This story is a collision of worlds. The worlds of two men. The worlds of Fashion and Music. And they all collide and converge at this car - this 1956 psychedelic Bentley - on King's Road. Fashion maverick John Crittle was outfitting rock icons through his shop, Dandie Fashions. John Lennon, the planet's most famous musician - poet, had spiked the consciousness of a universal audience. And when they met in London, their two worlds fused. They set out on a trip together. A trip that would alter the world forever.
The Beatles entered the world of high-fashion frocks through the back door. It began when the band formed Apple Corps, Ltd. in 1968 to manage the members' various business ventures, which mostly followed a trajectory of great bursts of energy followed by lackluster management and quick demise. But the ideas themselves were big.
Their own fortunes already secure, they wanted to use Apple Corps to fund other creative folk and their businesses. The fashion designer John Crittle was one of these. They forged a business relationship with him by purchasing Dandie Fashions, of which Crittle was co-owner, and renaming it Apple Tailoring.
Because the shop had owned the 1956 psychedelic, multicolored Bentley, the car now landed in The Beatles' possession. It was the perfect party car for shuffling band members and their famous musician friends - Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Roger Daltry of The Who, and John Lennon, to name a few - up and down King's Road and throughout London to clubs and parties.
Dandie Fashions (spelled "Dandy" on their labels) originated as a partnership among a handful of colorful figures - John Crittle, a young Aussie who had gotten his start at the notable Chelsea fashion boutique Hung On You; Tara Browne, a London socialite barely in his 20s who was heir to the Guinness brewery fortune; and a well-born peacock by the name of Neil Winterbotham. It began in part as a retail outlet for Browne's tailoring firm of Foster & Tara. With flair so lavish, it required the right brand of irreverence, personality and fame to pull it off.
Filled with silk frilled shirts, breasted jackets and velvet suits in every possible color, Dandie's reputation, popularity and stature rose. The fledgling entrepreneurs smartly moved the shop from its original spot on South Kensington to 161 King's Road, the heart of London's late 1960s fashion movement.
Browne was on his way to discuss designs for the shop front when he was killed in a car crash. A newspaper account of the accident inspired one of the lines John Lennon wrote in "A Day in the Life," the final track on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The store lived on in spite of Browne's untimely death, led by Crittle, who was designing clothes for The Who, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Sammy Davis, Jr., David Bowie, and Elvis Presley, to name a few.
Crittle befriended John Lennon and designed clothes for The Beatles. Dandie Fashions became as much a social club as it was a tailoring boutique. Crittle hosted wild after-hours parties there. There was no shortage of love buzzing throughout the shop. And it flowed into the street to the 1956 psychedelic, multicolored Bentley that Crittle had bought through Dandie. This became the party car, the novelty cruiser, chauffeuring Crittle's famous clientele up and down King's Road and to and from the city's best clubs and parties.
If the 60s were dominated by youth experimenting with new ideas, the fashion scene was no exception. A Life International cover in July 1966 featured Neil Winterbotham, Ossie Clark and John Crittle, three lads who were smashing the old norms in fashion trends, in a story about the "Spread of the Swinging Revolution." The boutique owners and designers who dominated King's Road had influence beyond any single shop. Alan Holston started out at Dandie Fashions before he was poached by the bespoke shirt makers Deborah & Clare; Freddie Hornik also played a role at Dandie before he made Granny Takes a Trip famous.
In early 1968, Apple Corps (The Beatles' corporation) purchased all of Crittle's shares in Dandie Fashions in exchange for 1% ownership of Apple Corps. They changed the name of Dandie to Apple Tailoring.
If life on King's Road skipped along like a trippy, fantastical storybook, the design trio of Douglas Binder, Dudley Edwards and David Vaughn (BEV) were the resident illustrators. As fledgling art students, the three went in together to rent a London studio. "We only had money for a couple of chairs and a chest of drawers inside this huge studio, and the place looked a bit drab," Edwards recalls. "So we thought, 'Well, we're artists, we might as well paint the furniture.' After that we painted anything and everything."
They became friends with Tara Browne, the Guinness heir and descendent of Irish royalty who took his new friends out to London's most expensive restaurants and was delighted when they returned the favor by introducing him to "transport cafes" (known in America as truck stops).
It was Browne who commissioned BEV to paint the new King's Road storefront for Dandie Fashions, one of many sites on which the artists made their mark.
They painted other buildings such as the Lord John boutique on Carnaby Road. They painted cars, most notably Browne's AC Cobra and a convertible Buick Electra that appeared on a 1967 album cover for The Kinks.
When John Crittle bought the 1956 Bentley SI for Dandie Fashions, he commissioned them to paint that, as well, though between the conception of the design and its execution the group members developed differences in vision and temperament, and Edwards recalls having found an apprentice to finish the job. Nonetheless Crittle achieved his goal of an extraordinary car that would carry a sense of the time and place along its every journey.
Meanwhile, through their friendship with Browne, Binder, Edwards and Vaughn became friends with The Beatles. Paul McCartney hired them to paint a psychedelic piano on which he composed "Getting Better." He also invited Edwards to come live with him and paint murals in his house, which he did for six months before Ringo Starr asked him to come to his home and do the same. If it all looked a bit like a walk through a carnival, that was no accident. "We associated that kind of imagery with joy and fun," Edwards explains. BEV conflated the colors they achieved through their "flamboyant enamel" paint specially designed for carnivals with other inspirations like 1930s art deco and Marvel Comics' "Doctor Strange."
Their art blurred lines. They were painters who also created light shows, most memorably staging "The Million Volt Light & Sound Rave" in 1967 in London's Roundhouse Theatre which featured a 14-minute experimental track, "Carnival of Light," by Paul McCartney and John Lennon. But that's just how it was. "No one was saying you should stay in this slot or do this or do that," Edwards explains. "We were all meeting up and bouncing ideas off each other, doing things to see where they would go."
Without knowing it, the most popular band in the universe was beginning to meet its end by 1966. The Beatles had claimed absolute, international fame. Just before their final world tour that year, they released Revolver, an album best known for how the symphonic styles of the second track, "Eleanor Rigby," contrasted with the psychedelic lyrics and syncopated beats of the final track, "Tomorrow Never Knows."
This was a transitional period. The Fab Four were maturing from mop-haired, crowd-pleasing boys to introspective, expressionist men. Lennon famously quipped, "We're more popular than Jesus now," which incited protests from the Ku Klux Klan and religious conservatives throughout the Bible Belt of America. 1966 was the year The Beatles played their last concert in the States, a show at Candlestick Park in San Francisco they ended, to the audience's disappointment, at 10 p.m. on the dot. This was also the year they played their last British concert, a short, 15-minute, 5-song set at Wembley Arena.
That said, many critics argue that the years between 1966 and 1968 were their most expansive and creative. When Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band dropped in 1967, The Beatles had achieved completely new lyrical and musical levels, spurred along by their experimentation with psychedelic drugs. They later released "All You Need is Love," a song that equally defined, mirrored, and fueled the cultural benchmark known as the Summer of Love. They boarded a bus for a cross-country Magical Mystery Tour, filming their escapades - every twist, turn, and silly stop - for a subsequent movie.
Because of their heightened success, The Beatles focused their brand and business by forming Apple Corps (pronounced "core"), a company that broadly covered music, film, electronics, merchandise, and arts projects.
They opened the Apple boutique on Baker Street, a retail store designed for £100,000 by the art collective The Fool and filled with fashion garments and accessories. Paul McCartney described it as "a beautiful place where beautiful people can buy beautiful things." Behind the facade, though, there was conflict. The Beatles had differing opinions on design. Lennon even hated using the word "boutique" in the title, but it was best known on the street that way, so it stuck. Besides the band's disagreements, the shop's management was loose, there really was no business model, and theft, by both shoppers and employees, ran rampant. After eight months, the Apple boutique shuttered its doors.
Between the opposing Beatles and a loose-fitting staff, the store was all energy and little structure. The appearance of success brought customers. But outfits flew out the door with little money exchanged. Much was for sale, much was given away, and much stayed in the hands of the 'hip' employees who initially attracted the crowds.
- Their first album released under Apple Corps was called The Beatles, more widely known as The White Album. Much of its inspiration came from procuring (and later divorcing) their spiritual advisor, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder and guru of the Transcendental Meditation movement. But it was also a time of turmoil between The Beatles. Ringo actually quit the band for a period while they were recording the album. And each member sat in for "solo" recording sessions without the others present. Lennon and McCartney both later remarked that the disparate nature of recording The Beatles signified the true beginning of the band's break-up.
In early 1968, The Beatles led the watchful world through more than music. They traded manners for a manner of thinking. Beyond music, theirs was a lifestyle and brand. John and Yoko's first public appearance attracted eyes and cameras and reporters to the opening of Apple Tailoring, a second Apple fashion outlet at 161 King's Road, in a space previously occupied by the boutique tailoring shop, Dandie Fashions, which they had absorbed as a business investment. "We're catering mainly for pop groups, personalities and turned-on-swingers," John Crittle said at the time. "The teenagers seem too frightened to come in, even though they know this is The Beatles' place. Maybe it's because the place is too elegant and too expensive." Beneath the boutique there was also a private hairdressing salon, for the near-exclusive use of The Beatles themselves, though other clients including the Bee Gees came to have their hair done as well.
The idea behind this Beatles venture, and others like it, was explained by Lennon on the Tonight Show, "Our accountant came up and said, 'We got this amount of money. Do you want to give it to the government or do something with it?' So we decided to play businessmen for a bit, because we've got to run our own affairs now. So we've got this thing called 'Apple' which is going to be records, films, and electronics, which all tie up." They renamed Dandie Fashions Apple Tailoring and rebranded it to focus on civil and theatrical wear. Now partnered with Crittle, The Beatles could do more than don "civil and theatrical" clothing. They would actually be a part of the design, manufacture, and promotion of a lifestyle to fit. Crittle, whose reputation had grown larger than life, retained the position of director of the store alongside Neil Aspinall, Apple Corps' manager. They had an eager fan base to draw from. Customers were sure to follow. Unfortunately, mismanagement ensued.
John Crittle bought Browne's shares of Dandie and became a partner soon thereafter, and he steadily gained fame for designing clothes for The Who, The Rolling Stones, Elvis, and Jimi Hendrix. Having befriended and admired Crittle, The Beatles decided to purchase Dandie Fashions in exchange for 1% ownership of Apple Corps
"We bought a few things from [John Crittle] and the next thing we knew, we owned the place!"
- George Harrison
By the summer of 1968, The Beatles decided to end their brief experiments in high-road commerce. The Apple boutique was closed. Ownership of Apple Tailoring was transferred back to John Crittle, but they continued to invest in the business, because as Paul McCartney stated, "we have a moral and personal obligation to our partner John Crittle."