Monday, 22 August 2016

Whatever Happened to Stephen Topper & Topper Shoes Carnaby Street?



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 and Topper Shoes show up 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 members of 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. At this point in time, there is barely a trace of their legacy to be found online, apart from inclusion in 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, the first shop opening at 57 Shaftesbury Avenue in W1 in 1953, the others located at 68 Queensway in W2., and at 34 Coventry Street. But they really came into their own when 18 year old Stephen 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, when 'Topper Shoes' located at 45 Carnaby St is landmarked 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 Gear Guide―A hip-pocket guide to Britain's Swinging Fashion Scene, and while still brief, it does give 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 9.00 am to 6.o0 pm from Monday to Saturday (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 operating in 1970...I'm assuming 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, Topper was 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?



 Toppers Shoes 57 Shaftesbury Avenue 1960s
The Fortunes, suited and booted, outside Toppers at 57 Shaftesbury Avenue, London W.1., 1964. Photograph © Jeremy Fletcher .
          


Topper Shoes London 1960s
 Early 1960s Topper Shoes business card.

                     

  TOPPER SHOES ★ CARNABY STREET

                                       
1960s London Boutiques, 1960s Shoe Shops, Topper Shoes, Rave Magazine
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.

                                                                     
                                                                               
 1960s boutiques, Carnaby Street, London
A close-up of the Raver's map. And 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 between Inderwicks the Tobacconist & Pipe Specialist on the left and Ravel on the right. (Rave, April 1966).



Topper Shoes Carnaby Street London 1960s
A rare photograph of the Topper 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

PIPES & TOBACCO

Inderwicks, Pipe & Tobacco Specialist  45 Carnaby St London 1960s
Inderwicks, the Pipes & 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, and 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 inside 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,  Topper' Shoes Carnaby Street (1966).
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.



Topper Shoes London, 1960s mod fashion, Just Dennis Rave Magazine, Mod Shoes
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. (Rave, November, 1966).



Rolling Stone Brian Jones, Anita Pallenberg, Topper Shoes London 1960s
Brian Jones with his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg. Brian is wearing a pair of two tone basket weave laced-up shoes by Topper. December 3rd, 1966.



Anita Pallenberg, Brian Jones, Topper Shoes London 1960s The side and back view detail of Brian's two tone basket weave lace-ups by Topper, December 3rd, 1966.        




Topper Shoes London, 1960s Men's Mod Fashion, Mod Shoes, Just Dennis, Rave Magazine
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. (Rave, February, 1967).



Ian McLagan, The Small Faces, Stephen Topper Shoes London, Carnaby Street 1960s,
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. (Rave, April 1967).



1960s men's fashion, Carnaby Street, Topper Shoes London, Mod Shoes, Johnny Rave, Rave Magazine,
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. (Rave, February, 1968).



Topper Shoes Carnaby Street London 1960s
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 all 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. (Rave, August 1968).




Topper Shoes Carnaby Street
Signage over one the Topper Shoe shops on Carnaby Street.





       
Topper Shoes 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 45 Carnaby Street 1970s London
A rare colour photo which clearly shows Topper Shoes at No.45 Carnaby Street, taken sometime after the area had been pedestrianised in October 1973. Special thanks to Kosmo Vinyl for the image.



TOPPER SHOES ★ KING'S ROAD


Topper Shoes Kings Road LondonThe 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 at this point in time, but I think this is most likely the side view of the building rather than the main entrance, which was located somewhere on the King's Road. The precise number of the shop could be close to 59b, which is seen on a door above the interviewer for a couple of seconds during the filming. I can't quite make out the name on 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, quite possibly a sales assistant or the manager of the shop. I've also included a link to some footage of outtakes from the same film at the end of this post, which provide excellent examples of popular street footwear and fashions of the time (lots of platform shoes, boots and wedged heels worn with flares, maxis and minis). However, there is some discrepancy regarding the correct date via Pathé, who have credited it as 1970 this time round, rather than 1977. 


Post Update: 17/8/2017 After some further research, I have recently discovered that the side window view of Topper Shoes in the photograph above, is located at 59B Wellington Square, just off the King's road. The shop makes a brief appearance in a Fashion Report about Menswear made for Spanish Television in 1973. I've included a couple of screenshots from it below.

Topper Shoes Mod Shoes London
Topper Shoes, 59 Kings Road, 1973. Located on the same side of the road as The Chelsea Drugstore, but at the opposite end of the block, which turns on to Wellington Square.
                    

In the background (right) a better view of the entire side profile of the building in which Topper Shoes was located,  at King's Road and Wellington Square - 1973.



TOPPER SHOES LONDON 1972
Another view of Topper Shoes at the same 59 King's Road/59b Wellington Square location, this screen shot is from  Mary Quant - Una Donna un Paese, a programme made for Italian Television in 1972, which includes lots of footage filmed around Chelsea and the King's Road. 



Topper Shoes London
      The original location of  Topper Shoes at 59b Wellington Square, off the King's Road, as it looks today in 2017.   
   


Post Update 31/8/2017: Toppers on the King's Road also makes several appearances in Coffee, Tea, or Me, 1973. A Romantic/Comedy Drama, Starring Karen Valentine, John Davidson, Louise Lasser and Lou Jacobi.






Stephen Topper, Topper Shoes London
Above right: A Topper shop sign in another scene from Coffee, Tea, or Me (1973). This image is from a shopping spree scene which is meant to take place on the King's Rd. There were two branches of Topper's in the same area, so I think this sign could be above the front entrance of the shop on the corner of Markham St and Kings Road, Chelsea SW3.  You can see an example of the Markham Street view in the photograph below and i've also posted the entire film clip further down.


Stephen Topper, Topper Shoes London
 Topper Shoes, 146 Markham Street, Chelsea SW3. Photograph courtesy of Sixties City  (Photographer uncredited).
                         



     A Topper Shoe shop, next to a Barclays Bank on the Kings Road, in a scene from Coffee, Tea, and Me (1973).





A short news report for Thames Television in 1977 about the 'health concerns' associated with the fashion fad for wearing platform shoes, the interview is filmed outside Topper Shoes at 59 Wellington Square, off the King's Road.  



POST UPDATE: 07/09/2019. It has recently been brought to my attention that Topper Shoes on the King's Road makes an appearance in the promotional video for Nobody Told Me which is available on Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon (DVD). I've added a couple of screenshots from the footage below.   
Topper Shoes, 59 Kings Road.






Topper Shoes on the corner of the No. 59 Kings Road and  59b Wellington Square.









Topper Shoes on the corner of the Kings Road and Wellington Square can be seen in the background towards the end of the footage at 3:02 in this promotional video for  Nobody Told Me by John Lennon. (Recorded in 1980, Released 1984). The video, edited from newly transferred footage and out-takes from John & Yoko's "Imagine" film and other previously unseen material is available on Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon. 




Topper Wedge Sole Shoes 1970s
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 1971/72, 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 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 image 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. View the aforementioned outtakes from the Thames Television 'Platform Shoes' news report. 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. Participate in the Mod to Suedehead thread on Styleforum here. Visit the Sixties City website. Nobody Expects the Sartorial Inquisition —a pair of Topper shoes featured in 'The French Cut' article over on Film Noir Buff. Discover more about the early years of Ariella. Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads?.  And finally, The Buzzcocks also wanna know Whatever Happened to? (well, quite a lot of stuff actually!).

10 comments:

  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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  2. Very interesting. I was hoping to see some pictures of those shoes where the sole and the upper were woven together, but it’s almost as it they never existed! I’ve told that they can’t be made today because the skills don’t exist anymore.

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    1. not stitched heat glued repaired many pairs with araldite two pack when i
      worked for TOPPERS. we called them {talking]SD's.

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  3. my name is paul sutton and i worked for MR. stephen{Stewart} TOPPER from 71-75 in 3 of the 6 shops in London,i started by delivering from the wharehouse near wells street then went to work in shaftesbury ave, then carnaby court in carnaby st. finally in 1of the 3 shops in the Kings road who's manager was a mr. Hernandez.i serve many famous people,danny la'rue/diana Ross/ jimmy & david ruffin /david cassidy /slade/glitter band. plus loads of others.those were very very happy workdays and stephen Stewart{mr. topper] and his father ran a great family firm.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Paul, Thanks a mil for your comment..it sounds like it was a really interesting place to work..and what an amazing array of celebrity customers, I shall have to add some of those names to the others in the original post! Can you remember what you sold to any of them (i'm guessing maybe platforms to Slade and the Glitter band!) ...but i'd love to know what Diana Ross and Danny La Rue bought? ps Stephen got in touch with me last year, he lives over in the States with his family now.

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    2. Diana bought shoes for her husband it was the day of the premier of Lady sings the Blues, Danny la,rue alway bought loafers noddy holder got both colour SD,s while the rest got silver and gold platform boots.if you speak to stephen say hi from me if he needs a reminder im the guy who got married on 24th of February 1974 at 10am at Chelsea registry office,and came back to work at 12 noon
      Fred of the the flower barrow next to our Kings rd shop was a witness

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    3. Thanks Paul, really great info! She was married to her manager Robert Ellis Silberstein at the time..it must have been true love if she still had time to shoe shop for him on the day of her film premiere..which would have been sometime around October 1972. I'm going to send a link to this on to Stephen, because they're such great memories, and thanks for getting in touch again. ps What did SD stand for?..I've been trying to figure it out over the past couple of days.

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  4. He is living in Miami Florida and is no longer in the shoes business

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  5. There is a Topper shoe shop in the background of the video for John Lennon - Nobody Told Me. It's quite near the end! Thanks

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    Replies
    1. So there is, well spotted! That's a great find, I'll add it to the post, thanks so much for bringing it to my attention.

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