Monday, 22 August 2016

Whatever Happened to Stephen Topper & Topper Shoes?

    

               Whatever Happened to Stephen Topper & Topper Shoes? 

If you were to browse through the men's fashion section of every other issue of Rave magazine from the mid 1960s onwards, I guarantee you would soon notice that the names Stephen Topper & Topper Shoes usually follow one after the other on a fairly regular basis. Much favoured by stylish young men about town, Topper Shoes were without a doubt one of the most happening footwear brands of the era. The clientele list included the British pop hierarchy such as The Rolling Stones, The Small Faces and The Who, as well as visiting international acts like Bob Dylan and Johnny Halliday...and yet, they seem to have 'almost' vanished from history. There is barely a trace of their legacy to be found online apart from the occasional Carnaby Street reference and a couple of interesting threads posted on 1960s/1970s style forums. Although in fairness, they have been name checked in several books and slightly elaborated upon in others through the personal stories of former customers, but there is no definitive account of the brand's heritage or any archival examples available all in one place that I am currently aware of. 

Topper shoes were already well established by the early 1960s, with three branches in London, one located at 68 Queensway in W2. and the others at 34 Coventry Street and 57 Shaftesbury Avenue in W1.  But they really came into their own when 18 year old Steven Topper, the owner's son, took the reins and headed for Carnaby Street. I don't have an exact date but he was definitely trading there by 1965, however, the earliest reference that i've come across in print from my personal magazine collection dates back to the 'London Swings' issue of Rave magazine from April 1966. Topper Shoes located at 45 Carnaby St is included in the poptastic illustrated Raver's Map of London along with a brief description of the shop on the next page.

By the following year they were featured in the Gear Guide a 'Hip-pocket guide to Britain's Swinging Fashion Scene' and while still brief, it gives a more detailed account of how things were progressing.  There were now two Topper Shoe shops on Carnaby Street, they were still at No.45 but also had a branch at No.9. The first one catered for men only, it was open Monday-Saturday 9.00 am-6.o0 pm with late night shopping until 7.00 pm on Thursday and Friday, with the range costing between three pounds to ten Guineas.  The other shop at No.9 had a 'beautifully cool interior in weird purply shades' it kept the same opening hours as the previous one but catered for Girls and Men..I've never seen any examples of their Girls shoes but apparently they had a wide and original range which cost from three pounds to five pounds-fifteen for shoes and from ninety-nine-and-elevenpence to seven pounds-nineteen and six for boots! All of the collections, which perfectly complimented the latest clothing for sale on the street were designed by Stephen Topper himself, and manufactured to a high standard in France and Italy.

According to Tom Salter's book about Carnaby Street there were a total of five Topper shoe shops in 1970,  i'm assuming at this point that he is referring to the original three that I have mentioned plus the last two..but then again, maybe not, perhaps some of the originals had closed and there were more branches in Carnaby Street or at new locations? It also says that the owner was a chap called 'Monty Stewart'...So, was Topper merely a business name rather than the actual family surname? While researching material for this post I came across a photograph of another branch at 146 Markham Street in SW3 (undated) and also a piece of film footage which features a Topper Shoe shop located on the King's Road circa 1977 but unfortunately the trail runs cold after that..Which leads me back to my original question...Whatever happened to Stephen Topper and Topper Shoes?



The Fortunes, suited and booted, outside Toppers at 57 Shaftesbury Avenue, London W.1., 1964. Photograph © Jeremy Fletcher .
          


                                          Early 1960s Topper Shoes business card.


                                          
The Raver's Map of London, an illustrated guide to the most happening Boutiques, Discotheques and Restaurants in the Capital as featured in Rave magazine's 72 page London Swings issue of April 1966...and Topper Shoes make the list!  The description of the shop on the following page says that it sells reasonably priced mod designed shoes, and that they always have the latest! Designed by Steve Topper, at prices ranging from £2 10s to £7.

                                                                     
                                                                               
A close-up of the Raver's map, According to this, Topper Shoes located at number 45 Carnaby Street is situated between John Stephen's Tre Camp (No.46) and Ravel (No.44), but in reality it was actually next to Inderwicks the Tobacconist & Pipe Specialist on the left and Ravel on the right. (April 1966).



A rare photograph of the Topper Shoe shop facade at 45 Carnaby Street, you can just about see Ravel, but the door on the left is clearly Inderwicks the tobacconist shop, which intriguingly also seems to be located at number 45 Carnaby St! (perhaps it was an a&b situation?). Photograph © mario de biasi/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images. (1966)


Inderwicks, the Pipe & Tobacco Specialist at 45 Carnaby St, illustrated by Malcolm English for Tom Salter's Carnaby Street book in 1970. The company was founded in 1797 by John Inderwick, the original shop located on Wardour Street was one of the earliest tobacconists in London. They may have seemed out of place in the midst of the Carnaby St pop explosion but stayed put nevertheless, resisting several tempting offers on their lease throughout this period. The pop revolution actually enhanced their business rather threaten it, as curious Carnaby St shoppers spilled off the busy pavement and ventured in to buy their specialist tobacco blends, cigarettes and the long clay Churchwardens, Corncobs and Meerschaum pipes which they had been selling for 170 years. Above Inderwicks was the very first Aristos Boutique, it comprised of two rooms on the first floor, a small shop area in the front and a workroom in the back in which Constantinou Aristos ran up garments for girls. The son of a master tailor, he had graduated from the London College of Fashion in 1965 and with the profits from the fledgling boutique he soon opened up his second shop named Blooshp at 45 Newburgh Street, W1. He was eventually joined in the business by his younger brother Achillea, the two went on to expand the company, later renaming it Ariella in 1971.



Bob Dylan photographed by Barry Feinstein trying on shoes in Topper's (1966), He was at the end of a world tour at this point in time, playing The Royal Albert Hall twice while in London on May 26th & May 27th, so this was more than likely taken sometime on or around those dates. There seems to be a wall of fame in the background, perhaps made up of other well known celebrity customers, included are 'The Who' on Bob's immediate left, unmistakable in their pop art regalia.



High sand suede boots with leather linings to keep water out. Also in black leather and olive suede. From Steve Topper, Carnaby Street, London, W.1. Price £7 19s. 6d. (November 1966).



Brian Jones with his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg. December 3rd 1966. Brian is wearing a pair of two tone basket weave laced-up shoes by Topper.



The side and back view detail of Brian's two tone basket weave lace-ups by Topper, December 3rd 1966. 



All of the shoes featured here are by Topper.  Left: Shirt, £5 19s. 6d. Cape and topcoat for spying! Coat, £9 19s. 6d, cape £2. 19s. 6d. Trousers, £3 19s. 6d. All from Take Six, Wardour Street, W.1. Shoes, 69s, 11., from Topper.  Middle: Prime ministerial shirt in purple satin with super puffed sleeves, £2 15s. Black trench coat, £17 17s. 6d. Wool hessian trousers in charcoal, £4 9s. All from Adam W.1, Kingly Street, London, W.1. Shoes, 99s.11d., from Topper. Right: Aristocratic double-breasted suit from John Stephen, price 18 gns, 16s. 6d. Pink seersucker shirt from Paul's boutique, 79s. 11d. Macao canvas and leather shoes, 85s., from Topper. (February 1967).



Ian McLagan of The Small Faces photographed at home for an article in Rave, he's wearing the same style of basket weave laced-up shoe from Topper of Carnaby Street that Brian Jones has on in the previous photos above. (April 1967).




Harris Tweed suit with waisted jacket and turn-ups. It costs 16gns. at Take Six Boutique, Wardour Street, London, W.1.  Also from Take Six is the fabulous skinny sweater in bright green. It's got a purple band on the roll neck collar, and costs 40s. 6d. Completing the outfit are casual shoes from Steve Topper, Carnaby Street, London W.1. They're in red-brown and black leather. Price £5 9s. 6d. (February 1968).


In spite of this issue's slew of teenage worries, there's still just enough space left to promote the new summer range from Topper Shoes, these are from the branch located at No.9, Carnaby Street. Left to Right: Slip-on in hessian, Natural or Ice Blue, 59s. 11d., Cord boots in Camel or Brown, 59s. 11d., Lace-up in Navy or Natural, 49s. 11d., Canvas slip-on in White or Brown, 49s. 11d. All shoes are lightweight and ideal for the beach. (August 1968).




Signage over one the Topper  Shoe shops on Carnaby Street.





       

Topper Shoes, 45 Carnaby St (just seen on left next to Ravel) still going strong eight years later in October 1973. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images).



               Topper Shoes 146 Markham Street, Chelsea SW3. Photograph courtesy of Sixties City.

         


The facade of another Topper shoe shop, which was included in a short news report for Thames Television in 1977 about the 'health concerns' associated with the fashion fad for wearing platform shoes! I'm not sure of the exact address of this branch, I think this is most likely to be the side view of the building rather than the main entrance, but it is definitely located somewhere on the King's Road. The precise number of the shop could be close to 59b, which is just seen on a door above the head of the interviewer for a couple of seconds at one point. I can't quite make out the name above the premises behind the Topper van opposite, but just beyond is a branch of Irvine Sellars' Mates boutique. Several interviews take place throughout the footage, there is one in particular filmed right outside Topper's with a young chap who seems to be fairly knowledgeable about the customer base, I can't help wondering if this is the manager of the shop or perhaps the elusive Steven Topper himself? I've also included a link to some footage of outtakes from the same film at the end of the post which provides excellent examples of popular street footwear and fashion of the time, lots of platform shoes, boots and wedged heels worn with flares, maxis and minis! Although, there is some discrepancy regarding the correct date via Pathé, who have credited it as 1970 this time round rather than 1977.




An interview outside Topper Shoes SW3, 1977. (No. 59b just seen above, on the door in the background).





                                                   Could this be the elusive Stephen Topper?




An example of a pair of Lace Up, Leather Ox Blood, Bubble Toe, Crepe Wedges with matching suede side panel - which were available from Topper's in Carnaby Street circa 1972/73, they also came in black with a grey suede side panel. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who is still in possession of a pair of these or who knows the whereabouts of a pair for sale, and also any other information relating to  Stephen Topper & Topper Shoes. Note: Also known as/or referred to as Steven and Steve, throughout various original 1960s magazine articles).


                                                                  IMAGE CREDITS
All images credited in descending order: The Fortunes 1964. Photograph © Jeremy Fletcher courtesy of Carnaby Street The Musical, Topper Shoes business card courtesy of the Mod to Suedehead thread on StyleForum, Raver's Map of London & close-up scanned by Sweet Jane from Rave Magazine April 1966, Topper Shoes facade 45 Carnaby Street © mario de biasi/Mondadori 1966, Inderwicks the Pipe & Tobacco Specialist illustrated by Malcolm English scanned by Sweet Jane from Carnaby Street by Tom Salter 1970, Bob Dylan © Barry Feinstein 1966, Just Dennis/Topper Shoes scanned by Sweet Jane from Rave Magazine November 1966, Brian Jones & Anita Pallenberg December 3rd 1966 Photo courtesy of Bentley Archive/Popperfoto/ and J. Wilds/Keystone/Getty Images, Just Dennis/Topper Shoes scanned by Sweet Jane from Rave Magazine February 1967, Ian McLagan scanned by Sweet Jane from Rave Magazine April 1967, Johnny Rave scanned by Sweet Jane from Rave Magazine February 1968 & August 1968, Topper  Shoe signage screenshot from The History of Carnaby Street archive footage, Topper Shoes, 45 Carnaby St 1973 courtesy of Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images, Topper Shoes 146 Markham Street courtesy of Sixties City, Topper Shoes King's Road screenshots courtesy of Thames Television via British Pathé. Ox Blood Crepe Wedges courtesy of the Mod to Suedehead thread on Styleforum. 

                                                 LINKS & FURTHER READING
Watch 'Eat The Document' a documentary film of Bob Dylan's 1966 tour of the United Kingdom directed by D.A. Pennebaker here. View the aforementioned outtakes from the Thames Television 'Platform Shoes' news report here. A review of Sympathy for the Devil - The birth of the Rolling Stones and the death of Brian Jones here. You'll find an example of an Inderwicks Shell Bulldog Pipe here. Participate in the Mod to Suedehead thread on Styleforum here. Visit the Sixties City website here. A pair of Topper shoes featured in 'The French Cut' over on the Film Noir Buff website here. Discover more about the early years of Ariella here. Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads here. And finally, The Buzzcocks wanna know Whatever Happened to? (well, quite a lot of stuff actually!) here .

1 comment:

  1. What a fantastic piece, on a really key and undervalued London shoe shop(s). I never even knew about their shops outside of Carnaby Street when I was a customer in the early 1970's, nor of their star studded 1960's past. I owned two pairs of those ox-blood crepe wedges after the bubble toe on my first pair got stamped on ! Usually worn with Oxford Bags.

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