In early 1969, entrepreneur Tommy Roberts was looking for new business opportunities. The location he had in mind was King’s Road in Chelsea. He knew that his friend Michael Rainey was selling off his boutique Hung On You and struck a deal with Rainey to take over the lease of the former Hung On You premises – 430 King’s Road – for £1200 with a weekly rent payment of £25 to the landlord.
Roberts, with partner Trevor Myles, first collaboration as designers was a series of t-shirts decorated with zodiac signs – Mick Jagger bought one with his star sign, Leo, and wore it during Stones ill-fated gig at Altamont in December 1969.
Roberts knew what kind of clothes he wanted to design and sell in his new boutique. He wanted it to be ‘a total reversal of what was being worn n the street. What provided him with a clear direction was 1968 film by director/fashion photographer William Klein, titled Mr. Freedom, a fierce satire on American Imperialism. The visual side of the film, ridiculed the obsession of Americans with their own flag. There is a generous use of stars n’ stripes throughout the film, as well as comic book-style superhero/superheroine costumes. This imagery appealed to Tommy Roberts, and his new boutique on 430 King’s Road which opened in summer 1969 was called simply Mr. Freedom.
Replica Los Angeles’ Butterfly Tee ($188) is highly influenced by the short lived English label Mr. Freedom
The overall colour of the interior was blue with red flashes. There was a generous use of neon and plexiglass. Shop was decorated with Pop Art posters, stars n’ stripes wherever possible and revolving mirrorball. The designs sold in Mr.Freedom were simple, yet striking – multicolored long-sleeved T-Shirts decorated with a massive star or T-shirts decorated with Disney characters. ‘ Nobody else had thought of approaching Disney in a fashion context; not long before the shop was due to open, we asked for a meeting at their UK offices in Pall Mall’, says Roberts.’ It was incredible. They gave us the go-ahead in return for a fee, so we left the same day armed with the exclusive license to print their characters on clothes’.
The clothes of Mr.Freedom screamed of the future, in the time when fashionable young people were growing tired of hippie fashions. The world of fashion was saying goodbye to the Sixties, and Tommy Roberts provided exciting clothes (‘Fun Clothes’ he called them) for a new decade. One of the early clients of Mr.Freedom was Marc Bolan, who recently turned from a hippie minstrel into a star of a new burgeoning musical movement – Glam Rock. Roberts’ clothes brilliantly complemented his new image. By mid-1970, the clientele of Mr. Freedom included the likes of Twiggy and Justin Villeneuve, Peter Sellers, Mick and Bianca Jagger, Elton John, Cher, Barbara Streisand, Olivia Newton-John, Elizabeth Taylor and Kansai Yamamoto (designer responsible for Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust look). After Paloma Picasso turned up at Yves-Saint Laurent’s studio dressed head-to-toe in Mr.Freedom, he designed a series of clothes decorated with stars n’ stripes quoting Tommy Roberts as an inspiration.
Alongside Biba, Mr.Freedom was one of the first ‘lifestyle boutiques’. One of the most ambitious projects of Tommy Roberts was opening a restaurant called Mr. Feed’Em in a basement of Mr. Freedom in 1971. Using artificial colorants, the food at Mr.Feed’Em was dyed – the rice was red, the burgers were blue etc. The restaurant was made to look like a futuristic, Pop Art diner. However, the demise of Mr. Feed’Em was a beginning of a chain reaction that led to shutting down the whole Mr.Freedom premises in 1972.
Replica Los Angeles’ Boyfriend Tee ($220) is highly influenced by the short lived English label Mr. Freedom
But despite Mr.Freedom shutting down, Tommy Roberts’ career was far from over. For the rest of the 1970’s, he ran City Lights Studio boutique, designed clothes for David Bowie, managed Kilburn and The High Roads (Ian Dury’s band) before moving on to furniture design in 1980’s and antique dealing in 1990’s and 2000’s.
With Mr. Freedom, Tommy Roberts helped to push fashion into the 1970’s. Mr.Freedom might have been the last chapter in the story of the British Boutique Scene of the 1960’s, but it was also the missing link between that essentially 1960’s scene and what was about to come in the late 1970’s. It is perhaps symbolic that when Tommy Roberts left 430 King’s Road, the next occupants were (if you don’t count short-lived Paradise Garage) Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood (also Mr.Freedom’s customers) who at that address started a boutique with ever-changing names (Let It Rock, Too Fast Too Live Too Young Too Die, Sex, Seditionaries) which created a ground for a Punk revolution…but that’s a whole other story we’ll save for another post!
We can safely say that Replica would not exist without Mr. Freedom. If you’d like to learn more about the fantastic Mr. Freedom boutique and its visionary creator, Tommy Roberts, check out the brilliant book ‘Mr. Freedom – Tommy Roberts, British Design Hero’ by Paul Gorman.
Replica Los Angeles’ Bubble Dress ($275) is highly influenced by the short lived English label Mr. Freedom