The security grills have yet to come off the front of my menswear shop in Shepherds Bush. My staff are late as usual because they know the first one in has to take off the four heavy grills covering the front, walk them around the back and make me coffee. I end up taking the damn things off and make my own coffee. On cue the staff turn up walking in single file past me, eyes front, smirking and drinking out of small white polystyrene cups from the Italian café opposite. I note that they have probably watched me take them off, trip and drop 40lbs of rusty steel onto my foot from the comfort of the café. I tend to remember these things when they want to have a day off or pop across the road to shepherds bush market for Jamaican patty and chips.
It is 1984. The clothes I sell are far from Orwellian, artificial fibres and throwaway terrace fashions are creeping into the store. Clone army’s wearing Tacchini track tops march past to the QPR ground up the road.
My shop is in two halves separated by a wall. The front half is a cacophony of colour, rows of cashmere jumpers in the ceiling high shelving. Julien Shirts the Nigerians buy in dozens. Rows of Farah hopsack trousers that I cannot sell fast enough. T-shirts in all colours of the rainbow, there are rails of cheap shite in the entrance that the public seem to like. A decorative arch leads behind into a large square elegant room beautifully carpeted with two large chandelier’s hanging from a French stucco ceiling. In the middle of the room are four large blood red leather chesterfield sofas arranged opposite each other on the large Persian rug and in the centre is a table with a vase of daily fresh flowers. Around all the walls are the best Italian and English readymade and semi-finished suits and jackets you can buy all arranged in colour order and correctly sleeved for that regimental perfect look. I have been told the flowers are an unnecessary expense; the flowers by the way are milk on the petty cash sheet now. We drink lots of milk.
A Yellow revvy Ferrari pulls up outside. Every Saturday morning, he vaults over the fence to buy a cream silk shirt. Never says hello or smiles. Today he vaults back over the fence and falls on his arse. I laughed so loud we’ve not seen him since. I hear him though, on the radio listened to by millions, a grade ‘A’ twat.
My shop is around the corner from the BBC Television Centre in Wood Lane. They have an account with me and they spend a LOT of money. Buyers from various television shows are in daily buying stuff and chucking in the odd shirt or jacket that just happens to fit them perfectly. All their purchases were apparently subject to the official secrets act. My staff unload an early delivery of shoes, a late replenishment due to the Harlem Globetrotters clearing me out the day before. A ‘Gift’ from the BBC.
My cashier is Henrietta a young, pretty, buxom, tall Jewish princess and is wearing a white crocheted very short dress again. I sat her down last week when she wore the black one and explained how no one is getting any work done because her knickers are on permanent show and her nipples poke through the holes of the crocheted dress and all the male customers are hanging around staring. She likes sixties Fashion which has been retro since 1970, can you imagine the shit I am selling now becoming retro? (alright, alright, it has.)
We, (His Mother) decide on the colour of the wedding suit. That gives me about thirty suits to show him. We (his mother) decides he needs a subtle self-stripe in the darkest of navy. Of which I have three choices. We, after four cups of tea (his Mother) decide on one of them. Thank you Ermenegildo Zegna, and thank you Greek mother with the large bladder. I didn’t enjoy the shouting and gesticulations in Greek but did enjoy saying ‘That will be £4250 please’ for the six suits, shirts, ties, socks and shoes. (I don’t sell pants.)
The Father had his purpose and took over the ‘negotiations.’ The groom, best man and three brothers stood behind him. It was me against them. The stares, mono eyebrow frowning and massaging of my shoulders and the thumb pressing into my neck by Dad got the bill down to £3995 for cash. After I was kissed and cuddled by all the men and flirted at by one of his sisters, I went for a lie down on one of the sofa’s among the suits. I looked up at the chandeliers sparkling away, pleased with myself that I won the battle of wits with today’s hairy nemesis when Henrietta and her bullet like nipples poking through her crochet dress shadowed above me. ‘Cup of tea? She asked. Couldn’t help notice from my lying down position the little knickers she was wearing. I’ll give her another chance.
The three other members of staff were selling well in the front of the shop; I send one of them in a cab to the Kings Rd branch to get more frighteningly vulgar French shirts. I have an over bearing Nigerian who likes snapping his fingers waiting for twenty of them and at £30 a pop it was worth the cab fare.
This was the last year working for this company, been here and at branches all over London since the seventies, I learnt how to sell, how to be a proper shopkeeper and how to resist flirty semi naked women in crochet dresses. I went on to opening and designing bottom end stores so they can sell rubbish, I won’t own up to who they were. I did a bit of selling to chains of stores, not as much fun but the fashion shows I frequented had enough food and champagne to keep me amused. My pretentiousness knew no bounds and neither did my waistline. I left the industry altogether, when shop managers became store minders and staff became too young to care. All the old fellas that knew the menswear trade, whom you trusted and relied on for service, were being buried in redundancy and at the cemetery. These days, real service and style are relegated to fashionable addresses at a premium price. I remember when you could pop to the shops locally and come back with clothing that would outlive the back that wore it. Nostalgia eh?