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Dressing a Defining Decade

Posted 31.10.19 - Heritage

When Sir Mick Jagger walked through the doors of Turnbull & Asser in March 1968, as the Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein had done before him, the Rolling Stones frontman gave full play to his individuality - and full play to the know-how and vision of a shirtmaker whose sumptuous fabrics, riotous colours and innovative designs made the company one of the 1960s most exciting shopping destinations.

Turnbull & Asser’s 2019 capsule silk shirt collection comprises five exquisite shirts: four made of a sand-washed peace silk, and one of a lightweight printed silk - all inspired by Sir Mick Jagger’s own taste, the insouciant style of a decade he helped define, and the vision of a shirtmaker that created many of the 1960s most unique and directional trends.

Turnbull & Asser patron Sir Mick Jagger in a shirt from his personal collection that inspired Turnbull & Asser’s 2019 capsule silk shirt collection.

In the early 1960s, Turnbull & Asser was still a very traditional shirtmaker. Its shirts - little changed since Edwardian times - were being made for a clientele largely composed of the English aristocracy. Yet, the 1960s youthquake that redefined society at large also shook the hallowed halls of Jermyn St.’s most venerable shirtmaker. It was the enthusiasm and vision of the company’s youngest employees during this period that made Turnbull & Asser one of the 1960s most esteemed sartorial trailblazers, with former WW2 fighter pilot Doug Crowe displaying a ‘riotous millefeuille’ of extravagant fabrics and designs in windows that ‘owed nothing to minimalism’. Whilst Peter Bartindale was designing Turnbull & Asser’s famous oversized velvet bow ties, and Lou Gould re-styling Turnbull & Asser’s ladies clientele, ‘kipper’ tie creator Michael Fish was ordering silks for his constantly broadening ties that, fellow Turnbull & Asser young blood, cutter and Royal Warrant holder Paul Cuss recalled, pained then managing director Robert Clark, but which ‘sold like hot cakes’. Fish’s kaftans, later sold from his own Mayfair boutique to folk rock’s Mama Cass, were initially additions to Turnbull & Asser’s dressing gown department. And in other ways, Turnbull & Asser’s young team was introducing the company to the new spirit of the decade. Within three weeks of his arrival at Turnbull & Asser, the young Michael Fish was dining with one of the Guinness heirs, much to the anxiety of Mr Clark, who felt it wrong for Mr Fish to be ‘fraternising with the customers’. Kenneth Williams, another of the company’s youthful dynamos who would succeed Robert Clark to the post of managing director in less than a decade, recalled ‘being castigated by one of the directors for selling a shirt and tie to a tradesman’. But times had changed. The 1960s was an era when people mixed, regardless of their backgrounds - and the smart shopkeeper knew it.

Actor David Hemmings posing for a Daily Telegraph Magazine menswear feature in a Turnbull & Asser silk turtleneck evening shirt. In the background from left to right: Paul Cuss, Kenneth Williams, Doug Crowe, Peter Bartindale and Ronald Townsend.

‘I don’t care who he is, but he looks great and we’ll publish it.’ So remarked Diana Vreeland of American Vogue when seminal 1960s portrait photographer David Bailey presented her with the first proper portrait of Sir Mick Jagger. Before Rock ‘n’ Roll musicians became the superstars of the 1960s, it was portrait photographers who had the greatest fame. Antony Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon, husband of Princess Margaret, filmmaker and photographer, certainly helped put Turnbull & Asser ‘on the map’ when he was refused entry to New York’s Running Footman club for wearing one of Turnbull & Asser’s new turtleneck silk evening shirts. Within ten days of the incident, the company had taken 2,000 orders for the shirt - including one for matching his and hers from Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Within a year, the company had sold 10,000 of its new silk turtlenecks.

Princess Margaret and her husband Lord Snowdon in a Turnbull & Asser silk turtleneck, 1968.

Of course, the celebrity photographers of the 1960s - David Bailey, Lord Snowdon and Patrick Anson, 5th Earl of Lichfield - would not have attained their stardom without their subjects. Jean Shrimpton, whose looks she herself described as ‘gawky’ placed her alongside Lillie Langtry and Marilyn Monroe in the annals of history, posed for David Bailey and Vogue in Turnbull & Asser blouses and became, Paul Cuss fondly remembers, ‘a lovely customer’. Youthquake icon Twiggy, another of Bailey’s subjects, was a Turnbull & Asser customer whose image - alongside Mary Quant, Bianca Jagger and Diana Rigg - was entrusted to Turnbull & Asser’s expert creativity. When lenses turned to the era’s Rock ‘n’ Roll pantheon, Turnbull & Asser was there - making pyjamas famously worn by John Lennon during his bed-in protest against the Vietnam War with Yoko Ono, and silk shirts that graced Beatles impresario Brian Epstein and Mick Jagger’s macho swagger. Among those 1960s artists represented by their own pictures were Turnbull & Asser-clad Pablo Picasso, a devotee of Turnbull & Asser’s spotted shirts, and pop art luminary Andy Warhol.

Capitalising on European film making’s low costs and rich talent pool, 1960s Hollywood eventually began to embrace and disseminate a more varied spectrum of physical appeal. This diversity was represented among English males by Peter O’Toole - who alongside Richard Burton and Richard Harris formed a Turnbull & Asser-clad ‘triumvirate of hellraising British actors’ - Terence Stamp, for whose role in Modesty Blaise the company introduced trendsetting shirt and tie collections cut from the same cloth, and David Hemmings, a devotee of Turnbull & Asser’s silk turtleneck evening shirts.

Turnbull & Asser’s peace silk is harvested from cocoons discarded by the silkworm after its metamorphosis.

This year’s capsule silk shirt collection honours an era of personal expression and a shirtmaker who gave it manifold masterful definitions. Of the era, one of Chelsea’s King’s Rd.’s own ‘60s tailoring luminaries, John Pearse, remarked: ‘it was really the time of the last salons, where you would sit with friends in beautiful houses, in a beautiful room, simply discoursing and smoking, listening to music. There was an ambience ... No one drank much, maybe a vodka and orange or a scotch and coke; drinks seemed to be sweet then. But certainly no beer, and no jeans...’ The 1960s was an era of stylish informality that defied conformity. Dressing was confident, fun, but above all, individual. Certainly, fashion has not remained in the 1960s, and Turnbull & Asser’s 2019 capsule silk shirt collection is as contemporary as it is retrospective. Yet, after the ‘swinging sixties’, no single fashion would ever again become a universal convention. Now, everybody - like Sir Mick Jagger and the scores of photographers, models and artists that Turnbull & Asser has been dressing since London began to ‘swing’ in the ‘60s - buys clothes to suit them personally. Turnbull & Asser’s 2019 capsule silk shirt collection will not be for everyone - but then it’s not intended to be.

Alain Rowe Writer and Turnbull & Asser store team member

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