you might see on Ready Steady Go! that week, you could nip down to Lord John and buy it the next day. The shop was frequented by pop stars, from The Rolling Stones to The Beatles - and perhaps most famously, The Small Faces. ‘All the celebrities or many of them; The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Hermans Hermit, The Kinks, The Small Faces, The Animals and so on and so forth... the list is endless. [They] were customers and friends.’

Don Arden, manager of The Small Faces, paid the group ‘a wage of £20 a week each, along with accounts in clothes shops in Carnaby Street', in particular, Lord John. Warren remembers, ‘The Small Faces, their style, part of their success was giving away clothes. Their main office was in Carnaby Street, at number nine. Their manager was Don Arden. He was the father of Sharon Osbourne. The Small Faces used to come in every day and buy replacement clothes because over night, they'd given away their shirts and trousers to their fans! We loved it! Don Arden wasn't always happy because we were presenting him with the bill every day. Lovely business!’

Standing out from the crowd, and wearing something no one else was, became of paramount importance. The Small Faces promoter and co-manager, Tony Calder recalled, ‘I had a phone call from Lord John saying Ronnie Lane wanted to buy some shirts - all of them. We had a hundred delivered to the office... Ronnie couldn’t have someone else wearing the same shirt as him!’ 

John Lennon's Cape
Warren also counted John Lennon as a friend and customer. He told us a story about what was to be John Lennon’s last order from Lord John. ‘John Lennon ordered this cape [Pictured] which is in the office. Sadly he passed away, suddenly as we all know, and he never actually picked it up. I am planning when I've got a bit of time to donate it to the Victoria and Albert Museum. I’ve often been asked what value financially I'd put to it. I don't know is the answer, but I'd like the museum to have it.’ 

In 1967, the Gold brothers commissioned artists David Vaughan, Douglas Binder and Dudley Edwards to paint the famous psychedelic mural over the Lord John building at 43 Carnaby Street. Warren told us, ‘If you look at the photographs, the mural is ‘Lord John’ lettering. My brother David worked with the artists to create this, very cleverly and very beautifully. Sadly when I was in Carnaby Street a year or two ago the building has been painted yellow, so that's lost, which is very sad.’

By the end of the sixties, the Gold brothers had expanded to eight boutiques. This included a large five floor shop on Oxford Street, London, which came complete with VIP area for celebrities and pop stars to shop in private. There were eighteen franchises in Macy’s stores in America and more shops in continental Europe. During the seventies they expanded to 30 shops. However, the golden age of Carnaby Street itself appeared to be coming to a close. Strangely, the pedestrianisation of the street in 1973 seemed to spell the end for it as the centre of British fashion. As big names moved in, the independent boutiques closed or moved onto other things. 

Warren says, ‘I think that in the seventies there was less interest because there was nothing new. It wasn't until the latter parts, '78 onwards, that some excitement was created and some new talent came into the design studios and created some beautiful clothes.’

Still working in fashion and menswear retail today, the Gold brothers still run the family business. The Lord John shops were sold and became a public company and the Gold Brothers moved on to ‘Goldrange’, one of London’s very first outlet stores in Petticoat Lane, taking the Gold brothers full circle and back to where they’d begun in the early sixties. A radio jingle advertised the business as being in  ‘The Big Red Building in Petticoat Lane’ - and the name stuck.

‘The Big Red Building’ is now located in Golders Green, London, still selling menswear, and with Warren Gold still serving his customers. Warren told us, ‘The Big Red Building in Golders Green Road has been going 20 years as of last month. We sell discount men’s clothing, formal predominantly and carry a huge stock of mens suits in all fittings. We had as of last week over 4,000 garments in stock and can pride ourselves on being able to outfit virtually anyone.’ 
Warren Gold in 2013

Carnaby Street today is as much a tourist attraction as it is a shopping street. Every day visitors from all over the world come to see Carnaby Street, fashion’s most famous street and perhaps to shop in some of the renowned fashion names which are there today. From it’s glory days in the sixties, to the decline in the seventies, Carnaby Street is climbing again. Trendy fashion labels compete for a key location on the street still and in 2012 the Rolling Stones celebrated their 50th anniversary right in the heart of the street with their limited time only pop-up shop. 

Warren told us he still visits too. ‘I go there as often as I can which is usually two or three times a year,’ Warren tells us. ‘I've got eight grandchildren and three of the oldest boys, James, Robbie and Max; they are 14, 16 and 17 years of age; they love it. I often go up and down and drive them mad with some of my stories! I think it's great. It’s really expensive, but what isn't? It's hard to explain to people that didn't experience what I did how electrifying Carnaby Street and Kings Road was. People, retailers, wholesalers, celebrities, members of the public by the thousand, were coming to the street to buy any item, just as long as it had Carnaby Street on it.’


This article was originally published in Up&Atom Magazine, Issue 2, December 2013. 
Article by Lindsey Hagston. Interview conducted by Simon Parr. 
Thanks to Simon Parr & Warren Gold.