"My name is Malcolm McLaren, I have brought you many things in my time" Malcom introduces himself in The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle
Given a multiple choice of Malcom McLaren's talent and character, where do you place a tick: genius or jinx, myth-maker or manipulator, situationist or self publicist? The correct answer is - all of the above.
McLaren's early history is one of fractured families, student riots and art college sit-ins. In 1971 he opened a profitable outlet for his outsider stance through the most English of institutions - shopkeeping. Kicking against the trends of glam, hot pants and heavy rock, McLaren, and girlfriend Vivienne Westwood, sold fifties outfits and rock 'n' roll accessories to Teddy Boys and bikers at the wrong end of King's Road (430: formerly the site of Hung On You, Mr Freedom and Paradise Garage) nestling like a neighbour from hell next to the Chelsea Conservative Club.
Three years later they refitted the shop as SEX, retailing rubberwear to suburbanites and creating a catalogue of inflammatory imagery that brought police raids, confiscations and later an arrest for wearing the infamous two cowboys shirt in public. Still at 430 King's Road, Seditionaries: Clothes For Heroes opened in '77, with a collection consolidating all that had gone before: rock 'n' roll and cultural icons reformatted in shock-horror collages, under-the-counter imagery posterised in cartoon colours or stenciled with situationist slogans - and adding spiky new lines: tartan bondage suits, long sleeve muslins, Spider-man boots and parachute shirts.
By the mid-seventies, following a brief period managing the New York Dolls (dressing them in red patent leather and hammer and sickle imagery), slow-shifting whispers about the hate couture on sale at 430 King's Road drew new blood to the shop, becoming something of a club house for a handful of bored teenagers. And, like a dayglo Fagin, McLaren focused and stoked this shapeless momentum into a movement of Molotov cocktail combustibility. When punk, the Pistols and all hell finally broke loose, it was just another chapter from the McLaren scrapbook of anarchy, chaos and controversy, but a chapter that perhaps overshadowed his other hits and highlights..
Designing the costumes for That’ll Be The Day
Recruiting college chum and member of Suburban Press Jamie Reid as punk's graphic designer
Creating the template of historical references and Burundi Beats for Adam Ant
Spotlighting Boy George's potential as frontperson (George performed with a pre-Annabella Bow Wow Wow)
Styling Bow Wow Wow’s pirate chic, which, underwrote the new romantic wardrobe.
Breaking Hip Hop in the UK by way of Channel 4 'Tube' special.
Putting world music on a world stage with his Duck Rock album
Whatever you're take on him is, the fact remains, McLaren was a career subversive, a serial situationist and a repeat offender - before, during and after punk. His real skill was technique more than talent, mixing and matching mediums - film, fashion, politics and Pop Art - although music was always a key ingredient (just lend an ear to the SEX jukebox). Whether dressing New York street-toughs in red leather, London bovver boys in Destroy shirts or discovering adolescents in launderettes and Harlem based break dancers - mixing street level chic with with art school concepts for maximum publicity was his signature style. I'll leave the final word to Barry Cain, who worked with McLaren on his (still unreleased) autobiography.
"He’s the Brian Clough of pop who should’ve managed England. Knowing Malcolm, I think love got in the way – he’s an incurable romantic. But we should all be thankful he turned the world dayglo"
The New York Dolls - Red Patent Leather
Recorded while McLaren was the Dolls manager and taken from a live set that also includes Something Else later covered by Sid Vicious.
Bow Wow Wow - C30, C60, C90 Go
Sun, sea and music piracy
Malcolm McLaren - Buffalo Girls 12"
Arguably the track that sparked hip hop's global explosion.
This really is a marvellous, marvellous piece of footage. Taken from the Dress For Pleasure documentary it uncovers SEX's bread and butter customers. Watch out for the chap who looks like Stanley Unwin, casually chatting at home in his black rubber number.
Malcolm McLaren (22 January 1946 – 8 April 2010)
The Wicked Ways of Malcolm McLaren
No Future: Sex,Seditionaries and the Sex Pistols