Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Rise and Decline of the Afghan Coat 1966-197?

"You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive," said Holmes to Watson..By intricate process of deduction, Sherlock Holmes laid claim to this note-worthy fact about Dr. Watson the first time the two met. Dr Watson later recorded in his journal that he was astonished by Holmes' perception. He need not have been. Besides his tropic tan, haggered face, injured left arm, and military-medic air, all of which Holmes claimed were dead give-aways, Watson probably was wearing an Afghan coat. (Holmes' whole train of thought didn't take more than a minute which is very suspicious if Watson wasn't wearing a coat). Today, one need not sojourn in Afghanistan to possess an Afghan coat. Without risking a haggered face or injured arm, you can find an authentic assortment in this country. Afghan coats are richly embroidered on the sheepskin side : the fur is worn on the inside. ( Eye Magazine - August, 1968.)

The Afghan coat made its debut appearance onto the London fashion scene in 1966, as the swinging city began to turn its attention towards all things of eastern and asian influence. They were first imported by Craig Sams, who then sold them on through various boutiques such as Granny Takes a Trip on the Kings Road, the popularity of the coats increased rapidly after the Beatles had been photographed wearing them. The original imports from the Ghazni province (which is situated between Kabul and Kandahar) were incredibly beautiful and elaborately decorated with hand embroidery by the local artisans. However, as demand expanded globally, they could not keep up a steady supply and eventually crude imitations from other areas began to flood the market..and these were the ones which gave the Afghan coat its undeserved bad reputation, mainly due to the fact that the skins had not been cured properly. This in turn apparently caused the coats to permeate the air around them with an extremely undesirable odour, often combined with the scent of Patchouli oil, which to this day seems to linger on in the memory of anyone who was unfortunate enough to be in close proximity to someone wearing one.


Having said that, regardless of the odour, they continued on to become more than just a fleeting trend and even though their general popularity is now long gone, they have left an indelible mark 0n fashion history and will forever be associated as an integral part of the iconic look of the hippie movement of the 1960s and 1970s. I can't say for definite when their reign as a popular item of clothing officially began to decline, without a doubt the advent of Glam Rock followed by the emerging Punk Scene pretty much killed them off from the mainstream, but I'm sure that there were still a few hippies happily wearing their Afghan's until the end of the seventies. Apart from a brief entry on wikipedia, I couldn't find any other relevant information online at this point in time, but I have included several photographs in this post to give you some idea of the timeline demonstrating their continued popularity over a six year period from their initial introduction in 1966 to 1971. It's also interesting to note that they seem to have been favoured as suitable wedding attire by the male peacock/rock stars of the era, with both David Bowie and Eric Burdon choosing to wear Afghan coats on the 'big day'.  Apart from the coats and jackets in the Eye Magazine feature from 1968, I haven't found any other colour photographs in my personal collection of books or magazines so far, but i'll take another look when I get more time and add them in due course. In the meantime, I've photographed my own Afghan coat which I purchased in the mid 1990s, I haven't worn it in a long time but still can't bear to part with it yet, it's a really lovely one, in great condition considering its age..and it is most definitely not afflicted with the curse of the aforementioned Afghan odour otherwise it would have been offered up as a candidate to the gods of room 101 long ago. 



All from Mallory. Coats, $215; jacket $145. Left to right, under the coats: Peter's turtleneck, Himalaya $17; striped jeans, $7, Brick Shed House, NYC.  Handcraft scarf.  Candy's skirt,$35, Mallory; Crepe blouse, also Mallory, $35. Boots, Golo. Jim's paisley shirt, Michael Webb for Carlyle, $10; corduroy pants, $7, Limbo, NYC. All jewelry, Odyssey Shop, NYC.

I had a quick look to see what the median/mean income of the average unmarried male was in the United States circa 1968, according to the census source it worked out somewhere between $7,132- $8,185 per annum...these particular jackets were definitely not cheap throwaway fashion items, when you consider the fact that they cost over a weeks wage!




                                                                     My own Afghan coat. 
                                   


                                                     Close up detail of my own Afghan coat.



                                                       Embroidery detail on the back of coat.




          Georgie Fame wearing an Afghan jacket from the Chelsea Antique Market, September 1967.



   Afghan coats and waistcoats on display in the window of Dandie Fashions, 161 King's Road, 1967.

           

    Eric Burdon and his wife Angie King at their wedding, September 1967.

                       

Newly-weds David and Angie Bowie on their Wedding day at Bromley Register Office, 20th March 1970.


Bill Wyman, his girlfriend Astrid Lundstrom and his son Stephen (wearing an Afghan jacket) on their way to Sweden for a skiing holiday, 31st december 1970.


Teenage pupils from Holland Park school in London get the 1971 look with Afghan coats, wide sleeved tunic shirts, basket weave bags and jeans.


                          All images scanned by Sweet Jane from the following publications
                                                                     Eye Magazine August 1968
                                                              Seventeen Magazine September 1967
                             Boutique London A History: King's Road to Carnaby Street by Richard Lester
                                          Wild Animals: The Story of The Animals by Andy Blackford
                                                David Bowie Moonage Daydream by Dave Thompson
                                                   The Rolling Stones Unseen Archives by Susan Hill
                             Decades of Fashion The Hulton Getty picture collection by Harriet Worsley
                                                     Afghan Coat photographs taken by Sweet Jane

18 comments:

  1. Have you ever seen a video The Kinks did for their single "Apeman" around 1970? they all wear amazing Afghan coats in it...
    http://youtu.be/FlM52fUrNz4

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    1. I have indeed,love the kinks! totally forgot about that video,they all look amazing, thanks for reminding me.

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  2. LOVE this post! We have a couple of these in the vintage clothing store where I work, and now I know where they come from.
    I love your blog. Mine is koraflora.blogspot.com, hope you'll consider following me. I think you'll enjoy it. Cheers!

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    1. Thanks, your blog is great! nice to meet you, consider yourself followed!

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  3. Great post, rich & informative

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  4. god i remember your afghan coat so well. it was well loved by you i know. you wore it with such style.

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  5. I had visited Kabul in April of 1965, where I first saw the Afghan coats, but couldn't afford to buy one as I was travelling on a shoestring. In October of 1966 I imported a batch to London and showed them to various boutiques, including Granny Takes a Trip, Dandie Fashions, Hung on You and Clouds Have Faces. Granny Takes a Trip took a wide selection and I got a phone call from John Pearse, one of the owners (who now has a very cool fashion boutique in Meard Street in Soho, London). "I hope you've got plenty of those Afghan coats in stock, Craig, because the Beatles have just gone out the door of our shop wearing them." I ordered more but I was also in the throes of getting my macrobiotic restaurant open and was trying to concentrate on one business at a time. Most of the pictures of the Beatles were in black and white so nobody could really appreciate the detail of quality in both the color, the curing of the skins and the extremely fine silk thread embroidery. Within a few weeks no sheep between Istanbul and Kabul was safe - suddenly they were worth more for their skins than for their meat as people hastily killed them, skinned them, did machine stitched embroidery or quick hand stitching and rushed them to the UK and other countries where the market was booming. I also imported kaftans from Tunisia, shoulder bags and Khamba boots from the Tibetan refugees at Dharamsala India and silk from China that a designer called Aedan Kelly would dye in blobby psychedelic patterns. We sold a lot of patterned silk to Dandie Fashions, who made them up into men's shirts. Once my restaurant kicked off I was busy 24/7 and that was then end of my career in ethnic fashion, except that I now had a reputation for being able to get ethnic stuff. Michael Rainey of Hung on You asked me to get him Russian Army uniforms - the idea was that peaceful coexistence would be stimulated by people wearing uniforms of the enemy (this was the Cold War, remember). I met the military attaché at the Russian Embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens and he thought it was a great idea. He had to check with his superiors in Moscow, though. A firm 'nyet' came back from Moscow and that was that. You can't fight City Hall...or the Kremlin

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    1. Hi Craig,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, your first-hand account and all of the extra information is much appreciated! I love the Michael Rainey story in particular... fantastic stuff, even though it didn't get to see the light of day! I'm fairly familiar with the other boutiques that you've mentioned apart from Clouds Have Faces,that's a totally new one to me, wonderful name! I'd love to know more about it,without a doubt it's one of the many that haven't yet made it into the reference books. I do however remember well, reading all about your Macrobiotic Restaurant in Jonathon Green's Days in the Life-Voices from the English Underground and i'm a huge admirer of everything that you have done. Coincidentally, quite recently I found an old copy of Seed-The journal of Organic Living ( it's the one with Terence Stamp on the cover). Thanks again for your comment,there has been an incredible amount of interest in this post over the past 8 months. And judging by the stats,although no longer a current fashion trend,the Afghan Coat still hasn't entirely lost it's appeal, with people either searching for one/or for information about them on a daily basis.

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  6. In the pictures over and under "My own Afghan Coat" the coat looks like a coat from Istanbul, not Afghanistan. The emboidery on the Istanbul coats was with thinner thread and seems to have been done with a sewing machine.

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    1. Hi Pete, thanks for the comment. Yeah, you're absolutely right, my coat is definitely machine embroidered and not nearly as elaborately decorated as those first hand-embroidered coats and jackets that Craig imported in 1966-such as the ones in the link that I added to the photographs on your website. So perhaps it is from Istanbul or maybe it was a later streamlined version of the Afghan to meet the demand for them so that they could make a few bucks. I've often wondered exactly where it came from, but as it's the only example of this style of coat that I own, I used the term 'Afghan' to describe it because although these coats came from various places, for some reason over time that has become the most popular and lasting description of the style. I had a comment on my FB page about them recently from Tom Salter who owned Gear boutique in Carnaby Street and he was saying that himself, I Was Lord Kitcheners Valet and a couple of other shops imported hundreds of similar coats into London around the same time but they got them from Persia. Incredible photographs on your website by the way, when I first posted this article, I was delighted to find the ones that you had taken of the local artisans at work on the coats, I couldn't have hoped for a more perfect example.

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  7. Thanks, Sweet Jane! This was sent to me by a friend, and I love it! I remember hitchhiking to Turkey in the winter(!) of 1969, and coming back with my rucksack stuffed with white sheepskin coats, which I tried to sell at the Kensington.... (what was its name? Hypermarket? something like that... Maybe you'll remember.) They too had "the smell".

    I have a Blog called thewaronthe60s.blogspot.com, which is based around a Book, "The War on The 60s", which I plan to write. Hope you'll take a peek, and enjoy it. I'll borrow a couple of your photos, and link to your Blog. Will follow you, and would love to exchange emails, if you'd like. I think you'd be a great source for me...

    Did you ever know a fashion designer called Janice Wainwright?

    Best wishes!

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  8. Hi Richard,

    Glad to hear that you like the blog, will definitely check yours out, the book sounds interesting!
    I don't know Janice Wainwright personally but I do know her work, You can contact me over on the Sweet Jane Facebook page via messages and i'll certainly get in touch, there's a link to it on the right just down from the top of the page, thanks Sweet Jane.

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  9. Hi.
    I used to manage The Souk at 477 Oxford Street, - we sold thousands of Afghan coats in the early 1970s...fond memories!
    Joss Ollett.

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  10. Hi Joss,
    Thanks for your comment, The Souk sounds interesting! A new one to me, I hadn't heard of it previously, wonder are there any photographs of it online...

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  11. They were still being sold at Oasis in Manchester, England in the 1980s.

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  12. Wowweee your afghan coat is the most beautiful one I've ever seen!!!! love it xxx

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  13. Amazing, I do love the afghan coats so much and still have my own from ca. 1970!

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