“We should never have tried to beat Marks & Spencer at the boutique business.”
- Paul McCartney
“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. For them, the road has no end. They follow it, enthused with incentive and ambition and the insatiable urge to discover fresh things. They will not always be together and they are already cutting their own fork roads. But, I cannot see them ever breaking links with one another. Their interests are too kindred. They will always inspire each other.”
-Brian Epstein, in his last interview, 1967
The first Apple venture to get off the ground was the most unlikely choice of a clothing boutique. After following Clive Epstein’s suggestion of creating a company for themselves as a tax-evasive measure, the Beatles first thought of selling items that truly caught their interest, Paul coming up the idea of selling things only in plain white. “It didn’t end up like that,” said John, “it ended up with Apple and all this junk and the Fool and all those stupid clothes.” A location was chosen in the middle of September 1967 to house the first Apple store, which had actually began life as a four-storey home when it was constructed in the nineteenth-century, situated on 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.”
A group of Dutch designers had been 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. “This group of people, the Fool, suddenly turned up,” John recalled. “I don’t know where they came from.” The Fool had previously worked on a rejected centerfold painting for Sgt. Pepper and had completed various design projects for the individual Beatles (including painting John’s psychedelic Rolls-Royce), but their first connection with the Beatles had been established through working on the Saville Theatre for Brian Epstein. The group initially consisted of Josje Leeger, Marijke Koger and Simon Posthuma who had met in Amsterdam and briefly ran a clothing boutique called the Trend. Moving to London in 1966, they met Barry Finch and Simon Hayes, who together ran a public relations company that had ties with Robert Stigwood and Brian Epstein. Finch became a full-fledged member of the Fool, while Hayes was selected as their business manager. Simon Posthuma explained their group’s name thusly: “It represents Truth, Spiritual Meaning and the circle which expresses the Universal circumference in which gravitate all things.” Meeting McCartney in 1967, Marijke had begun conducting Tarot card readings, and Paul always seemed to draw the ‘Fool’ card. This upset Paul, but Marijke emphasized that the Fool card represented more of an innocent, child-like quality, and McCartney was provided with 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 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. There will be exotic lighting and we will make it more like a market than a boutique.” 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 with the purpose of buying antiques and supplies for the boutique, indulging in majoun and hashish, and returning home with a few goods in hand but the vast majority of the purchases became “lost in the post,” all at the company’s expense.
Numerous outfits were created before the opening, including an orange crushed velvet hooded jacket, minidresses with attachable long skirts, outdoor coats made out of heavy tapestry, and other dress that looked more suitable for costume parties rather than for normal everyday wearing. Marijke commented on their style and ideas: “Boys and girls can’t go to offices dressed quite like we are. But we have made velvet suits for boys and dresses for girls that they could begin to wear everywhere.” Simon, in addition, expounded on their hippie philosophy: “In future people will have more leisure and they will have to develop their inner eye. They will want to get to know the supreme power: love!” With Simon’s insistence that each outfit’s label be made from pure silk, Shotton immediately raised protest to Lennon, rightfully pointing out the labels’ cost would exceed the cost to make the actual clothing. Lennon extended the Apple nonchalant attitude and told Shotton to allow the Fool’s extravagances: “Remember, Pete, we’re not business freaks, we’re artists.” Simon, the temperamental spokesperson for the Fool, would regularly throw fits when his specifications were not met, though he was careful to maintain a peaceful persona in front of the Beatles.
In order to make the shop stand out among the unadorned buildings of Baker Street, the Fool planned to cover the outside walls of the boutique with a psychedelic mural. Even when confronted with a flat-out denial of permission from the City of Westminster, the Fool pushed forward and employed forty art students to paint swirling images of outer space with rainbow colors. 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. Magic Alex had been commissioned to supply an artificial sun for the event, for it to light up the sky at precisely 8.16 p.m., but it was a no show when the time came. 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 and during the holiday season, as stock had to be constantly replenished. Many goods were stolen however, if not by customers, then also by the assistants working in the boutique or the Fool themselves. The venture was to lose nearly £200,000 in the space of seven months. Also, within three weeks of its unveiling the outside 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 tried their hand at opening another shop, this time to be called Civil and Theatrical Apple Tailoring, and to be run by John Crittle, a 25-year-old designer who had previously made clothes for the Beatles and other rock luminaries. The opening was held on May 22, 1968 at 161 New Kings Road, and was attended by John, Yoko, George and Pattie. “We won’t get teenyboppers here,” Crittle said, “because prices will be too high for them. We’re pushing velvet jackets and the regency look, although the Beatles put forward plenty of suggestions. They have pretty far ahead ideas, actually. We’re catering mainly for pop groups, personalities, and turned-on swingers.” Harrison commented to the NME: “We bought a few things from him, and the next thing I knew, we owned the place!”
Things were quickly heading downhill as management of the Fool’s Apple boutique first changed hands from Pete Shotton to former theatrical director John Lyndon. Lyndon stopped the Fool’s reckless spending of Apple money and was eventually replaced by Caleb, a Tarot card reader known only by his first name. Caleb had been helping the decision-making at Apple through divination for some time, but he eventually tired of making record chart predictions for the staff and left, later to end up in an insane asylum.
The Beatles’ finally decided on Saturday, July 27, 1968 to end their venture into the world of fashion by closing their Apple boutique and handing the control over Apple Tailoring back to John Crittle. “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.
Yoko came up with the idea to give the remaining stock of the Apple boutique away free to the public and this was done, though not after the Beatles & Co. had taken what interested them. 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.” The give away began on July 30, with any customer that entered being casually informed that the items they desired could be obtained for nothing. “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. Later, the management tried to limit people to one gift each.” The sendoff lasted until the next day, and customers went away happy, but the Beatles were still left with paying tax on all the goods, regardless of whether or not they had been passed out for free. Nevertheless, Lennon was pleased with their final decision: “That was the best thing about the whole shop, when we gave it all away.”
The story of the Apple boutique ended with a failed final attempt at promotion, this time for the new Beatles single “Hey Jude.” A week after closing, on August 7, Paul took his new girlfriend Francie Schwartz along with assistant Alistair Taylor to paint the words “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” on the shop’s windows facing Baker Street and Paddington Street, respectively. The windows were vandalized within a day by a Jewish passerby, who mistook the writing as saying “Juden” and being anti-Semitic. “He suddenly saw back to the Nazi regime from the Second World War, when they used to put signs on Jewish owned shops in Berlin,” recounted Taylor. “He jumped out of the car and threw this soda siphon straight through the window. Paul and I had never even given this a thought. Naturally, we didn’t press charges.”