Thursday, 29 December 2011

Season of Bounty, Thanks and Chic

We received an email late on Christmas night from a lady who had us make her hubbie a jacket and this is how it ran:
"It's a TRIUMPH! Wilf has never looked 'sharper', chic'er, thrilled to bits! Thank you both so so much for a superb job,
Very best wishes from us both for a flourishing 2012."

Truth to tell, I can't think of a more satisfying present we could have had.

Which is saying something considering the week previously the posty brought a charmingly exuberant card from Joanna Lumley, our local lovely. We had invited her to our Mulled Party knowing she would be unable to attend as the curtain had lately risen on her current theatrical project, "A Lion in Winter". But we wanted her to know she was included in spirit and then Ali, Age of Reason silk scarf impressaria, suggested we gift our glamourous  neighbour one of her Russian Doll creations. La Lumley was, she wrote the next day, "thrilled to bits" with "such an unexpected and glorious early Christmas present - you are very kind and very talented". Mr Wesley sleeps with this under his pillow now.

And thanks are due from us to all the hardy souls who braved the foul tempest the night of the Mulled Party at Bedlam - all the stalwart friends who support with their custom and the customers who have rewarded us with their friendship. It warms our hearts as well as the wine.

Godders testing the Mulled Wine in the tureen kindly leant by Henri's Café round the corner

David Colton, one of our exhibited artists and the genius who found at Lidl the ropes of lights that now adorn our sign  

The party saw the debut of Karen Morrison's jewellery at the store. While we were working out its display in the afternoon, Karen was looking at  Jenifer Corker's silver work. Jenifer has recently returned to her craft after an extended break and we are very proud to be stocking her. Karen realised that as a student of silver smithery she had swept up in Jenifer's studio, and now their work is side by side in Bedlam.

Karen Morrison whose jewellery we now stock with Kate the German nanny (wearing one of Maria PK's hats)

A selection of Karen's work:

See more on the fab website that clever Karen created herself:

Maria PK had been in the day before and arranged her and Brix's hats to lovely advantage:

Karen's other half Phil used to be in the music game same time as I. Indeed yours truly signed one of his bands to Partisan Records, and all these years later we're still on talking terms! Here he is modelling the Mr Fox overcoat with its optional collar:

Other old friends from the hood included Baron von Beck, pictured here next to Ricky, the gentleman who made our summer by approaching us at the London Zoo party to ask if we were not indeed Earl of Bedlam?! Together they demonstrate that EoB can outfit any shape or size -

At that moment, Santa's sleigh crossed the sky
Helen, one of our best customers, next to Anne Barclay - whose Snow Queen skirt suit starred in our Christmas window, oneself looking all oooh Betty and Deirdre Strath Clyde who was only in my class at RADA. She bought a Homberg for hubbie James, another of our class mates, currently playing Claudius to Michael Sheen's Hamlet at the Young Vic

Max Dursely Davies whose executioner masks and t-shirts we stock (he's wearing one of his) in between his friends who were game enough to come along. The lady bought one of Jenifer's "In Memoria Futuri" dog collar belts
The following Saturday lunchtime, another old music biz pal Angela Penhaligon, the l'il gal from Kansas, brought her band  - inc. washboard - Piney Girl along to play on Bedlam's platform. They had done a live spot on Resonance FM up the road in Borough, where the DJ Alberto Umbridge greeted them in one of our suits.

Piney Girl provided musical cheer the Saturday before Christmas

They had the cutest mini-amp
So with the decorations up we had the last few clients to dress their best for Christmas. William (below) proclaimed himself so delighted that he would be back for another suit in the New Year:

Next up was Eugene who used to "mind" Johnny Rotten but now babysits his new grand-daughter Treasure. I embroidered a babygrow for her and he was kind enough to be tickled with the result. It took me a long time, I was beginning to worry she'd be graduating before it was done (I also decided to line it with silk) but "where else but Bedlam can you get the Bayeux Tapestry for twenty quid?!" as Eugene bellowed.

Now Mark's made him something grown up size, a tweed jacket with leather trimmed pockets:

And to conclude in the vein of perfectly matched gift to recipient, we bowled over to a West London Hotel to see my dear friend Nile Rodgers - He flew in from Germany where he is on tour with Seal to do more BBC telly to promote his marvellous memoir "Le Freak" such as I have mentioned on this forum before. He was brave enough to entrust us with the merch for his UK Chic shows, and we used the photo from the dust jacket. Mark used a half tone technique - "Nile on the half tone and roller skates, rollers skates!" Good Times indeed.

Leon in our screen print room preparing the screen

Horton Jupiter, DJ, happy fan and first person to buy the Chic shirt!
We explained to Nile it was an old skool punk rock style run of tees, with the odd splodge and splat making them MORE covetable, a bit like the way you pay more for a potato with nodules these organic days. So as a token of gratitude for giving us the gig we inducted him into the Bedlam Motorcycle Club - but he's going to have to practice a bit harder before we let him join the band, Earl & the Bedlamites (OK, OK, he can sit in, calm down). A-ha, check this out for Seeing Double Delight:
(I've had the comfortable pleasure of staying in the Madonna Room).

Whoa! Getting the double down low on freaky Chic

So from our opening message of "never looked sharper or chic'er" to Mr Chic himself, we have dressed them all and had a ball. In case Nile forgets his dance steps we gave him a vintage copy (think it's safe to say it is out of print) of a disco manual, which he got to cribbing straight away in time for his breakfast TV interview:

And with a few days to go before they go back in the attic, here's a bunch of Bedlam baubles from us with all our best xoxox

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Reclaim the economy! Shop local with us this Thursday

I meant to exhort those of you kind enough to read the blog to vote for Bedlam in the Daily Telegraph's poll of "Best Independent Shops in Britain" but voting closed at midnight last night. We moved house last week and are without domestic internet for another ten days, and you may recall my Blackberry was stolen a month or so back. At the shop we have a fragile hop-on Openzone internet. All of which combined to make "keeping up" with the blog even harder than normal. It was Megan, for whom we made a Barclays Bank boardroom appropriate dress and jacket, who Tweeted the first campaigning on our behalf. I noted it with a degree of pleasure not unduly hectic. But then something switched in my brain and turned all X-Factor competitive. Our hustings was Facebook, where most of Bedlam's activity is recorded. If you dally on that forum, our page is here:

Still, we garnered a little clump of local endorsement - if exit polls are to be believed (check your favourite political stats on ) One of my old school / band mates, Jeremy Deller, (together we changed the course of music in the "Avant Gardners"), when pressed on his vote confessed to having been stumped by the online form. "How did he ever win a Nobel prize if he couldn't manage that?!" queried Mr Wesley incredulous. Well that would be because he won a Turner Prize for which literacy is not required. I noted with some incredulity myself recently that on the Haywood Gallery's forthcoming schedule is young Deller's "Mid-Career Retrospective". MID-CAREER?! Who's half way through already??!! Feels like we just got started.

But for those who did manage, on Thursday night we shall stay open until 10pm in gratitude of the support and to warm our community's cockles with mulled wine (and in the hope that sufficiently fuzzy people might do a little seasonal shopping). As one of my friends in LA, and a fellow independent store owner (the boutique ME and Blue in Venice Beach, CA), posted recently, if you really want to occupy Wall Street and unseat the bankers (not wishing to lose Megan her job of course), shop local and pay cash! We are still on the hunt for some sort of electric samovar to keep the wine warm, not having a kitchen at the shop. If you have such a thing spare and handy please do alert us via the normal channels. What has arrived, the day after ordering no less, is a box of joy from the best supplier of stylishly antique adornments, Cox & Cox, full of traditional games, decorations and masks. Mr Wesley tried them all on and we agreed it was just plain creepy when he fixed Audrey Hepburn to his face. He was ecstatic with Ziggy Stardust and the illusion of high hair  (if you want to know what to buy him for Christmas, you wouldn't go far wrong with a toupée). Charlie Chaplin was the perfect fit with bowler hat and bushy brows.

"Cheap red wine from us will be cunningly disguised with spices and genuinely delicious panettone is to be generously provided by Mimi's Deli"

I voted myself in the Daily Telegraph poll and having nominated Earl of Bedlam in the menswear, babies and ladies categories that left a couple free for other local businesses:

Kennington Book Shop on the Kennington Road (for books); the redoubtable Blissetts hardware store on the Brixton Road (in the "Interiors" category); Marianna who works in the basement of the chiropodist on the Kennington Road (next to the book shop) for best Beauty / Salon treatment - her massage is the best I have had ever anywhere in the world; and Mimi's Deli on the corner of the Brixton / Prima Roads, across from the churchyard where the Saturday Farmers' Market is held. Mimi is going to provide some of her world class panettone on Thursday! Strangely I can't remember who I put as best wine supplier - of all things you'd think I'd recall, but it's just a blur, as I fear is our invitation above, but maybe it will sharpen up when I post in a moment. Oh! I remember, I nominated Gerry's on Old Compton Street for liquor - they are about the only place in London where you can find Mr Wesley's favourite Provencal pastis, Henri Bardouin. My first port of call was Fortnum & Mason's and what a fine and generous establishment that is to be sure, for the gentleman server called up Gerry's to ascertain they had it in stock to ensure I would not walk further in vain. That's the kinda service I'm talkin' about. We shall strive to emulate.

Hope to see you Thursday!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Heroes, local and from outer space, and the odd doorstep villain

One hesitates to make proclamations regarding turning corners but it seems less of a come-on to Fate's contrary caprice than would be announcing an "unstoppable upward trajectory". When a local family came in back over the summer, the husband admired the poacher's jacket and said that come Autumn he might be in the mood / market for that. So not long after our Fashion Week presentation at Mansion House, I went through our visitors book, extracted the telephone number his daughter had written there and cold called. Trying to sound like a seasoned boutique owner ringing her best client to announce something quite perfect and only for them has arrived in store, I found myself reminding Tristan just who I was, from what shop, where, and mumble-fumbling about new pieces we had made that he might like, extremely sorry to disturb, thank you, bye.

In the meantime, we continued to have support from other local quarters, in the form of day to day encouragement and commissions such as this delicious chocolate birds eye tweed suit below that we made in record time for Mr Ian Taylor to wear to the Frankfurt Book Fair. He was representing his own publishing company - Ian Taylor Associates - and reading between the lines, it seemed he wanted to be empowered in a subtle and distinguished way. He confessed it was some years since he had invested in new duds and was nervous lest we try and push him down some trendy route that he was tensed not to tread. We reassured him that it was our duty to serve his requirements, not foist our own fancies upon him and little by little he relaxed into the process until we reached the rewarding moment when he proclaimed he had throroughly enjoyed the evolution of his new toggery. He returned from Frankfurt with a folder full of deals which we shan't presume to assign to our suit but will say that feeling your tip top best is the ideal way to enter into negotiations. Here he is (below) having worn it to Chelsea Football Club, where he was seated in Mr Abramovich's box no less, an invitation that has Mr Wesley's arms crossed in defence, he being a lifelong Gunner. The following week Mrs Taylor came in to order something to wear to her sport of choice - the ballet.

Along from the Borough, a neighbouring quartier of currently hip credentials, next came Vincent, DJ at Resonance 104.4 FM
A radio station of unimpeachable musical integrity, Vincent is their expert broadcaster and journalist on Congolese music. Have a read of this to get a handle on just what a cool cat he is:
He came primarily to introduce us to the sterling talents of Jenifer Corker, his long time friend who is relaunching her silversmithing. Without hesitation we agreed to stock her jewellry some of which Vincent is displaying below. Straight away I invested in a piece for myself, a silver band engraved with a motto of inspiring forward thinking and optimism: "In Memoria Futuri" - in memory of the future. Her work has serious attitude tempered with finesse.

Vincent of Resonance FM displaying the work of silversmith Jenifer Corker, who looks on

While we were also admiring the pedigree belts Jenifer makes from stamped dog collars, previously stocked in Harrods, (pictures to follow), Vincent slipped into the Ginger Chutney suit that has been waiting patiently for its Raja to come. It fitted like a crystal slipper and he next chose the lining to seal the fit. Two weeks later he returned to collect it:

Jenifer's belts and jewellry are in addition to a range we already carry,, that is made in South America. They offer gaucho detail at terrific value, for not everyone is in the market for a suit. I always fancied the platform outside the store doubling as a corral with a sign saying "Tether ponies and Harleys here".

Then Tristan (see top of this story) walked like Clint Eastwood back through our door. He did indeed place an order for the poacher's jacket, but with his own choice of jacquard lining and opting for plaited leather buttons over horn. He also went for the waistcoat and moleskin trousers in our signature cut of deep-placket-loser-cut-round-thighs-narrowing-to-ankle.

Tristan (centre) in his python skin jacket flanked to the left by his wife Leanne (pka "Flame" of the Gladiators TV show) in her  mother-in-law's leopard skin coat (made in Bournemouth, you get a lotta leopards down there) and Mr Wesley, to his right, in our new screen printed knitwear, here the Jolly Peasants carouse across finest Merino wool

Then Tristan told a friend about what we could do, a Chelsea glamazon who duly crossed the river to bravely seek us out. There was barely suppressed panic (on all sides) when she went too far up the Clapham Road and was driving about Stockwell in the Range Rover but we guided her in and measured her up for a hunting jacket, breeches, mini skirt, cape and flat cap. Here we are at the first fitting stage:

If you were a grouse you'd just jump into her arms non?

Buying the roll of butter soft Ermenegildo Zegna tweed was one of the smartest things we ever did, as it has now yielded the Poacher's jacket with matching waistcoat; the winter overcoat for Godmother Elisabeth; Tristan's jacket and waistcoat; and the hunting ensemble for our International Style Ambassadress. Here's our best pal Taffy wearing the waistcoat as he orders up his decadely birthday wardrobe refreshment with Mr Wesley:

Then one Saturday afternoon a few weeks back, I was at my desk embroidering a babygrow when a space ship of a car glided into the bay outside the store. I had a sense of being watched through the black windows and inclined my head in what I perceived to be a winsome, welcoming manner. It glided on. I shrugged and went back to chain-stitching the name of Johnny Rotten's erstwhile minder's granddaughter, "Treasure" across the brushed cotton of the little pink popper suit. A man and two ladies walked in. Having double-took-checked that it was not in fact Johnny Depp, I soon established that they had been aboard the space ship. The gentleman had significant presence and was, I remarked, of the same build as Mark who invariably makes up our samples in his own size - so on the rare occasions we do mingle in society, he can be a walking calling card for our wares. Hence it transpired that everything the cool customer put on, fitted. Mannequin after mannequin was denuded. I had to ask for his assistance in deconstructing the window display. While he went downstairs to try yet something else I called Mark at home and suggested he walk round promptly while I struggled to find carrier bags big enough to carry all the man had bought: the Green Indian suit, the Mr Fox overcoat, the double-breasted pinstripe, the puddle-proof trousers and more.

Mark in the Mr Fox overcoat with his little cub
Turned out the mystery shopper is the owner of a luxury goods magazine. Only that morning our landlord had apprehended Mark, saying darkly that he wanted to see some money sharpish. So it was with a smirk in my stride that I walked our dazzling customer into the dry cleaners where we process card payments (it is an eccentric but efficient arrangement that stops us blowing the rent). 
"Yippeeee!" said Mr Wesley afterwards, "This means we can make this, and this and this and that and that AND that!" 
"Now love," I said, wishing I wasn't, "this means we have covered our rent arrears and have a little in hand."

Just the sort of craftsman that our lucky touch client's magazine (I remain circumspect for a reason and hopefully but temporarily) would admire is Jason Amesbury, who was extraordinarily generous and trusting when he let us borrow his bespoke riding and ankle boots for the Mansion House installation. Jason was previously the head shoemaker at Lobb & co. A pair of shoes takes six months to make, and it is an accordingly costly process. Lasts are hewn from solid lumps of wood using traditional tools and they even make the string with which the soles are stitched out of fibres and beeswax. If you would like a referral we would be most happy to effect an introduction.

Jason with a shoe that's almost done. I really liked the splotches of yellow darning on his jumper

The bench where the lasts are chopped then whittled
Somebody I'm in no hurry to see again however is the low life loser who half-inched my Blackberry off the desk while pretending to admire the fox stoles. I stood up to usher him back into the open space of the room, getting some weird and not altogether good vibe. Then he threw me by asking, "What have you got that's new?" that immediately made me think perhaps he had been in before... otherwise what would it matter. From the rail I picked out and held up our newest print, "Street Life" with a scene of a portly gentleman on a Victorian thoroughfare. The text is written as calligraphy and I read the beginning of it aloud:
"Beware, pickpockets and prostitutes operate in this area."
To my astonishment the man announced he found that "offensive". Indeed, he thought a lot of people would find it offensive and hesitate to buy it. "Dude, " I challenged, "you have GOT to be kidding me?!"
Now if I had two brain cells I would have found the ensuing volte face when he said he would take it to be somewhat odd, a commercial non sequitur. But so thrilled am I by every sale, however large or small, that I blanked out the inconsistency and began wrapping while he claimed to be getting cash from the machine next door. A few minutes went by, and a few more. I glanced down at my desk where my Blackberry had been. My stomach flipped as I realised I had been stitched up like a kipper. The only karmic consolation I took was that the day after the Blackberry network crashed for the best part of a week. I half expected him to walk back in and throw it at me complaining "Piece of rubbish, doesn't hardly work!"

So turning corners doesn't preclude the odd pot hole but all in all the camber of late has been smooth for Bedlam's rickety wagon.

Our "offensive" t-shirt warning of the prevalence of pickpockets

Monday, 10 October 2011

Going Po-Mo at the V&A

Naturally we were delighted and not a little relieved when the Earl of Bedlam blog was considered to have passed muster and be deemed a component worth carrying over to the new V&A website when they relaunched a few months back. It made us feel even more special, yes, special, when we were invited to the top drawer bash to celebrate the opening of the Post-Modernism exhibition at the museum. I would suggest reading this over-view by its co-curator, Glenn Adamson in the Daily Telegraph -
Suitably enthused you can book tickets here:

The moral of this episode in design history, Mr Adamson concludes, is that encounters with masses of money can prove fatal to artistic fertility. If this is true, Earl of Bedlam is yet safe in the rudest of health. As this V&A film deftly describes, the post-modernist world is one where spirit trumps order, in which case we are fully paid up proponents:

So we got spruced for the event, Mr Wesley donning the Green Indian outfit completed by Maria P-K's high top pheasant feather titfer, while I requisitioned the cranberry "Chic Secret Agent" hat I found at the Southbank vintage fair. This I secured with a pair of pearl and rhinestone pins from the Pasadena Rose Bowl flea market. I confess it unlikely now that said bonnet will ever go back on the "For Sale" shelf.

Some weeks ago, I had been asked by the museum to facilitate the invitation of two sterling characters to this night's revels - my beloved Antony Price - - and Philip Sallon, unrivalled puppeteer of the London club scene, maestro unparalleled of night's beguiling masquerade. On the day of the event I called Antony to confirm we'd see him there. He treated me to his trade-mark harrassed routine, explaining with pained deliberation that as and when he had personally delivered John (Duran Duran) Taylor's jacket to Heathrow for a flight to LA he would do his best to appear. He did not. Next I called Philip. Philip asked for reassurance that he could bring a +1 and that there would be food. Beginning to regret my intermediary status I duly telephoned Kate Brier in the events department. As if I was describing some embarrassing downstairs symptoms I protested to be calling on behalf of a friend to know if one might hope to expect any nibbles of substance. So having foraged for information from this patient and polite lady, I rejoined Philip with the bulletin "guest fine, finger food affirmative. And the canapés should be quite good," I assured him, "As Barclays are sponsoring the do."
"Oh I wish I'd known," huffed this legend now, "I would have come dressed as a bank. Well there's no time now to make the outfit."
I am quietly confident that no one felt short-changed by Philip's get-up.

The entrance to the museum

 Philip asked if I liked his Esso attendant coat. "As long as no one tells you you look gassy," I hicced.
Social commentator Peter Wallis aka Peter York, who co-authored "The Sloane Ranger's Handbook" with Philip Sallon, who tore up the manual on etiquette to make clubland a benevolent dictatorship of style over society.
From L to R in an up-down zig zag: Philip Sallon; the debonair Damien Whitmore, Director of Programming at the V&A; Philip's niece Miriam; himself; Andrea Carr from the V&A's digital team.

The finest serving of all was a performance by Annie Lennox. She accompanied herself on a grand piano and worked the crowd like an old hand at the panto. All I have for you is a photo of the chandelier hanging above the action, having been told off by a guard when I so much as raised my camera. Peter Wallis / York then tried the same and likewise was rebuked. Meanwhile some woman next to us recorded half the bleedin' set on her i-phone with not a word of telling off. We considered ratting on her but let it go. Anyway, feast your eyes on this Medusa-esque light fitting without fear of petrification:

While other peeps may collects beer mats and postage stamps, we are amassing a rare collection of Mayors. Our first was Councillor Christiana Valcarcel, Lady Mayoress of Lambeth who so graciously declared Bedlam abroad when she opened our shop back in May; more recently, during the latest Fashion Week, we added the Rt. Hon Michael Bear, Lord Mayor of London to our cabinet of curiosities; and at the Po-Mo party we bagged the glamourous Lady Mayoress of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, Councillor Julie Mills. I think Mr Wesley might even have patted her on the bottom. He is such a naughty man. Anyway, bring on Boris and we'll have a flush.

Councillor Julie Mills, Lady Mayoress of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, making the third in our hand now - all we need is Boris for a flush

One interesting chap we conversed with, Tomas, only turned out, he certainly did, to live in the flat above Tim Balmain-to-Bedlam-Oval-Area-Manager (I felt it was too long since I had need to type that attenuated title). Tomas duly presented himself at the shop a few days after the party. He said he had looked us up and that he had very much enjoyed reading this blog, particularly the episode regarding the tax man. Vanity found me warmly disposed towards him. Then he said "You don't really keep it up do you?" which made me want to hit him hard because I am once again in the throes of a VAT return (our second already) and if it's not that there's something else. Really, I do the best I can. Harrumph.

Too soon it was turning out time and I was merry as a Lord, not having driven us for once. All of a tout d'un coup, Philip hailed a cab and had us bundled from pavement to the arches under Waterloo Station. His niece Miriam had been invited to an exhibition party connected in some way with MIND, the mental health charity that my godmother Elisabeth helped establish and for which Mr Wesley used to do volunteer work. I am aware I should have a firmer grasp of what it was all about but I was really quite sloshed by then, sorry.

Leaving the V&A party
Arrived and granted access to the warren of arches under Waterloo, we found a delightful scene populated with those beautiful, special children of the night such as took me right slap back to those days when I was the VIP room door lady at Heaven, finest nightclub in the world, under the arches at Charing Cross. McCrikey, my life has come full circle, it might seem, cue Flanagan & Allen:

Mr Wesley was so delighted he did a happy little dance, finding a self-contained contentment, always a useful gift to possess:

We explored the tunnels and inspected the artwork on display. I had taken off my shoes and less danced than shuffled along in stockinged feet.

Back in the music room, where a DJ was spinning, I arranged myself upon a red velvet sofa and that is where my friend the suede-head poet of note Mr Tim Wells caught me losing the battle to stay upright:

In a moment of focus I managed to switch my camera to video to follow the sweet scene before me. It included Philip leading a group in the Mash Potato and some odd fella in a tall hat with a pheasant feather who drifted in and out of the action. Here is the clip, that I hope captures something of that special otherworldly party quality that might, I dare suggest, have been found in Venice in the 00's, Harlem in the 20's, Berlin in the 30's, Paris in the 50's, London in the 60's or New York in the 70's:

It was a most marvy mix up of a good time not least as Mr Whitmore said we are now on his "Core List" of invitees (or could that possibly have been "Corrrrr! List") and if I am not smiling in the photo below it is only because I had put my shoes back on as we tottered up the cobblestones and my feet hurt v v bad.


Yes, quite. And good night.