Many people will tell you how they hung about all day long in SEX chatting to Jordan about where everyone was going that night, or talking roots reggae with Don Letts at Acme, or even sharing a cup of tea with the iconic and totally adorable Jeannette Lee, but the truth was, to most young Soulboys of that era, the shopping experience at London’s coolest shops was a more intimidating experience.
SEX, with its rubber curtains, red carpet and a clientele that contained many dubious characters to say the least, was THE shop for the soul and funk kids who wanted to push the fashion barrier. Amongst the gimp masks, whips and sadomasochistic imagery, there were beautifully made 1950s style peg leg trousers in baby blue or scarlet red with a Lurex thread, capped sleeve Airtex shirts, zipper t-shirts, rubber t-shirts and buckled leather boots. All really expensive, but clothing you knew would set you apart from the Painter Jean wearing regular soul crowd. Clothing that even then was elevated to an art form and an almost guarantee of verbal (if not physical) violence from the flare wearing beer boys who always had one eye out for what they deemed poofs and weirdos.
However, life isn’t that simple, especially for suburban teenagers whose knowledge of sex was limited to the underwear section of their mum’s Littlewood’s catalogue, or Health and Efficiency magazines that they may have stolen during their previous years as an early morning paper boy.
Firstly, there was Jordan, an amazing looking woman (early ‘20s but appeared to be much older) in a Myra Hindley-style peroxide beehive and raccoon heavy make-up who oozed sexuality and intimidation in equal amounts. For some reason her offer of ‘any help?’ always sent me scurrying out of the shop empty handed. Then there was Michael Collins the male assistant who we all aspired to be. He was a few years older but a light year away in the cool stakes. A man who truly looked good in rubber trousers.
Going straight to the Pegs (trousers) and ‘50s-style Airtex shirt rails seemed a real cop out, so you pretended to take a interest in the S&M special interest items as you really wouldn’t want the assistants to think you couldn’t handle the rest of the garments sold inside (which of course most couldn’t). Getting to the store early was always a good idea and one shared by other young Soulboys. You could do a head count of those lurking around Worlds End way before any of the clothing shops were open. Everyone sheepishly trying not to make eye contact with each other in case of being accused of fashion cowardice. At the beginning even going into the store made you feel part of something. The rush you got when you actually dared to buy something was another thing altogether. However, this perceived bravery did bring you into contact with the other part of SEX’s clientele - the dirty mac brigade. Middle-aged fetish fans, who it’s rumored, would leave more than a little of themselves upon the shops changing room’s rubber curtains.
The general rule for us was get in there quick, pretend you’re looking through the stuff for perverts - the Cambridge rapist and Snow White and Seven Dwarves orgy cartoon t-shirts - go for the twisted Americana that they did so well, pay up and get out. You could tell the people who wore SEX. They stood apart from the others, danced a little better to the more obscure funk 7s than the crowd, and they would always tell you about the sleaziest new haunt or coolest gay club that you needed a member to sign you in to. And of course, how they spent all their Saturday’s hanging out at the store with Jordan and the rest of the crew.
NANCY STANNARD: The red PVC dungarees i brought from ACME Attractions were wonderful but at 14 I had no idea they had fetish connections. We later started dressing in She and Me and it became more obvious. Oh my god! Sex was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. I remember seeing Vivienne in there a lot with her white face and her dark lips and thinking she looked ugly but very cool. I bought some clear plastic mules in there that Agent Provocateur still do to this day with a very high heel and a label that said SEX 430 Kings Road,Chelsea. I can also remember my mother looking at them and asking “are you supposed to wear these during sex or is it the name of a shop”. Obviously my mother had picked up on the fetish angle but at 14 I certainly had not. The only thing that did disturb me was that t-shirt, the Cambridge Rapist one with the gimp mask and the zipped mouth. I know a lot of people felt uneasy going in there but to me it seemed like this shop was made especially for us.
“BY THE TIME I STARTED GOING DOWN THE KINGS ROAD IT HAD LOST MUCH OF THE VIBRANCY OF ‘75-’77 BUT EVEN THEN IT WOULD TAKE ME
FOUR OR FIVE ATTEMPTS TO ACTUALLY GO INTO WHATEVER SEX HAD TURNED INTO.”
STEVE LEWIS: I found SEX intimidating at the time because it was a very long walk from the front door to the desk and there were always people milling about. Marco Pirroni was always there. I don’t know what he did for a job, or whether he was at school, but he was always there. I used to love it. I used to love Too Fast To Live and Let It Rock as well. When it was SEX the clothes were fantastic. I bought t-shirts there, and bondage boots, but it was really expensive. Unbelievable. I bought a pair of bondage boots there and I think they were 33 quid, and my wage at the time was 14 quid. They were things you really wanted and you literally saved up for them. T-shirts I think were eleven or twelve pounds, so that’s a whole week’s wages on a t-shirt.
I bought quite a few of those t-shirts though I never quite got into the masks or any of the sort of rubberwear, but people did. People would go to clubs dressed in the sort of red, zip up bondage stuff and I used to think, ‘You can’t dance in that!’
I know now that they did have quite a big pervy clientele. In the dressing rooms there used to be latex or vinyl or something, and they used to wipe it down every other day. Blokes would come in, put the thing on and just come! And they’d be so embarrassed they’d just walk out with the clothes on, with this big come stain everywhere! But that place was important. I think me and my friends had been checking that shop for at least three or four years.
MARION MOORE (SOULGIRL): I had to really psyche myself up to go into SEX. Jordan was in that day and she looked really scary, full beehive and fierce make-up. Once in however she turned out to be lovely and good fun. I bought some really high black stiletto shoes, rubber trousers and a rubbery looking t-shirt. Other places that the discerning soulgirl would have to visit included Swanky Modes, I had a black one sleeved rubber dress from there and a plastic mac with what looked like rubbish sewn into the pockets, Che Guevara for '50s pencil skirts, Miss Mouse for skin tight black jeans covered in zips, plus Bus Stop Boutique and Anthony Price at Plaza. All essential for the period.
ANDREW WEATHERALL: By the time I started going down the Kings Road it had lost much of the vibrancy of ‘75-’77 but even then it would take me four or five attempts to actually go into whatever SEX had turned into. I’d walk up to the door and then turn around and go straight back to the tube station but it was that right of passage which was part of what it was all about. I’m glad they never welcomed me in - ‘have a look at our trousers, size 28 sir?’. The fact that I was to scared to go in and the fact that they would probably have all laughed at me anyway made it all the more powerful. Clubs were the same if you turned up and got turned away. It increases the mystique tenfold.
MARK POWELL: I think early on the majority of the people dressing in SEX were soulboys. The now classic red SEX jeans with the plastic pocket that a lot of people wore in the summer of ‘76 were basically a copy of the Smiths carpenter jeans imported from America that all the soulboys had been wearing the previous year.
NORMAN JAY: It was funny. We had a white mate who wore all the Teddy Boy gear and when they changed Let It Rock to SEX and started selling rubber stuff he went mad, threatened to go down and burn the shop to the ground. When he had had a drink he would kick off about ‘those poofs running the shop’. We went down there with him but all the Teds and Rockabilly’s were sporting the confederate flag which wound us up in those days. We ended up chasing a few through Antiquarious and asked for help from some punks who had been getting grief but they turned out to be French and melted leaving it to the soulboys to sort out.
DON LETTS: My first introduction to sub-culture and art and all that stuff was really awoken by walking into Let It Rock. This is way before punk - about three or four years pre-punk. I stumbled in there, I think Vivienne might have been there, Malcolm was in America trying to manage the Dolls. I became really pally with Vivienne. I don’t know if you can imagine, this dreadlocked kid hanging out with Vivienne, and she’d talk to me about her shit. Talk to me about Situationists and Dadaists, all that stuff, and I’m talking about my reggae stuff, because she had a kind of interest in Jamaican business. At one point I was entertaining the idea of working in there, but I was slightly apprehensive. I didn’t know about the high heels and rubber t-shirts. So Malcolm comes back and I need work, that’s where Acme Attractions opens. The minute I started working at Acme Attractions, Vivienne stopped talking to me. That’s the kind of woman she was. I’ve got maximum respect for Malcolm, but she never spoke to me again because I was seen as a traitor. If you were down with the SEX lot, you couldn’t be down with the Acme Attractions lot. Jordan and Michael, who ran SEX, or Let It Rock or whatever it was called at the time, even they came to hang out and chill out at Acme Attractions.
'Before Jack Had A Groove' is the forthcoming book from veteran London DJ Terry Farley, narrating the story of British youth culture with the passion and detail of somebody who helped shape it. With contributions from the likes of Don Letts, Andrew Weatherhall, Chris Sullivan and plenty more voices from the time, the book describes the clothes, the tribes, the shops, the clubs and the very foundations on which Acid House was built. If any publishers would like to get involved, contact email@example.com