Monday, May 8, 2017

The Apple Boutique - No Geniuses Here

Brian Epstein, in his last interview (with Murray the K on WOR radio), said, "They are four creative people whose minds burst with ideas, and they will always be exploring new horizons. You won’t find them sitting back and saying they've come to the end of the road and they can go no further." In that same interview, Epstein would tout the merger of his company, NEMS, with the Robert Stigwood Organization – who represented Cream, The Who and The BeeGees – hinted at a Beatles breakup and lauded the work in progress that would become Sgt. Pepper; all after fisticuffs with business associate Nat Weiss over Brian’s abuse of Nembutal.

Epstein was as instrumental in making the Beatles as George Martin, his business savvy unmatched; The Beatles themselves, not so much. The first Apple venture was the most unlikely choice of a clothing boutique (in retrospect, like the exit-through-giftshop mentality established by Disney, it was a smashing idea). After following Clive Epstein’s suggestion to create a company as a tax-evasive measure, the Beatles thought of selling items that simply caught their interest, Paul coming up the idea of selling things only in white. "It didn't end up like that," Lennon said. "It ended up with Apple and all this junk and the Fool and all those stupid clothes." A location was announced in September 1967 to house the first Apple store at the corner of Baker and Paddington Street in the heart of London’s shopping district.


The Beatles announced to the press that the official opening would take place on November 9, and Lennon’s long-time pal Pete Shotton, taking time off from his Hayling Island Supermarket which John had bought for him, was given the task of coordinating the operation from the outset. In addition to making purchases and attending to the minor details of the shop, he also had to deal with the conflicting views of the individual Beatles on how the business should be run. "One morning, for instance," remembered Shotton, "Paul came into the shop and told us where to install a partition. Almost as soon as we had done his bidding, John showed up, took a good look round, and said, 'What the fuck's going on in here? What’s all this stuff up for?' 'Paul told us he wanted partitions up,' I explained. 'Oh, get the fucking lot out,' John ordered. 'I don’t want these fucking stupid partitions in here!' The offending partitions were duly removed."

The Fool was given a signing-on fee of £40,000 to design the clothes for the new shop, a price that horrified the Beatles’ accountant Harry Pinsker, who saw it as a totally unnecessary expense. The Fool had worked on a rejected centerfold painting for Sgt. Pepper and had completed various design projects for the individual Beatles, but their first connection with the Beatles had been established at Epstein's Saville Theatre.


Upon their meeting, Marijke read Paul’s Tarot, where Paul consistently drew the Fool. This upset Paul, but Marijke emphasized that the Fool represented more an innocent, child-like quality, and from this McCartney had the inspiration for a new song. "I began to like the word 'fool'," he said, "because I began to see through the surface meaning. I wrote 'The Fool on the Hill' out of that experience of seeing Tarot cards."


The Fool was given a tremendous amount of freedom in the new Apple boutique, and Simon Posthuma described his vision for the shop to the Sunday Times: "It will have an image of nature, like a paradise with plants and animals painted on the walls. The floor will be imitation grass and the staircase like an Arab tent. In the windows will be seven figures representing the seven races of the world, black, white, yellow, red, etc." The plan was to sell a wide range of clothing, furniture, jewelry, paintings, posters, and even the fixtures that were part of the store itself. The Apple press release termed it as "a beautiful place where beautiful people can buy beautiful things." The Fool provided Apple with a sign of things to come when they spent a total of ten days in Marrakesh with Pete Shotton for the purpose of buying antiques and supplies for the boutique, indulging in majoun and hashish, and returning home with few goods in hand; the vast majority of  purchases were "lost in the post."

In order to make the shop stand out among the unadorned buildings of Baker Street, the Fool planned a huge psychedelic mural. Even when confronted with a flat-out denial the City of Westminster, the Fool pushed forward and employed forty art students to create the spatial work. The opening party was held on December 5, nearly a month behind schedule, and the shop was officially opened to the public on the 7th. Paul was at his farm in Scotland and Ringo was filming Candy in Rome, so they both missed the opening gala, which was so overcrowded with guests that it caused a BBC commentator to faint from the lack of oxygen.

The shop appeared to be doing well in its early stages in that stock had to be constantly replenished, yet many goods were stolen, if not by customers, then, it is speculated by the store employees or the Fool themselves. The venture lost nearly £200,000 in the space of seven months. Within three weeks of its unveiling, the building mural had to be painted over in white due to the complaints received by local merchants and letters from the Duke of Westminster. "With all the trouble in the world, it wasn’t worth fighting for," commented John.

The Beatles’ finally decided on Saturday, July 27, 1968 to end their venture into the world of fashion by closing their Apple boutique. "Our course just isn’t shopkeeping," George commented with philosophic aplomb. “"It's not really a mistake, the only mistake that anyone ever made was getting born. All the rest is life." The Fool realized their time with Apple was up and fled to America to record an album with Graham Nash entitled The Fool, which proved unsuccessful.

For the closing, Paul wrote a press statement with the help of Derek Taylor, which stated: “Our main business is entertainment, communication. Apple is mainly concerned with fun not frocks. We had to zoom in on what we really enjoy, and we enjoy being alive, and we enjoy being Beatles." With that the boutique gave away the remainder of its goods. "It was fantastic," said Apple assistant Jeni Crowley. "Mothers with children rushed in and took anything they could lay their hands on. An old-age pensioner came in to buy a cushion. When we told him he could have it for nothing, he couldn't believe it. He kept touching his cap as he backed out of the shop." Lennon was pleased with their final decision: "That was the best thing about the whole shop, when we gave it all away."


Though the shop itself was unsuccessful, and The Fool and The Beatles parted on poor terms, the tax write offs, despite the loss of a quarter million pounds, worked out to the Beatles' benefit.