Thursday, 29 March 2012

Tutu - Riot in Punk

Back last summer a lady came into the shop and said she had an idea for a t-shirt she'd like us to do. Screen printing tees and sweats is our bread and butter money, through Bedlam's commercial division "Ocean Colour Screen" Tutu, as she introduced herself, had been undergoing treatment for breast cancer and had engaged her friend photographer Ashley Savage to document the changes wrought upon her body. Ashley is famous for portraying bodies with scars, tattoos, piercings or in some other way not conforming to conventional notions of "beauty"

Tutu wanted to unfluffify breast cancer with a punk terrorist campaign, undo the saccharine pink ribbon that had been hijacked by corporate interests at odds with its creator's true intention.

So using one of Ashley's images of Tutu, Amazonian Valykrie-stylee, defiantly displaying her scar, Mr Wesley started to work on the graphic. It was going to be all about swinging C by the tail. But then Tutu got sick again as the enemy snuck around, attacking her bones next, necessitating a hip replacement. Mr Wesley and I visited her in Guy's Hospital, sat on her bed and larked around. The project stalled while Tutu went into another round of treatment. Eager to see it progress, her friend, writer Stephanie Theobald, took the reins and wrestled the text out of Tutu:
Cancer Sucks
Fight it
Love it
Live it
Survive it

We had the image and the screens were prepared. Stephanie took a prototype for approval to Tutu and production rolled.

Normally we make the shirts, the customer picks them up, off they go and that's that, thank you very much. But this was different. We offered our e-shop as a platform to sell them and Stephanie did some highly effective email-marketing. She and her boyfriend Jake Arnott came to the store and we got to got to know and like them very much - We are making Jake some Plus Fours indeed.

Stephanie got an article placed in The Guardian this week - and another one will follow in Time Out soon, as well as a Radio 4 "Woman's Hour" piece.

Ashley Savage came to visit us, and brought an old club kid cohort of Tutu's, the arrestingly stunning Loz, to model the shirt:

The last few days in London have been flawlessly lovely and sunny as June. Stephanie sent a text at lunch time today (March 28th) to say "She flew". Tutu had taken to the skies. Even though we only knew her a little while, a brief fling, a crazy whirl, it felt like we had lost an old friend. Mr Wesley and I sat outside on our terrace, shared a bottle of wine and treated ourselves to a good lunch, a sensory indulgence, al fresco in her honour. Through her we have met a fabulous array of characters, people we hope to know a good while yet.

Tutu grew up in California. One of my favourite places in the world is the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. I do not know about the etymology of the word “solace” but I notice “Sol”, the sun, within it, so maybe I might propose “the comfort such as warmth and light bestows” and offer this for Tutu and her devoted friends:

Some years back I had a US agent and she told me I should read the book which was the best selling smash of the year - "Eat Pray Love" The title turned me off and I imagined if it sold millions it must perforce be rubbish. It sounded like beach reading. But to show willing I walked into a bookstore on Ventura Boulevard and bought it. And when they saw what I had chosen both the shop assistant and another customer together exclaimed “Well done hurrah!” and announced that it was a truly terrific book. I smiled and thought "Bunch of dippy self-help lemmings".

But their enthusiasm was sincere and not entirely misplaced. The first 200 pages were an absolute joy, even if it went a bit sappy at the end. And for this following insight I shall always thank Ms. Gilbert -

The lost lady protagonist goes to Italy to learn Italian simply because it is the most beautiful language in the world. Unlike other national tongues, Italian was not created by the richest city imposing its dialect on the other regions but rather was chosen to unite the new country, and enable the Florentines to understand the Neapolitans, the Romans to roll with the Lombards, on the merit of its musical poetry: “No other European language has such an artistic pedigree. And perhaps no language was ever more perfectly ordained to express human emotions than this 14th century Florentine Italian, as embellished by one of Western civilisation’s greatest poets.”

For modern Italian is essentially the language of the poet Dante, whose most famous work is “The Divine Comedy”.  And Ms. Gilbert reminds us that, in the last line, when Dante is faced with the vision of God himself, he discovers not an old guy with a beard but rather that: “God is not merely a blinding vision of glorious light but that He is, most of all, ‘L’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle...’ The love that moves the sun and the other stars”.

And as the Griffith Observatory illustrates with the most marvellous exhibit, we are formed from the stars. Every element, every  single component in our make up came from a distant star. And so maybe that’s where we go back.
From love we came, to love we return. And now you can buy the t-shirt:
Proceeds will go to touring Ashley's exhibition of photographs of Tutu, which may help people understand the processes of and reactions to cancer.

Down in the engine room Mr Wesley is printing as fast as he can - there has been, understandably, a surge in orders so please be patient if it takes us a few days to fulfil them.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Milepebbles on the Long Haul

Regular readers will know that we have now reached the First Anniversary of opening our little store. "Happy Birthday to us, Happy Birthday to us, Happy Birthday dear Bedlam, Happy Birthday or bust!"

It is a rare occurrence that someone comes in for the first time and doesn't say "How marvellous / wonderful / amazing! It's like an art installation / museum / Sex a.k.a. Seditionaries [Vivienne Westwood & Malcolm McClaren's first shop - we don't necessarily see that, but it's now been said too many times to count. I guess they mean the spirit of it rather than literally? - ]

Anyway, we're not complaining, it's a subversively fine reference to have. And pleasingly at odds with our courtship by the Establishment, what with the Lord Mayor inviting us to exhibit alongside well-established luminaries and legends. We took two more outfits to the Mansion House to install this week. One of the staff asked if we could please redesign their uniforms (they like ours the best but it would be indiscreet of me to say that). The LM held a banquet last week for three hundred heads of trade, state and government. He exhorted them to admire our work then cited EoB as "a wonderful example of British manufacturing". That made us v v proud. It would be no lie to say that my eyes glistened. We told our respective parents. See all our cloth is British and all our clobber is Made in London - it says so on our new business cards now.

Austin Reed once again generously supplied the lovely shirts and silk ties -
our thanks to Tony Dobbs, manager at the #1 Poultry store

Our new "Thin Red Line" jacket (see history lesson at the bottom of this posting), next to our best seller the tweed "Poacher's Jacket" and matching waistcoat teamed with the Piccalilli Pants

And then, the glitter pink frosting on our birthday cake, that magazine read down all the corridors of power, Beige (  ), ran their feature on us. The model was Bedlam's regular poster boy, Ollie - barman from the Oval Lounge restaurant next door to the shop He is not only but ALSO drummer in Peggy Sue , currently on tour in the USA so y'all go check 'em! Here's our double page spread with a lovely piece by the editor, Dean Bright and photos by Claire Lawrie:

Referred to in the article is Mark's old school friend Steve Green, and you can spot his spray-painted canvas of Malcolm McDowell (in Clockwork Orange) over Ollie's shoulder. We have now taken delivery of his new work, Michael Caine, as dressed in another version of the "Thin Red Line", from the film Zulu:

Michael Caine - available to buy in store at £300
The origin of the phrase "Thin Red Line" was the Crimean War - specifically a military action by the red-coated Sutherland Highlanders 93rd Regiment at the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854. Aided by a small force of Royal Marines and some Turkish infantrymen, and led by Sir Colin Campbell, the regiment routed a Russian cavalry charge against all odds. The 93rd's survival was due to the caution of the Russian commander, who believed that such a small infantry force could not hope to withstand a full cavalry charge and so figured it had to be a decoy / trap. Accordingly he ordered his men to disengage. The British press, of course, spun the story to raise morale amongst the public who regarded the war as an unpopular shambles. The Times correspondent, William H. Russell, wrote that he could see nothing between the charging Russians and the British regiment's base of operations but the "thin red streak tipped with a line of steel". The phrase has since come to represent calm British courage... as immortalised in Carry On... Up the Khyber, (directed by my late godfather Gerald Thomas) when Private Jimmy Widdle paints a thin red line across the ground, declaring "They'll never get past this!"

So remember bold Bedlamites, being small and outnumbered is no hindrance to victory!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Waterloo Sunrise, Stockwell Sunset

Tomorrow we nip back to Mansion House to swap out the outfits for two new ones. In the meantime let's show you the fruits of a photo shoot we had along the back streets of Waterloo a few sunny Sundays ago. They were taken by Danny Lowe (, in his final term at the London School of Fashion where he is studying photography. He was introduced to us by his sweet sis Pepe who is at Chelsea College of Art. She originally helped us out with some volunteering, sticking on crystals to production sample t-shirts and generally adding a genetic sheen to the print room (Danny and Pepe's parents are distinguished silk screen printers). This shoot will make up part of Danny's degree project now. It is extremely helpful to us to get images of this calibre and as some sort of pay back we introduced Danny to Jeremy Hackett ( Jeremy lives near the shop and says it reminds him of how he started out, with vintage tailoring and luggage. Now Hackett will be lending Danny some of their latest collection to take home to Whitby. So we help each other out, trickle down patronage.

It slips my mind to mention it very often but while the Blog gets the Big Bumper Editions of news, the daily edition comes out on Facebook. If you would "like" our page there you'll be making a helpful contribution to our So' Med' stats. If you have no idea what that means, you'll have to trust me, it matters!
Here's the link:

During the shoot with Danny, I took "behind the scenes". The whole album is on Facebook - and you don't need to sign up to look if you have So' Med' issues:

But here's a few of my am-snaps before we get to Danny's pro-prints -

Our early rising was rewarded with a beautiful day

At Danny's back is the King's Head pub where our early rising was rewarded with a Bloody Mary.

We called for reinforcements in the form of Simon, guvnor of the Queen's Head on the Stockwell Road. He jumped on his trusty rusty steed and met us in no time at the King's Head, on Roupell Street, Waterloo (where that Meryl Streep was in the other day, according to our waitress).

Simon of the Queen's Head, Stockwell with Mark in the King's Head, Waterloo
Then off we set in search of locations new, the trollied trunk show trundled on:

Pa Butler kindly supplied clay pipes gathered from his Honourable Company of Tobacco and Pipe Maker dinners, and soon they were packed and smokin':

We can only take so much sunlight and took refuge in a phone box before scuttling into the graffiti arches at Waterloo Station. Then we made a dash for it to Stockwell and Simon's shadowy kingdom, the Queen's Head -

And here's the Real McCoy for ya, a selection from Danny's set:

Disposable Income

"Howlin' F.I.L.T.H. and the Rent Boys" being the coming together of local musical talent to which Simon lends his drumming skills. Lead singer is Larry Love of Alabama 3 and on t-shirt design and production is us!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Now we are one

Blue skies, blossom on the trees last week then icy sleet today. You have to roll with it and put your vest back on. Business, too, is unpredictable and unforgiving. Last month was scarily quiet for us, following a January that saw me knocked off balance by some health stuff (hence the blog hiatus). There are no "statutory sick days", or guaranteed wage, when you are self-employed. I did have half an hour longer in bed one morning but then some minor crisis arose that only I could solve so I got up and got on with it. We work seven days a week, opening Sunday afternoons too if the weather looks to encourage a constitutional. Not throwing a pity party - too much washing up afterwards - but just reminding those who tune in for the gritty docu-drama that we operate with an anorexic safety margin. Rent and rates have to be paid however wobbly you may feel. Prime Minster David Cameron "gifted" small businesses a cut on the rates last summer. Lambeth council said that would stand for a year. Three months later they rose and next month they go up again.

But this month, March, sees the shop's first anniversary and we have made it to that milepebble on the support of the local community (with the occasional guest postcode exception). Last week we received an invitation from local councillors to join a discussion group of Oval businesses and have RSVP'd in the positive. And positively shall we be minded to participate.

The lull in suiting commissions, on the bright side, meant we could concentrate on the four outfits we were invited to create for display at Mansion House, the Lord Mayor's palace in the City of London. You may recall we exhibited there last September, during Fashion Week. This season we sat that out as throwing limited resources at competing for attention with Burberry ( just seemed silly. But as a result of having danced last time round our name now came up in a meeting scheduled to discuss the new Lord Mayor's commitment, as a proud Yorkshireman, to promoting the wool trade and Yorkshire mills.

Other designers invited to showcase their work in the exhibition that rolls for the year David Wootton holds office include these long-established Titans of tailoring:
 and Hardy Amies ( 
That's pretty exalted company for raggle-taggle-come-lately-you-know-who! 
Staged by The Campaign for Wool (, and supported by The Woolmark Company (, some cloth has been provided for the others by Savile Row favourites Dormeuil ( Bedlam's bolts of fabric, however, have been generously sponsored ONCE AGAIN by those stalwarts of the merchant class, the Bob & Bing of warp & weft, Philip Pittack & Martin White of Crescent Trading ( Trading out of a permanently freezing warehouse stacked floor to ceiling with meltons, flannels, tweeds, worsteds and gaberdines - sourced from the last remaining mills in Yorkshire and Scotland - they have devoted their long careers to promoting British cloth. 

Last week then we arrived back at Mansion House to dress the mannequins and were really most touched by the friendly recognition we got from the lovely staff there. Stepping back to admire our work, however, we realised something was missing. Like doh! We had forgotten shirts and ties. So we dashed over to the Austin Reed store across the road at #1 Poultry to try our charm on the store manager Tony Dobbs. To our relief and delight he was instantly enthusiastic and after getting the rubber stamped OK from HQ told us to choose what we needed. Our sincere thanks to them.

Tony Dobbs, manager at Austin Reed, The Poultry, who got us out of  a pickle like it was no problem at all

Mark redressed the mannequin with a spotted silk tie and contrast collar shirt, generously supplied by Austin Reed

Technically tricky and using almost twice as much cloth as a conventional pinstripe, the plates on our Tectonic suit have shifted on the bias. The electric blue lining gives a jolt of energy. The six- button working cuffs prompt a man to roll up his sleeves and get on with the job (£1300 made-to-measure).

This anti-thorn fabric made with shoot “beaters” in mind will render you immune from snags and problems. Stride through life's undergrowth to emerge unscathed and pristine. Built to last a life time.
(£1200 made-to-measure)

Silk tie and luxury cotton shirt generously supplied by Austin Reed
What we also had time to do was an interesting project for a gentleman wood engraver called Mr Adam Lawrence who lives round the corner from the shop. Here he is demonstrating how you chisel the wood (with a very sharp doo-da) while resting it on a leather pad so that the v sharp doo-da doesn't slip and stab you:

Here (below) is an engraving of cyclamen Mr Lawrence did some years ago. He told us there is a block by the master wood engraver Thomas Bewick in the Newcastle Museum of Printmaking that is considered to have produced 800,000 prints and never got worn down. It was a most marvellous masterclass to have Mr Lawrence come in to tutor us in this fine yet robust art form.

But the reason for his visit is that his pad is a borrowed one, 18th century he thinks, and he wondered if Mr Wesley would try his hand at replicating it. With a piece of leather and some builder's sand he reckoned, somewhat to my surprise I do confess, that we could present him with a fair representation. And so the challenge was taken up.

Emma, the cool new girl at Biddle Sawyer Silks (, tipped me off that Walter Reginald leather and hide repository in Whitechapel ( would most likely have what we needed. I called them up one afternoon as I was leaving Crescent Trading, thinking I could not be far. The phone was answered with a flurry of bleedin' f'ing this and that before the gruff voice apologised, explaining he was having a vent. "That's quite OK," I said, trying to empathise, "I know how you feel."
"No you don't!" snapped the voice.
Crikey, OK.
"If I could just have your address, I'm on my way."
"We close on the dot at 5pm."
"I'm a few minutes away."
"No you're not," and so it went on until I wondered if I should simply sod them and search elsewhere.
But what a glorious turn out it turned out to be, in sense of mission fulfilled and first impressions overturned. Here are just some of the glorious hides revealed:

Noooo! They flayed Spiderman!
When I walked in the warehouse I heard the same voice barking at someone else. "Are you Ray?" I asked.
"NO, he died, and this is his widow," he said, gesturing at a lady who hurried away. I thought he was  double mean trying to double bluff me so I went yeah yeah and walked on.
The friendly chap trying to help me said some light leather from the economical scrap box would do the job. Malcolm stepped in. When I showed him the mission - Mr Lawrence's wood engraving pad - he said that was made using hide 3mm thick and took over. A mutual respect began to burgeon over our commitment to finding the right thing and doing a job well. Soon he was springing about showing me  all manner of gorgeous skins.

'orrible Malcom my new best friend
Malcolm the Misanthrope then said something guaranteed to win my heart, so rarely is it ever correctly proclaimed. "Is your hair naturally Titian?" My knees crumpled and my eyes shined.
" 'Titian'?! That IS the colour of my hair!" (a lifetime of "ginger" taunts informed the gratitude)
"I used to be a hairdresser," the lovely Malcolm now revealed, "It is the most beautiful of all hair colours."
As we stood suspended in the most precious moment of forging friendship he asked another question.
"Why did you call me 'Ray' when you came in?"
"Well, you were meant to go 'Ray?!' and I was going to go 'Yes, Ray of Sunshine!' because you were so horrible on the phone!"
"Cos Ray DID die and this IS his widow" - gesturing again at the lady who had reappeared. "He was my brother."
Mr Wesley with the beginnings of the wood engraver's pad cut from the bloody massive bit I had to buy.
Mr Wesley made holes around the two 4mm leather pizza bases by banging a big nail.
Then he laced the two halves together with waxed leather cord, with the sand bag in the middle.

He was very proud of the accomplishment, I was very proud of him and Mr Lawrence seemed delighted, going off to make his first print using his brand-new-made-just-like-the-old-style wood engraver's pad.