Friday, 30 May 2014

GQ Icon: David Parkinson

David Parkinson is the great forgotten figure of Seventies

street fashion photography. 

By dint of a network of avant-garde associations and eclectic

interests, the clever and inventive Parkinson was uniquely placed

not just to cast his acute observational eye on the development of

London menswear but also to visually aid British fashion’s

propulsion through the dog days of glam to the tougher, fetishised

aesthetic of punk. 

“David was hip. It’s as simple as that,” says Jack English, the

documentary and stills photographer who knew Parkinson in the early

Sixties when they were both provincial teenage visual-culture


David was chronicling the street’s answer to musical pop


Malcolm McLaren

“We first met in the Town Hall Square, Leicester. As Bobby

Neuwirth says of his first encounter with Bob Dylan, he was wearing

the right leather jacket,” grins English. “In David’s case it was

black, with lapels and two or three buttons, like a suit jacket but

in leather – very cool. And that hipness of David’s came across in

his photography in the Seventies; he was a great stylist.”

Parkinson’s work – high concept, sexy, simultaneously gritty and

glamorous – -parallels that of such contemporaries as Guy Bourdin,

Helmut Newton and Harri Peccinotti, whose output regularly appeared

in the pages of Paris Vogue, Harpers Queen and

But he was not to become as fêted as his peers. Why? Because

Parkinson was focused on the blossoming of an earthy strand of

boutique culture largely ignored by the rest of the fashion media.

Importantly, Parkinson’s career – tragically cut short by suicide

mid-decade – was confined to the despised soft-porn men’s magazines

which proliferated in newly permissive Britain in the wake of

liberalisation of the obscenity laws.

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At a time when there were no dedicated consumer menswear

magazines in these isles, a decade-and-a-half before the launch of
British GQ, Parkinson used the pages of such

mass-circulation outlets as Paul Raymond’s Club

to detail the burst of creativity in clothing

and retail interiors pouring from a select band of game-changers

based in the grimier spots of the capital.

With the underground press in retreat, Club

International captured a new market for vanguard


Much of this activity was concentrated around the World’s End at

the fag-end of the King’s Road, in particular at the now-hallowed

number 430. Today, the site of Vivienne Westwood‘s World’s End boutique, in

the late Sixties the design entrepreneur Tommy Roberts launched his

pop-art boutique Mr Freedom there. Roberts’ partner Trevor Myles

succeeded him with the dust-bowl/South-Sea-islands used-denim

-emporium, Paradise Garage, and then the former art student Malcolm McLaren and his seamstress teacher

girlfriend Westwood used it as the base for their sociopolitical

youth-cult assaults under the successive banners of Let It Rock,

Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die and Sex.

Parkinson was in at every twist and turn, Nikon at the ready. He

also showcased outré garb from elsewhere on the King’s Road, such

as ornate Westernwear from Billy Murphy’s The Emperor Of Wyoming

and the curatorial retail constructs of Stephane Raynor, John

Krivine and Don Letts, the trio who made up Acme Attractions in the

basement of Chelsea’s Antiquarius market, from where they set a

high-water mark for vintage menswear.

In collaboration with his partners, first Sandra Cross,

subsequently Rose Kendall and then Valerie Allam, Parkinson

prefigured the digital age stylist-cum-photographer, driving around

town in his silver-blue Messerschmitt bubble car, picking out

strange props from rag markets, selecting nonprofessional models

and scouting street-level environments. Pastel-painted

post-Windrush terraces in Brixton, pre-Second World War Roman Road

barbershops, oil-spattered motorbike garages, unsettling Hackney

medical -suppliers, all were used as a means of bringing into

relief the distinctive garments he favoured.

“David had an extraordinarily creative and original mind,” says

Allam, head of art and design at London’s East Ham College Of

Technology during their relationship and later a director of

international branding combine Wolff Olins. (In the early

Seventies, Allam lived with Parkinson in Terry Farrell and Nicholas

Grimshaw’s architecturally groundbreaking and then-recently opened

Park Road Apartments in Marylebone, London.)

“He was intrigued by diverse sources, from music, style,

architecture, American cars and film,” adds Allam. “He was also an

avid collector, particularly of old magazines, tin toys, vintage

clothing, typography, art deco, furniture, jewellery and weird

objects. These all fed his visual vocabulary and inspired ideas for

photography. For example, he would see a factory sign where one of

the brand-name letters had disappeared and then incorporate that

letter into a fashion shoot, as if it had blown into the model’s


 Parkinson compiled a huge collection of antique toy robots

and cars decades before these gewgaws became the staple quirky gift

item of such retailers as Paul Smith, while his connoisseurship was so

singular that when he saw a photograph of Bryan Ferry wearing a

Forties tie in the style of one he owned, Parkinson promptly sold

the dozens in his possession at the flea market in Petticoat Lane

rather than be identified with such populism.

“That’s his intensity coming through,” says Stephane Raynor,

who, like Jack English, came to know Parkinson through Leicester’s

town-centre youth scene in the Sixties. “The mere fact that someone

had cottoned on to an interest of his would set Dave ripping

-everything up and starting again.”

Single-minded to the last, Parkinson was not destined to join

his fellow mavericks in the pop-cult pantheon. McLaren and

Westwood’s achievements aside, Raynor and Krivine went on to

establish the Boy London streetwear label; Letts found fame first

as a member of Mick Jones’ Big Audio Dynamite and latterly as a

filmmaker and DJ; William English and Sandra Cross opened the

Eighties Borough restaurant the Dining Room; and Jack English ran

the boutique PX with Raynor and Roger Burton and founded the

enduring Contemporary Wardrobe archive before becoming a


Such adventures did not await Parkinson. Fogged by heavy

marijuana consumption (he latterly became an enthusiastic reggae

aficionado to the extent of dabbling with Rasta reasoning), he

took his own life within a few weeks of his 29th birthday in

December 1975. 

The timing could not have been more off. At this very point -

less than two months after the launch on London’s live art-school

circuit of McLaren’s charges the Sex Pistols – the world was stirring to the

scene which had sprung out of the bohemian set of King’s Road

“Thems” that Parkinson had catalogued, ringing the alarms which

continue to clang through the wider culture today.

Parkinson’s enigma has grown over the intervening decades.

His story has never been told. Nor has his work been presented as

an oeuvre, free from its sticky-paged surroundings. 

Until now.

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