Vogue Magazine credited your boutique, BELINDA, for bringing the miniskirt to the West Coast. Did you realize at the time what that style meant not only from a fashion standpoint but what it represented for society?
During the mid 60s, music was ground breaking… we were hitting the Whiskey on Sunset along with dancing at the Peppermint Lounge in Hollywood almost every night. And everyone was wearing ‘fun fashions.’ The British were also creating a Carnaby Street storm, with its famous clubs, trendy fashions and eccentric characters. Within the film industry, a lot of West Hollywood interest was being created.
What LA needed was someone to make some noise. BELINDA BOUTIQUE. Yes there was a Belinda, who had been a recent graduate of Parsons School of Design in New York at the time, and was in Hollywood designing costumes for theaters and a private key club on LaCienega called The Gaslight. We spent many hours talking about the quality, style and design when it came to what woman wanted and had yet to discover on the West Coast. A lot had to do with the pattern cutting and construction of the dresses. One of our ideas was to over lock stitch lace into the hem as a store signature of where it was created. The micro mini was one of my ideas because young women at the time wanted to shock everyone when they came into the clubs. It exploded or as the Brits called it, ‘It was the bomb!’ Most of the fabrics were cut on the bias to give the dress a draped look or a sexy feeling when put on. We also cut and made lots of backless, braless (dropped the darts 2–3 inches) dresses in every fabric that turned Belinda on. She had a wonderful feeling for paisleys and the antique velvet look.
My intention was to make a statement and we did. Vogue Magazine came in and borrowed several pieces for a Cher shoot and Women’s Wear Daily began writing us up almost every week.
Can you name a few of your most frequent customers and what they tended to purchase?
Almost everyone who was trying to make a fashion statement somehow heard about us
Michelle (Phillips) came in with (husband) John and bought some things… but it was Cass (Elliot) and her sister Leah who became big friends and invited us to several parties AND she even let me test out her black MiniCooperS that she bought from Peter Sellers.
A wonderful friendship happened with Liza Minnelli, who was scheduled to appear on The Johnny Carson Show. So we made several pieces for her to have fun. While being interviewed by Johnny she stood up, did a spin and said she got the dress from BELINDA on The Strip. With that I know we influenced a new generation of west coast fashion. Everyone who was anyone came into the store and we could hardly keep up with the orders.
BELINDA was at the epicenter of so much on Sunset Blvd. Did the shop often turn into one big party when people were shopping? It must have been a blast.
One of the first things I did after putting two tons of sand on the floor and building a dressing room tent surrounded by Rudolph Valentino posters, was to buy a juke box playing 45s of all the ‘right now’ hits. Listening to Jefferson Airplane played at high volume, also the Sparkletts water cooler dispensed cold Chablis which was a great relaxer while shopping the store. I also hung a couple of dozen dresses on chains from the ceiling which were slowly turned by a large fan and the hang tags stated ‘Even Ma Blows Her Bread Here – No Sales Tax’ (I paid the sales tax and women loved it!)
Why do you think that era in fashion, and the impact Los Angeles had on fashion, is still so popular today?
Retro is always in. Fashion keeps making a wide revolving loop reinventing itself. Cinema and quality manufacturing give it life. I love it. And LA is its own look.
Is it correct that you made the clothes in-house and that people would hang out and wait for a particular dress to be completed? Did you have your seamstresses working on-site at the Sunset location?
We had at least three or four seamstresses working full time in a large room which took up the back half the store. The customers would find something they loved and we would custom make it for them within a couple of hours so they could pick it up the same day. We also added a free pair of same fabric panties that went with every dress because the dresses were so short. It became a big hit with most because they could sit comfortably without being embarrassed.
In 1968, Vogue Magazine named you one of the ‘Four Under Thirty’ to watch along side Peter Fonda. Did that have an impact on the shop or was that just too much of a ‘East Coast’ sensibility for the Laurel Canyon crowd to care about? And do you consider the BELINDA era the moment in time when the East Coast finally began to see the West Coast as a unique voice in fashion or did that come later?
Maybe. That article in ‘Men In Vogue’ was a friendship request from Eleanore Phillips who, for more than four decades, was the West Coast editor of Vogue. She personified no-nonsense elegance and who, for some reason, thought I was happening. The East Coast crowd loved hanging out. I became great friends with Jane Holzer, an actress, Vogue model and Warhol superstar. She often sent her friends in to meet us.
We also dressed Tina Turner, Cass Elliot and several other pop stars for their TV Specials.
For the reader, here’s the link to the wonderful video you produced and starred in for BELINDA. It gives such a great snapshot of the shop and the times. What was the purpose of the film? Was it promotion for customers or financial backers and where was it shown? Was this kind of promotional film for a retail shop new at the time?
That clip was an interview for a movie being made in ’67 titled MONDO MOD and the first time I saw it was a couple of years ago when someone called and said buy the DVD, you’re in it. I digitized only the interview and uploaded it to YouTube.
You’re now a media executive in Los Angeles. Does your background in fashion lend itself well to that? And are you writing a book by chance about that time in Los Angeles?
Basically I’m a media savvy promoter who views getting the message out an Art — if the promoter knows what it’s all about. Research and understanding human desires is key.
Hadn’t thought about a book. Maybe I should, there’s a lot of stories.
Thanks so much Charles!