Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Birdcage Boutique Nottingham

Whenever the British boutique boom of the 1960s is mentioned, the focus is always immediately centred upon London and predominantly on the Carnaby Street and King's Road areas, nevertheless, as the boutique phenomenon wasn't merely confined to the Capital, I'm pretty sure that there were equally influential and important boutiques in some unlikely location off the beaten track in just about every city, town and village throughout the land at some point and that their legacy still lives on in the memories of the teenage clientele who frequented them..and yet, I feel that it is in someway a cultural loss that so many of them have not been properly documented, apart from The Birdcage in Nottingham which was covered quite extensively by Marnie Fogg in her book about the boutique culture of the era, perhaps saved from obscurity while others were lost, through its connection with the evergreen career of designer Paul Smith, who played a pivotal role in its origin and has therefore taken it through time with him.

The Birdcage was the brainchild of designer Janet Campbell, a native of Nottingham. On leaving college she spent some time working for other people in the fashion business in London, where she formulated the plan to open her own shop. Upon her return home in 1965, she gave herself a week to find a suitable property for the new venture and with the help of her friend Paul Smith quickly found the ideal location in an old tailors shop at the end of Bridlesmith Gate, paying twenty pounds a week for a six-month lease. The shop became an instant success, with a queue of people three rows deep outside on the opening day admiring the window display by Smith.  A year later in 1966, Janet Campbell expanded the business, moving the machinists from the first floor of the building to make way for a menswear department which she asked Paul to run, he in turn travelled to London to source labels which were previously unknown outside the city and over the next four years built up an extensive customer base for the boutique throughout the midlands until 1970 when he made his departure from The Birdcage to open his own shop, and the rest as they say is history.

The story of The Birdcage ends in Marnie Fogg's book with the departure of Paul Smith and as far as I can gather it continued to trade at the same location until it moved elsewhere in the late 1980s, but I have no idea what became of Janet Campbell or any of the other key figures within the staff from that point onward or how far into the next decade that it continued to exist. However, while researching the information for this post I did find an amazing array of other boutiques located in the Nottingham area which I wouldn't have been aware of otherwise, even though more boutiques opened in Nottingham during this period than in comparatively larger cities such as Manchester and Birmingham. The following are just a few names and details of what I have discovered so far.

Carnaby Styles which was situated in Wheelers Gate in the early 70s (sold Budgie Jackets, Tank Tops and Loon Pants); Pennnyfeathers owned by Mike & Shirley Benwell would later become known as Gladrags/Backstage; Peru run by a girl called Zena circa 1973;  Image Boutique in St Peter's Gate (sold Ossie Clark/Radley); Grapevine situated on Goldsmith Street next to Paraphernalia; Campus on Victoria Street (sold Jeff Banks & Mr Freedom); Madcap Boutique on Carrington Street circa '66 (ladies clothing made on the premises, shirts for guys made on request); Bus Stop (a Lee Bender outlet); Nonsuch situated in the Bridlesgate/Byard lane area (sold hippie clothing, afghan coats etc); Razzamatazz on Trent Bridge; Boogaloo (no details yet); I'll Leave It (high waisted flares, bowling shirts circa '73); and lastly Roxanne & Roxy Threads (1972) which were run by Robert Ivars Michailov-Mètra otherwise known as Roxy Rob, I've left this one until last because I have managed to unearth a little more information about it than the others which you can read for yourself here. And I suggest that you do! He's quite the character and the man has also made everything from loon pants in the late sixties to Oxford Bags in the early seventies for the Northern Soul scene enthusiasts.

                                    Advertisement for The Birdcage designed by Ian Longdon.

The staff of The Birdcage in Nottingham 1966: Ian Longdon, Paul Smith and Valerie Longdon. They're wearing graphic t-shirts, a new phenomenon sold through mail-order by the satirical magazine Private Eye. The shirts were designed by Nottingham art student Dave Humby.

Paul Smith photographed at his first boutique in Byard Lane, Nottingham, which he opened two weeks after leaving The Birdcage. It was a very small space measuring a minute 3 metres x 3 metres at the back of a tailor's shop, the rent was free for the first 3 months and fifty pence a week thereafter, the use of a damp basement was also included in the agreement which Paul eventually turned into an art gallery called The Pushpin, exhibiting limited edition lithographs by Warhol and Hockney. He remained here for the next four years, opening for business two days a week (fridays & Saurdays). A full scale recreation of this shop is included in the current  Paul Smith exhibition at The Design Museum.

Greg Longdon outside The Birdcage in Bridlesgate, the original Edwardian facade was reworked in maroon and gold to suggest that a trendy boutique now lay beyond the traditional tailor's shop. The Boutique sold garments designed and made by several people under their own label. Ian Longdon not only manufactured the clothes for the shop but also designed the publicity and packaging, constantly updating the style and presentation.

Birdcage swing ticket 1971, with thirties and forties cinematic references, illustrated by Ian Longdon.

                                                     Designs by Ian Longdon for The Birdcage.

Paul Smith *outside the London Electricity West End power station which was situated on the eastside of Carnaby Street and Ganton Street, 1965. Paul is  wearing a shirt made from Liberty's Tana Lawn print (a small floral print formerly used  for children's clothes), his boots are from Annello & Davide.

Update 6/11/2014Vintage Birdcage Boutique Nottingham metal letterpress print block recently sold on Ebay.                             


                                                                       IMAGE CREDITS
All relevant Birdcage Boutique information/images sourced & scanned by Sweet Jane from Boutique-a '60s cultural phenomenon by Marnie Fogg, published by Mitchell Beazley, 2003. Except for the final photo of the Birdcage Boutique letterpress print block which is courtesy of SeaSunshine99 on EbayAdditional location information regarding the Paul Smith photograph courtesy of Robert Orbach formerly of I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet.

The current collection of Liberty's classic Tana Lawn prints as worn by Paul Smith in the final photograph can be found here'Hello, My Name Is Paul Smith' a major exhibition celebrating the career of the designer which spans a forty year period runs at The Design Museum from the 15th of November 2013 - 9th March 2014. Further details can be found on The Paul Smith blog here.  'Hello, My Name Is Paul Smith-Fashion And Other Stories' the accompanying book to the exhibition is available to preview and purchase hereRoxy Threads original Northern Soul Oxford Bags hereyou'll find an extremely rare example of an original dress from the Birdcage Boutique circa 1966 hereAnd finally, view an interview with Janet Campbell owner of The Birdcage on the 2016 BBC Documentary Living in '66 - Robert Lindsay Remembers which I contributed to here.


  1. excellent post! I love reading about the small parts of what was a big puzzle of fashion and excitement of the 60s and 70s. I wish there was a bit better documentation of the stores in Sydney in the 60s - not much is mentioned as most people were looking to London - something which most Aussies still do! I especially love the illustration with the girl with the feather!

    1. Thanks Catherine..Yeah we all look to London whenever the 60s is mentioned, but it would be great to know more about what was happening in other places outside of it! Maybe you could try to find out about the boutique scene in Sydney, I bet with a little bit of research something valuable would turn up eventually, plus it would make a really great post!

  2. Thank you for giving us this kind of information, photos, and everything you do! I'm back with my blog, I guess it's not easy to start again after a break but I'm into it now!!

    Thanks for your support.


  3. Thanks Jana! Welcome back, really glad to hear that you got it sorted out!

  4. Thanks for posting this – great reminder for me. In the 1960s I worked at County Hall and my favourite shop was The Birdcage although I felt intimidated when I went in as the clientele were far trendier than I was. There was a man with a couple of Afghan hounds (the fashion dog of the time) who was often in there. Unfortunately I have just the memories of the dresses and tops I bought there – the quality was not the best!

  5. Hi, thanks a mil for your comment, glad you enjoyed the post. I think that may have been Paul Smith, himself and his partner Pauline Denyer (now his wife) had two Afghan hounds around this time. It sounds like it was a really great boutique,would love to see some more photographs and some actual 'items', i've searched on the internet but haven't found anything yet, but I'm sure something will turn up eventually.

  6. Hi I've just come across your article as I was googling 'The Birdcage' Nottingham. My brother owned the shop during the 80's and as he has since passed away I found how it all started really interesting. I vaguely knew that Paul Smith had been involved somewhere but never really understood how or where. Its such a shame that it is no longer on Bridlesmith Gate, I think it moved into The Lacemarket a short time after my brother sold it but I'm not sure if its still open

    1. Hi Karen, that's really interesting, I had wondered what became of it. The BBC made a documentary series a couple of years ago about Britain in 1966 and there was a segment about The Birdcage, including an interview with Janet Campbell the original owner (although she's now known as Janet Bouanchaud). Someone has uploaded it to youtube and it's still viewable but unfortunately there is no sound, it was called Living in '66 Robert Lindsay Remembers, it's not available on the iplayer at the moment either, but there are two short clips from the programme available, hopefully they'll screen it again at some point in the future.

      This is a link to the BBC series:

  7. I remember seeing this shop in the late 80's and visiting but was seemed like it was out of my price range. Do remember going to a shop either next door or a few doors down called 1860 and bought a great jumper cost me over a weeks wages. Never would I have believed one day I would be working for Paul Smith's website..

  8. memories........Julie (not Janet as I recall?) or was that her younger sister? accepted a few of my crude designs. A very young teenager even by the late 60s, she was an inspiration.

  9. I remember so well, my friend and I travelling from Melton Mowbray to the Birdcage. The year was 1966 and we needed to be noticed. We ended up visiting once a month(after pay day) for an outfit. I too remember Paul Smith and his dogs in the shop, a colleague of ours used to bring him dog food from Pedigree Petfoods. 52 years later, I still own a satin blouse, a red and green velvet jacket and a black serge coat with red lining and a velvet collar,needles to say they no longer fit but they hold far too many memories for me to give them up.Happy days indeed.


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