Drawing by Ollie Murphy.
When I first met Tommy about making the Liberty sculpture for MR FREEDOM, he came across as a rough diamond, a wheeler-dealer - animated, hurrying everything along with his sharp manner and his enthusiasm, stirring it up and filling in the gaps with wholehearted appraisal. This was when MR FREEDOM was moving out from the little boutique at 430 Kings Road that had been created by a group of designers led by Trevor Myles with Tommy pulling the strings. Moving into the new emporium in Kensington Church Street, laying out a ton of cash to get the new FREEDOM on the map, they had received huge backing from John Paul and the Carnaby Street heavies. Jon Wealleans was in charge of the distinctive interior design but the design of the objects and sculptures was down to individual Artists and why Tommy was in our flat with Jon Wealleans to make a deal.
In 1969, Pop Art London fashion had been evolving fast in Carnaby Street, at Granny Takes A trip, Countdown and especially at Mr Freedom. Propelled by Tommy's driving entrepreneurial spirit and Trevor Myles' perception of the future of fashion. Pop became as synonymous with Mr Freedom's colourful bright ideas as it had earlier in 1956 with the Pop Art exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery "This Is Tomorrow" - the brightest being the concept of using the Mr Freedom image to promote a pop art fashion style, inspired by William Klien.
William Klien's film, "MISTER FREEDOM" was made at a time when there was radical student upheaval in France (1968), in tune with left wing movements - Communism and Situationism. The leading character of the film, MISTER FREEDOM, is a kind of Marvelman Mr. Bean who stands up for American imperial might in the service of the mega corporations -- he simply has the wrong angle on what freedom means in his patriotic scourge on Leftist and Communist enemies of the USA. It's a marvellous satire that could have been construed in more serious moments as a great idea for a situationist style store, which of course is roughly what happened in 1975 with "SEX -- again at 430 Kings Road.
The little MR FREEDOM boutique in 430 Kings Road had enjoyed enormous success for almost 2 years so a favourable outcome for the Kensington emporium was assured. However, the entrance of big money and bigger egos changed the chemistry. Trevor Myles and the original designers, Dinah Adams, Diana Crawshaw and Chris Snow could not endure the hustle and hype "as the money came in, the creativity went out" said Chris. They felt the showmanship and media exposure had curtailed the creative input so the design of the products suffered. Too much work and hassle for them while Tommy, John Paul and Gerald lapped up the media hype.
Recently, Trevor Myles invited Molly and I to dinner at the Chelsea Arts Club. We talked about the earliest connection he had with "Hung On You" at 430 Kings Road and Trevor's long dedication to the Fashion front-line in Chelsea and beyond.
Trevor emphatically states that "Mr Freedom" was his earliest big idea: "To get one thing real straight on MISTER FREEDOM though John... The name was born out of me being invited to see William Klien's MISTER FREEDOM with Tim Allen (no one else). Tim worked in HUNG ON YOU at the time and it was then that Tommy wanted to leave Kleptomania and had asked if I would join him in a new venture as I was selling Boleros and Kaftans to him and Hung on you..... I went to see the movie (Thanks to Tim) and was inspired by it....I suggested the name MISTER FREEDOM to Tommy, as he wanted to call the shop "Odd One Out" - yes, "Odd One Out" - with 3 flower hats on top of the "O's". I was grateful that Tommy came up with the finance but I couldn't go for the name. I assured Tommy that MISTER FREEDOM would be a far better name and to pursue Pop Art as a theme..... and off we went! Now we were MISTER FREEDOM Tommy was always the one wanting to be MISTER FREEDOM which I had no problem with - the name suited him, a true cartoon unto himself.... But, as I had always put credit where credit was due...Tommy never did.
Paul Gorman has done a great job at documenting that time with "The Look" but he can only go by what he's been told. He says he is going to write a book on MISTER FREEDOM and I am sure he adores Tommy. I would imagine with Paul being under Tommy's spell most of the 'facts' in the book are going to be selling Tommy as an Icon...hey ho!! And of course I will not be slagging Tommy off when asked to comment on the history .....
Inventive as a designer - stylish and sexy as a woman - Dinah Adams was an eccentric Chelsea resident who enjoyed a gregarious lifestyle on the edges of Fashion and Pop music culture.She had designed many of the early MISTER FREEDOM classics in 1969 when Trevor Myles was the co-owner and ideas man, creating all the early standard garment patterns with assistant Irene Smith and Ilkay Hussein, everything from T-Shirts to Dresses, Waistcoats, Knitwear and Jackets.
With Trevor Myles and Electric Colour Company designer Andrew Greaves, Dinah injected a new colour and spirit into the boutique fashion in Kings Road. Magazines and newspapers began to feature the new Pop Art style and celebrities wanted to be part of the mix. In Reva Berger's magazine feature; "British Is Beautiful", Jenny Dugan Chapman models Dinah's 'Carmen Miranda' top and her 'Betty Grable' shorts - the plastic belts, buckles and the shop interior are by Irene Smith and Andrew Greaves. She writes; "Britannia waives the rules. The young of London are throwing out all fashion commandments in favour of wearing exactly what they want, when and where they want. Mr Freedom, whose name sums up the eccentric, the imaginative of London,was the shop that brought Pop to Kings Road. Through his doors flowed Mickey Mouse T-shirts and Donald Duck purses… Tommy Roberts with humble beginnings in London, sold out to a corporation which had the foresight to keep his disciples/designers Dinah Adams and Andrew Greaves churning out the pop through Electric Color Company. The clothes shown here were designed by them."
John: "It was Dinah who told me all three of you had watched Klien's MR FREEDOM but Molly & I always knew the shop was your idea - didn't know about Tim Allen's contribution, clearly, in the beginning you were the prime mover with FREEDOM and the GARAGE and you should take the credit for it. Diana Crawshaw, Chris Snow, Andrew Greaves and Pamla Motown independently tell the story of your liaison with Tommy Roberts and his entry into the Carnaby Street mogul's hierarchy. They described to me how the team came together and then were demoted - losing the core as the fruit began to ripen or throwing out the 'goose that laid the golden egg' as Diana Crawshaw pointed out to Tommy when she was fired.
Chris has a sardonic sense of humour or an artless taste for kitsch - he told me that at Kleptomania Tommy and Charlie had their mugshots surrounded by psychedelic swirls, one on each side of the carrier bag. Then when Tommy left to join you, Charlie put his face on both sides! His visiting card read: 'Charles Eno Simpson -- Boutiques and Road Haulage'. I think that says a lot about aspirations. Mind you, where there's a ton of money and new blood, it's amazing how much creativity can be enlisted to share the charged energy of the moment. It was a circumstantial juncture of big ideas that needed big egos. When a number of random events come together and inspire the people who are on the cusp of a new venture or a special project, a lot of energy happens very quickly and can draw in an army of contributors and creative individuals. The spirit of the swinging 60's was banging at the entrance of the new decade and MISTER FREEDOM was the message above the door" and that's a very tempting golden egg opportunity for anyone - in a nutshell, Tommy raised the bar, it was the first time he had enjoyed the creativity and the press exposure…. Tommy Roberts = Mr. Freedom."
"Like I said - money and EGOS - then Diana, Snow and Lesley are soooo sweet about me and I thank them for that - another reason why we are still such good friends. But the story of my relationship with Tommy and all, goes way back to running those Boleros and Kaftans into Tommy and Charlie's KLEPTOMANIA and HUNG ON YOU in '67 - '68..... Tim was a talented Jazz musician and he wanted to take it up full time - that's when Tommy and I agreed to buy HUNG ON YOU to set up at 430 Kings Road. Then we had Electric Colour do the Shop Fitting. Ilkay and her brother with their little Turkish family business in South London were doing all the production for us... while we were setting it up, I found a company called Gymphlex Underwear to supply us with Long-Sleeve Tees, which I suggested we put signs of the Zodiac on. We sold them to Chelsea Antiques Market further down the Kings Road. We were making serious money from this even before opening MISTER FREEDOM - Mick Jagger bought some and was featured in I think Melody Maker or maybe NME. It was a huge success and really it was that idea that financed the shop". Then there was our other big 'design' - in a stoned moment in Tommy's front room in Blackheath I said *Let's do a T-shirt with f***in' stars all over it and Tommy agreed 'yeah, yeah, yeah lets do it". That also turned up in Mick's wardrobe and on pretty well everybody else."
"So this was the summer of 1969 - the initial relationship you had with Tommy Roberts was an informal partnership based on his initial financial input and yours, Dinah Adam's and Electric Colour's creativity. At the beginning who was actually running MISTER FREEDOM?"
"All went off like a rocket but at first we had a manager with longer hair than me - I think he was on junk, who we needed to oust... meanwhile, I ran into this bloke I vaguely knew from Blackheath called Gerald who I convinced to come on board as shop manager - big cockney accent matched his size - this took some convincing before Tommy agreed and we got him in Super XXXL Star & stripe Dungarees with Baker Boyz cap - a few more stars and the look was complete - he wound up all the posh lot in Chelsea. Justin De Villeneuve would be waiting for Gerald to have breakfast with him most mornings. The days at FREEDOM rolled on with people sitting around the shop watching four black and white tellys encased in the counter with different coloured gels in them - the shop started to attract a new breed of artists and designers who brought in their latest work which I began to tap into to stock the shop."
John: "In '69 you had asked our friend Mike Rogers if he could draw some Pop images for some appliqué T-shirts. Mike was an impoverished brilliant guitarist who had played lead with Folk-Rock band Storyteller - they performed a sell-out concert at the Albert Hall, but later faded away into obscurity.
Mike was no Artist but he needed the dough. Molly and I used our Grant projector to trace up the drawings. We had these huge sheets of paper all over the flat and chipped in with our pencils. Mike and all made drawings of Lightning bolts, Ice Cream Sodas. I had just finished an illustration for a book cover which featured rockets and guided missiles so they became the focus of the designs. The designs were transferred onto satin and Mike took them over to Muriel Carter and Pam Keats’ workshop in Westbourne Grove to be appliquéd onto the cut fronts, then made into T-shirts and floor-length T-shirt dresses. ( Later Mike was with Hank Wangford and the Hankers, from Suffolk - they were known for a minor hit with a Country novelty version of “Wild Thing” on 'Cow-Pie' records. They attracted an enthusiastic following from all corners of the cultural spectrum.) It was Mike who first gave you our telephone number and told you about our black t-shirts.
So it was also this influx of creative new blood which became another part of your legacy ending up in the hands of Tommy Roberts and John Paul. What about all the Disney prints that flooded the market and press throughout Europe - it was like printing money for FREEDOM?"
Trevor: "I went on my own to Disney HQ to ask if we could put their characters on my T-shirts - at that time, the only Tees with Mickey on were in Disneyland so we had a free run on the exclusivity. They said "no-one has asked us to do this before" - The T-shirt dress and the various Tee - tops etc were all just basic canvases that we put all over prints on or appliqué etc….I think I had come up with the long t-shirt dress but hand on heart I cannot be sure, it could have been Dinah... all I do know, I have always been an advocate of the t-shirt dress in all my other labels too. MISTER FREEDOM soon became a raging success - this small boutique had opened up the fashion scene overnight and the images of British and American Pop Art began to inject some colour and style into the London scene. Everyone from Pop Stars to rich kids were eating the stuff we produced.
Then I began to see John Paul hovering and taking Tommy off to lunch - he came back one day and I was told we were opening in Ken Church Street without a wink or a nod from me. I remember saying; Tommy, you have a Merc and I have a Porsche, we're paying £25 a week rent and taking a ton of money - why do we need this? Tommy remained convinced it was the best move so off we went to Ken. Church Street with the heavy mob. Masses of money was spent on the store and the MR FEEDOM restaurant downstairs (Chris Snow's name). We opened MISTER FREEDOM 7th. December 1970. I had four designers in my studio, Chris Snow, Pamela Motown, Diana Crawshaw, Jim O'Connor - office super-girl Lesley Goring employed as my secretary - I had become Art Director and Production Manager of the company I had once created and Tommy made himself the centre of it all and became the front man - it's from this humiliation, it became a nightmare for me to manage and direct it all - I went to Tommy and said I wanna split and take the Kings Road back - Tommy agreed - he would have FREEDOM, I'd take the old shop back and keep my Porsche".
Chris Snow told us about how he came to join the design team at MISTER FREEDOM. Snow came into the picture during the second year of the Kings Road Mr Freedom period. His friend Keith Mills worked for Tommy Roberts and Charlie Simpson at Kleptomania - it was Keith who led Chris into the business:
"When Keith wasn't tripping at Middle Earth, he was making many amazing threads - panne velvet with embroidery etc..... I Followed Keith to Delft, Holland - we opened a shop called Elephant & Castle - making most of the stock ourselves - & buying in from Trevor at MISTER FREEDOM - velveteen strides in particular.... Back in London - Trevor caught the appliqué garments I was wearing and invited me to do some appliqué' T-shirts for FREEDOM. .... we'd go down to Worlds End to pick up the blanks - that's where I met Tommy, Diana Crawshaw and her pattern-cutter Ilkay - Mu Carter and Pam Keats were more concentrated on the Disney appliqué, I used to do stuff like sci-fi Flash Gordon cityscapes. The Chuck Berry and Marilyn prints I did are on the V & A website for The Fabric of Pop - along with your stuff. But I don't take all the credit for these - the printer, did much of the work. Credit where credit is due - NOT like Tommy claiming all Diana Crawshaw's designs..... I should make it quite clear that from my point of view Tommy had very little to do with the creative side. Diana's innovative bum cleavage trousers - I can distinctly remember her artistic original drawing and DI discussing with Trevor and Ilkay about how risque' they should be - and then the giggly fitting sessions with the shopgirls! ....
There's a photo around (Myles/Gorman archive) of Trevor in nazi helmet, Tommy, Jon Paul and Gerald.
Trevor was living at John (Alkasura) Lloyd's house at the time - Lamont Road behind Grannies + Mickey Solomons (Kleptomania), and the Swedish contingent, Mona and Lisa. Then he moved with Lisa to a house in Felden Street, Fulham (rented by Shirley Peel, John Peel's ex-wife) - asked me if I wanted to take the spare room - also join the Freedom team about to move to Ken. Church St..... maybe modern languages at Winchester College followed by Chemistry of Paint at the Royal Academy was not the best education for the 'rag trade'. We occupied the top floor of the store - Trevor, his faithful and efficient secretary Leslie - Girl Friday - Goring, Diana Crawshaw - sitting in her school desk with dog Mouse, myself and Pamela Motown (Harvey in those days). Shortly afterwards Jim O'Connor arrived from the Royal. The shop opened on Dec.9th.1970. I can remember Gerald, the manager, calling from the shop to say that Raquel Welch had just walked in........ we ended up all literally falling down the stairs.
"So everything was going well at first. Trevor's initial concept with the Kings Road shop had quickly developed into a business where he felt it was moving away from the plans he'd had for MR FREEDOM or do you think it was more about egos and money as Trevor described it?
"There was an increasing atmosphere of " Us and Them" -- upstairs and downstairs, we had been taken over - Trevor always trying to bridge the inevitable gap. FREEDOM for me was Tommy in a very small office in summer, wearing a Mickey Mouse vest, dribbling coffee and sweat onto "Invoices" to make them look "old" for the VAT man. When this turned into Lambos,Tommy Nutter suits, those terrible velvet barrow-boy caps, long lunches at The Club Del Aretusa……then something was missing - Creativity. The incredible publicity generated must have been the flashpoint when suddenly we were not part of the picture".
Diana Crawshaw described the MR FREEDOM origins for her at 430 Kings Road as being on the crest of a wave. She remembers how friend and colleague, Robert Orbach (former manager of 'John Stephens' and a director of 'I was Lord Kitcheners Valet') introduced her to Trevor Myles………
Diana: "Robert only had my address, I was living next to Olympia - I was X directory so he bullied the operator into finding anyone else in the house. So Mr O'Shaunessy from the basement was banging on my door. My little doggy Mouse and I had to follow him down into the glare of his neon-lit basement room, tastefully decorated in pale green gloss with orange and green lino. The television barking from the corner at top volume. I'd never met his wife with her purple-faced screaming baby propped up on the orange and brown sofa. She offered me her place by the phone. Would I care for a cuppa tea,dear?
I picked up the phone. It was Robert....'Diana! I've found you! - I got the operator to find you!'
'What is it,Robert?'
'You've gotta come an' meet someone!'
'Robert, I'm not going out on one of your blind dates again, Herman was the last straw.'
'No! Diana - listen, it's important. These people, they need a designer urgently. I told them you are the best so you'll do it won't you - go on - you gotta go and meet this guy called Trevor Myles, he has just opened a shop he's called MR FREEDOM. I've said I'd get them someone, go on - don't let me down, Di!' (Mr O'Shaunessy's wife rescued a biro from the depths of the sofa) He gave me a number and I made the call.
So I stood outside MR FREEDOM with Mouse and watched a tall, handsome slim guy, hair flying in the wind, come bounding along the pavement towards me - 'Hi! I'm Trevor!' "
Trevor showed me around and I thought I'd gone to heaven. I worked upstairs for a while in the small room overlooking the King's Road while Leslie Goring - we always called her 'Girl Friday', went about her endless business, packing and unpacking boxes of velveteen pants and Mickey Mouse T shirts or sending things off to the press - boy - did she work!
Soon, the new shop in Kensington Church St was finished and we moved in on the top floor. The brand-new MR FREEDOM was crazy. I sat opposite Snow who did the appliqué work on his sewing machine. I had an old school desk from home where I sat drawing up designs. Pamela Motown and Jim O'Connor joined later. Manolo Blahnik sometimes would come in for a chat and once Michael Roberts came in out of the rain and finished some art work. Trevor sat at a large desk on the phone sourcing fabrics with a stream of friends and creative people coming up and down the stairs to check it all out.
Snow and I did an amazing film star "Sizzler" coat in satin with a high white mongolian lamb collar and cuffs - It was pale powder blue satin.The whole of the back was appliquéd with a scene of a waterfall with flowers and shooting stars, sun. moon and woodland trees with flowers and some figures walking up a winding path. It was hung on the wall in the shop. Mickey Solomons bought it for his girlfriend Mona within a few days so I didn't get a picture of it.
Downstairs, while Gerald ran the shop,Tommy was strutting about dressed in Freedom gear or in Tommy Nutter suits chatting to the press and customers taking all the credit for the whole miraculous show. In the basement the stockroom boy (from Kitchener's,) was practicing his tap dancing on the concrete floor to Elton John's new album 'Live -17-11-1970' in-between packing boxes. There seemed to be a steady stream of pop and film celebrities in the shop. One day, Gerald phoned upstairs to ask me to come down and discuss something with Raquel Welch - I was surprised how small she was absolutely perfectly proportioned though. Her bodyguard towered over her - she wanted some velveteen shorts but not so short - she wanted them... longer! Showing even a hint of buttock was out of the question - could I add some turn-ups? Of course we added turn-ups and her bodyguard came to collect them. Elton John,on the other hand had enormous amounts cut off his trousers and dungarees.
When I arrived one morning to find Trevor no longer at Mr Freedom the shock was devastating. Then I found Snow was gone. I passed Tommy on the narrow stairs.
'Alright Di?' he said as if nothing had happened.
"You don't know what you've done!" I blurted out eyes filling up.... "You've killed the goose .......!"
Next day John Paul called me in his office and I was out too. So back home with Mouse and thrown out of heaven."
Tommy Roberts was a naturally gregarious character on a mission -- maybe he felt he was always the 'odd one out' but found inspiration from being surrounded with the creative spirit of all of the designers that worked at MR FREEDOM who brought such strong individual talents to the fore. Diana Crawshaw for her original shapes and modern styling, Ilkay Hussien's brilliant cutting, Pamla Motown's Pop Art sensibility and Chris Snows technical back-up and skillful appliqué. Then there was Jim O'Connor's brand of Pop Art fashion that complimented Pamla and Trevor Myles' skills at origination of ideas not forgetting Dinah Adams original designs and shapes that the 430 business had been built upon. Thats a great mix that shouldn't have gone wrong. But I'd had a problem or two with Tommy myself"
Trevor commented, "The story of Tommy and the statue of liberty is hysterical but probably not at the time though."
John: " I think it was October, towards the end of the build of the new Kensington Church Street store. Tommy wanted me to come up with something like my 10ft. Flying Duck sculpture he'd seen in Domas magazine. By the time he left, he'd settled for my idea of a Statue of Liberty constructed in the same way as the Giant Flying Duck. A fibreglass Statue of Liberty formed as a huge vacuum moulded souvenir. He offered a couple of grand in advance but I preferred him to advance expenses only so I would remain independent then sell him the finished sculptures as a special edition. As it turned out, this wasn’t a good decision. I sent over some drawings for Jon Wealleans to check out and started the piece only 3 weeks before the opening and thanks to my assistant, the late lamented artist, Joe Garcia, and some good chemistry, the work was completed only 10 hours before the opening party. We were comatose for the next 2 days and missed the celebrations. The Sunday Times, in their MR FREEDOM article (Feb. 28th. 1971) published a photograph of the sculpture. (Some accounts have described the piece as a lamp - but it had no function, the only light being a flickering flame reflector, taken from an old electric fire - I was commissioned to make a sculpture and thats what it was).
Before the Sunday Times piece, a week or so after the opening, some paranoia had grown around the sculpture project, I had a call from one of the Freedom designers to warn me that Tommy and John Paul were planning to invade my studio to poach the Liberty moulds and assume control of the production. I phoned one our friends at the Wonder Workshop in Paddington, German Surrealist sculptor Louise Kimme, and she hid the moulds in her lock-up. The Manager of the Chippenham Arts Group, John Midgely, phoned me later to say that a 'heavy looking bunch of men in suits' had stormed our studio looking for the moulds. Molly was out with the children. As I came off the phone, a red Lamborgini arrived outside the flat, Tommy, John Paul, Jon Wealleans and a guy who looked like Terry Downes (could have been the MR FREEDOM shop manager) were stalking across the road. I jumped on the piano and belted out some rock'n'roll trying to ignore the doorbell -- but they were in... "What's goin' on?" says Tommy "You tell me"...Terry Downes look-a-like is guarding the door punching his hand with his fist "He's been a silly boy Tommy".
John Paul said they'd heard I was about to produce the sculptures of Liberty separately to Mr Freedom so they wanted me to hand over the moulds. I protested that our agreement, although it gave Mr Freedom exclusive retail sales, the copyright and the moulds remained my property. I had no intention and no inclination to sell the sculptures myself, although I would always defend my rights as having copyright of the piece. This weird confrontation had taken me completely by surprise especially as Jon Wealleans was standing there not offering any support. Molly and I had counted Jon and Jane as friends, we had dined together and shared a lot of enthusiasm for the Art and Fashion of the day. The phone rang -- the Observer wanted to interview me about my Food sculptures….."Well Sue, I'm having a problem with the Mr Freedom sculpture right now - so if you would like something about the Mr Freedom stuff…. in fact Tommy Roberts is standing here beside me, would you like to talk to him?" Tommy switched into media good-guy mode and did a pretty fine job of selling me and the Liberty sculpture. I said I'd ring back later to fill in the details. Everyone in the room were staring at each other. The guy by the door played out his -- "He's bein' a silly boy Tommy" routine so Tommy tells him to shut up. There was still an air of unease but everyone wound it up and Tommy grinned, nodded and shook my hand.
The next week, John Paul called me in and Tommy expressed some embarrassment -- the politics had gone wrong but ultimately no damage was done. Things eventually worked out better with Tommy when we discussed the new Wonder Workshop black T-shirts. As a kind of reprieve, he told me there were loads of black jersey he’d never used at a cotton mill just outside Manchester with The Patent Knitting Company. Apparently he’d ordered a ton of every colour and the mill had dyed a ton of black -- he had argued that black wasn’t a colour so he would only take delivery of the ‘colours’ but not the black! We had always resisted taking on the production of our designs to such a mass market level but all the wheels were turning in that direction - I guess that ton of black was meant for us! We used the black jersey for the next 5 years.
Back in the office at MR FREEDOM, Jon Paul invited me to lunch, handed me a welcome cheque but I didn't take lunch. I never discovered who spawned the paranoia about the Liberty moulds but later when Jon Wealleans complained I hadn't returned his Zap comics - Zap!"
The Liberty project was doomed. For safety I kept the moulds in the back garden at the flat, in the spring our neighbour, Mrs Loucaidies, assumed I'd dumped them and burnt them on a bonfire. So there were only 2 sculptures of Liberty made….. the other one was somewhere in Paris.
Pamla Motown had already been involved in making “Mod” style clothes in 1968 making Union Jack shift dresses. After having her work featured in the press she began working out of a studio in Kingley Street near Liberty’s in the centre of London Fashion. She produced bespoke patchwork leather belts with huge brass buckles for celebs and for Pauline Fordham’s shop, “Palisades”.
Pamla produced designs for the 430 Kings Road shop on a part-time basis - sometimes working in the little room above the shop. She joined the design team at MISTER FREEDOM in Kensington full time and after the move from 430 Kings Road, when Trevor and co. split to start up PARADISE GARAGE, Pamla Motown took over the FREEDOM designs completely together with Royal College graduate Jim O'Connor.
John: "Trevor Myles reckons you were with the original design crew at Kensington MISTER FREEDOM and Chris Snow remembers he called you Harvey."
Pamla: "Yes, Snow is right, I was Pam Harvey back then but I worked part-time at the shop in the small room upstairs at 430 Kings Road in 1969 - the shop now Vivienne Westwood's 'Worlds End' - it was in 1970 that the money men got involved and everyone moved to Kensington."
John: "How did Jim O'Connor become involved with MISTER FREEDOM?"
Pamla: "Jim's designs were featured in a magazine alongside my own, he was a new designer fresh from the RCA. I recognised the similarity in content, the designs featuring bright colours and pop themes so I suggested to Tommy & Trevor that we call him in. Trevor and I interviewed Jim and he was hired on the spot."
"I also designed knitwear using rainbow colours and graphic themes which became an important innovation for the FREEDOM shop and one of my earliest successes."
John: "I remember those wonderful 'Hellfire' sweaters you and Jim O'Connor made in '72.
Pamla: "The 'numbers' knitwear were for MISTER FREEDOM in 1971. As I had studied graphic design and fashion at college, knitwear was a natural for me."
John: "The numbers sweaters were great - directly related to the images from Klein's Movie"
Pamla: "Yes, we all got to see the MISTER FREEDOM movie. I was inspired by the styles that had "pop art" and American themes, both of which were my passion in fashion. Didn't really get the politics of it all but enjoyed the visuals. Some were a bit naff though.
John: "The designer 'split' at MISTER FREEDOM seemed to be based on a feeling that Tommy Roberts was dominating the press releases. That and the emphasis placed on money by John Paul gave rise to an uneasiness they all shared. Chris Snow said He, Trevor and Diana left FREEDOM at the apex of its fame and popularity but under the direction of Tommy, it began to lose momentum. Did you find you were affected by this shift?"
Pamla: "At first, the success of MISTER FREEDOM both in the UK and abroad was legendary and initially Tommy called in John Paul for financial backing to keep production up with demand. He brought his accountant in too and the combo conflicted with the spirit of fun and Pop Art Trevor had had, but that Tommy was now enjoying. The original idea when MISTER FREEDOM hired other designers was that we would work as a team and nobody would be “the boss.” Tommy was being called Mr. Freedom by the press and he, of course, revelled in the adoration and soon adopted the moniker for himself, ignoring all of us working tirelessly to get ideas through a system that was badly run and disorganised. I began to come in late for work - I kept making designs that were not getting produced…seemed like a waste of time. I was given warnings that I would be fired if I didn’t get in on time. I told them that I would be happy to work all the hours I could if I could spend my time there productively. There was no change so I left. Trevor came to ask me back as I was, (and I thought I was) the main designer and an integral part of the company. I returned at a higher salary with my own label "Pamla Motown for MR FREEDOM" but the 'Powers That Be' were now busy courting the press, opening a restaurant and my designs were still bottlenecked."
John: "So you left MISTER FREEDOM, then returned ... and then left?"
Pamla: "Jim and I had been generating a lot of new work. To revitalise the FREEDOM image, we were asked to represent the company - talking to the press about design ideas. We hatched a plan to move and start our own company. The politics were getting crazy at MISTER FREEDOM during this time. Soon, Jim and I were successfully running 2 GENERATORS and simply did not stay in touch. We worked freelance mostly for Marshall Lester, designing graphic sweatshirts and knitwear which received a lot of press for us and a lot of profit for Lester. Then we moved to New York in 1974 and later opened up in Los Angeles."
Pamla Motown and Jim O'Connor continued to make bespoke clothing for Rock stars and specialist stores while they moved the direction of their designs onto the LA Punk scene and opened their most important store, 'POSEUR' on Sunset Boulevard.
In 1972 Tommy Roberts eventually left the MR FREEDOM business to John Paul and the other partners and quietly tapped into a new area of interest - the warehouses of Covent Garden - he was the very first to do so. At the time, we heard through the Chelsea grapevine that he was working on a completely new and ground-breaking boutique in Shorts Gardens with The Electric Colour Company and his old friend and new partner Willy Daly. Paradise Garage was now safely in the hands of Malcolm and Vivienne whileTrevor Myles had run out of money and ideas. City Lights turned out to be Willy and Tommy's most daring and sophisticated project ever. In the depths of London's wholesale fruit and vegetable market, it was easily the most interesting store in London, full of ideas that had grown from that Anglo-American cross culture that was Tommy's speciality. From the pale gold glitter in the floorboards catching the ambient lighting, the different floor levels to the open warehouse structures, this place had the greatest feel - you really wanted to hang out there - buying clothes was secondary. City Lights was like a beautiful showcase of sophisticated clothes that were made for the rich and famous, glamourous and sexy. Tight-fitting tailored suits, Jackets, Ties, braces - like Granny Takes A Trip meets Saville Row - Evening dresses and shoes of Hollywood glam. I remember the Marilyn Monroe shoes with the perspex heels sitting in a glass case like rare jewels. The furniture and fittings were superb - especially loved the hexagonal glass top table with carved skulls at each corner by Andrew Greaves and Jeff Pine.
Unique in concept and refurbished to a very high spec, this beautiful old warehouse should still be there today. It would be as modern as any of the Covent Garden boutiques that have grown up there over the last 30 years or so….. but in 1973 it was completely on its own and would not have the benefit of a thriving commercial shopping centre that Mr Freedom enjoyed in Kensington - City Lights never lit up the town but it's a light that will never go out - still revered by the fashion and design world for its inventive Interior design, funky glamorous styling and fabulous fashion. The two essential qualities of energetic entrepreneurs like Tommy Roberts is that they're never short of cash and they never run out of steam.
Design and Style historian, Paul Gorman has just published the full story of Tommy Robert's entrepreneurial exploits in his book called "MR FREEDOM" published by www.adelita.co.uk