Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Retro Product Fail #6: The Beatles Apple Boutique

On this day in 1967, the first Apple retail store opened. Not Apple as in iPads and iTunes, but Apple as in Beatles! Even though the Apple boutique was short-lived, it shows how ahead of their time the Fab Four were, by expanding their brand name beyond music labels long before today's rock and pop stars did the same. Opening in a now-demolished building in London at the corner of Baker and Paddington Streets, the store's mission statement, as described by Paul McCartney, was to provide "a beautiful place where beautiful people can buy beautiful things." The business venture, an offshoot of the Beatles' new record label, was supposed to be just the first of a chain of Apple stores.

George Harrison's wife at the time, Pattie Boyd, introduced the Beatles to a fashion/art design firm called The Fool to design the building's colorful psychedelic facade. Despite failure to secure the city's permission to decorate the building, The Fool hired art school students to paint the design onto the building in November 1967. On December 5, the launch party was attended by John Lennon and George Harrison and only apple juice was served to an assortment of swinging 60s characters and the media. The store didn't have a license to serve alcohol...what a drag (a well known drag) that had to have been! Virtually all of the clothing and accessories available in the store were The Fool's creations.

Pattie Boyd and other models showing fashions designed by The Fool for the Apple boutique
Unfortunately, the Beatles failed to follow a golden rule of business which is to never hire relatives and friends if you want a job done right. John's friend Peter Shotton and Pattie's sister Jenny (Jenny of "Jennifer Juniper" fame) managed the store. They weren't very good at spotting shoplifters - something that wasn't helped by a lack of retail security cameras during the 60s - so theft was a constant problem and with so many hippie customers coming into the shop, it was virtually impossible to tell as they walked out which articles of clothing were theirs to begin with. 

Jenny Boyd, working in the Apple boutique
The store was also encountering complaints from nearby retailers regarding the building's eye catching exterior - this combined with the initial lack of a building permit forced The Fool to cover it up with plain white paint, and the name "Apple" in simple cursive writing. 
Something in the way she moves: Beatle wives and girlfriends modeling Apple fashions
By the time the store was closed in July 1968 - only 7 months after it had first opened - it had lost over 200,000 pounds of revenue. The decision was made to close shop. The Beatles' wives and girlfriends had their first pick of leftover merchandise; the following day the public was invited to clean house - with the instructions to take one item only. Needless to say, this being the Beatles, it was impossible to enforce the rules: a massive crowd showed up, there was a public riot and the police were called in to keep the peace.

Afterwards, Paul McCartney stenciled the words "Hey Jude" in one of the windows to promote the band's first single to be released on the Apple label. As a final insult to injury the words were mistook as antisemitic ("jude" being the German word for jew) and the graffiti was removed.

Just Not "Our Thingy"
Speaking to the media, Paul McCartney had this to say about the closing of the Apple boutique, avoiding saying they made some bad business mistakes and opting to say "it just wasn't our thingy." Yeah, right.
"We decided to close down our Baker Street shop yesterday and instead of putting up a sign saying, 'Business will be resumed as soon as possible', and then auction off the goods, we decided to give them away. The shops were doing fine and making a nice profit on turnover. So far, the biggest loss is in giving the things away, but we did that deliberately. We're giving them away - rather than selling them to barrow boys - because we wanted to give rather than sell. Originally, the shops were intended to be something else, but they just became like all the boutiques in London. They just weren't our thingy. The staff will get three weeks' pay but if they wish they'll be absorbed into the rest of Apple. Everyone will be cared for."

The Fool got plenty of other design work through the Beatles - they painted a piano and guitar for John Lennon, and a fireplace for George Harrison.

The Apple boutique actually made an appearance in a 1968 film called "Hot Millions" that starred Bob Newhart and Maggie Smith. Check out the clip below for a rare look inside the shop:


Here's a look at media coverage of the launch party - looks like a swinging time was guaranteed for all:


Here's a media clip of the store's closing, complete with mayhem and police.



I've read that the Beatles opened up a second Apple outlet on King's Road that was a shop originally called Dandy Fashions - later changed to Apple Tailoring. The manager designed clothing for Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, The Who, and many other notable rock stars of the time. The store was returned to its owner after the original Apple boutique folded. 

Even though the concept didn't work out for the Beatles, it was an innovative idea at the time...and can you imagine how much any article of Apple clothing would be worth today on eBay???

6 comments:

Desiree said...

Not our thingy? That is truly hilarious.

Lemondrop Marie said...

OOOOOOOOOh wish I had an apple piece. Fab post, I didn't know any of that- I am ashamed.

Marie @ Lemondrop ViNtAge
Christmas bracelet giveaway

Luis said...

I was not aware of this particular piece of Beatles history, very interesting.
The Beatles (Paul and Ringo) could easily revive this concept today as there is enough Beatles merchandise still being produced to fill a chain of stores.

Pam@GoRetro said...

@Desiree - I think "not my thingy" could become the new catchphrase of 2011.

@Lemondrop Marie - ah, don't be ashamed...I get an education myself researching this stuff!

@Luis - the official Beatles site actually calls their online store the Apple Boutique, but it's mostly tees and the usual bland merchandise...no cool psychedelic clothing.

Marlene said...

Learn something new every day! I had no idea.

42N said...

Great, great blog post. As a collector of Beatle vinyl it was nice to remember this failed experiment. I hope the lads learned something from the experience.

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