John Pearse is a man who seems to have lived more lives than anyone I’ve met. Over the course of our conversation I heard so many interesting anecdotes, was amazed over and over again – it was too much for one blog post really. Instead of trying to capture everything in one post I decided to share just a snapshot. Here’s John, in his own words:
Hi, I’m John Pears and I’m a tailor of fifty years standing, although my path has taken many routes in that time.
I trained as a traditional tailor and used to have another establishment on the Kings Road which was a kind of forerunner of swinging London. We were in the right place and the right time for that.
I became a tailor when I was 15. Actually when I came out of the womb I became a tailor because my mother made hats and she’s always been making clothes for me. Apparently at a very young age I had an attitude about what I would and wouldn’t wear. When I was more or less kicked out of school at 15 I got a job right here in Wardour Street. I knew I wanted to be in the West End because I was always skiving off to Soho, which was the place to hang about in coffee bars with girls and enjoy the stuff going on, much as it is today. I got a job in a print factory upstairs of what used to be the Marquee club on Wardour Street.
I realised I couldn’t stand the noise of the machines, the thumping of the printing press. I couldn’t hack that, I wanted a cool job, something quiet. I also wanted this particular black mohair suit that I’d seen an Italian neo-realist actor wearing. And what better way to get it than to make it myself. So I went to Saville Row, which as we know is the street of the finest tailors, or it was, and wandered about asking for a job. I went into one place called Henry Poole, and the guy who was working the floor there said, “Oh young man, go sit there on the couch we’ll come and talk to you in a moment.” And as I sat down this guy, David Niven, this rather famous actor, walks in and I’m watching all this wonderful chat between him and one of the tailors, Mr. Royal. “Send the suits to my club” Mr. Niven said. And I knew right then this was the job for me, I thought, “I’m going to meet stars”. Then Mr. Royal says, “I haven’t got a job for you but go round the corner to Dover Street and see Mr. Watson, they have a job for you there” and that’s where it all started for me, where I learnt my trade.
Eventually I ended opening a store that became a place people would make a pilgrimage to. It was called Granny Takes a Trip, perhaps you might have heard of it? That was all very exciting because we’d have The Beatles, the Stones, Briggite Bardot all coming in. I’ve dressed all of them; Hendrix, The Who, Bob Dylon, Andy Warhol. You name it, they all came to that store. And we were the first also to do mixed fashion – we did things for girls as well. At the same time we also had a poster company; my partner, Nigel Weymouth designed all these wonderful psychedelic posters. Actually he recently had a show at the V&A of all his stuff!
We also had a band called Hapsash and Coloured Coat and we were huge in Holland – rather like the Sex Pistols imploding in Texas, we imploded in Holland! I was playing the electrified violin with one string and a funnel coming out the top which made a noise that could be best described as ripped from psychosis. Feedback like the Velvet Underground early stuff. Anyway, by 1968 it was getting tired, egos were kind of frayed and I’d really had enough of the music business. So in 1968 and I’m trying to get back to England and I’m on a train from Amsterdam going to Paris and long story short, I find myself caught up in the riots and instead of going back to London I stayed on. Fast forward a year and I’ve ended up in Rome, meeting with the film director, Fellini…
Who is your most interesting person?
Sebastian Hawsley, my neighbour, Would you like to meet him? He’s a bit of a dandy in the underworld. He loves publicity. Because I was to give you a name like Lucien Freud I think he’d say no. He wouldn’t be up for it. Sebastian is an artist, a whit, a Dandy. And he’s right across the street, so we can call him up and make yourself known to him.