Who’s Wearing What: Penelope Tree

british boutique movement, david bailey, Foale and Tuffin, mary quant, ossie clark, penelope tree, petticoat magazine, sixties

I adore Penelope Tree; her hair, make-up, style, the fact that she still looks amazing (without having had surgery…at least that’s what it looks like), the fact that she survived being with Bailey, the fact she doesn’t feel the need to whore herself around for fame and fortune…..

I particularly love this article from the June 14th 1969 issue of Petticoat magazine.

In New York Penelope Tree is a top fashion model. You can’t open American Vogue or Harpers without seeing her dripping furs, jewellery. In England she’s more well-known for being Bailey’s Bird. What sort of clothes does she wear to please herself?

I got off to a good start by losing my pencil, every time I delived in my bag to find it I got butted in the bottom by Smudge, Penelope’s enormous English sheep dog. “And he’s still only a puppy,” she said apologetically, whacking him. I gave up looking, and she handed me a pencil. We sat either end of a vast black leather Chesterfield, surrounded by ‘naive’ paintings, Mickey Mouse and stone sculptures of sorts.

“I go six months without ever buying clothes, because I hate it more than anything else. I think I’m going to get all paranoic in the shop, specially Department Stores, I think I’m going to throw-up or something. I’ve been buying clothes for myself since I was 12 years old and it still gets me. When I do see something I like, I usually buy a lot. This dress, I bought at Maryon about a year ago. I liked it so much I bought three.”

She was wearing a full-length, green cotton dress, sprigged with tiny daisies, topped with a short black velvet vest, “a bit from a Tuffin and Foale trouser suit, I think” and thick brown brogue boots.

Apart from looking very individual and super, she looked as if she’d just stepped out of a trail-blazing Western film. “I refuse to spend a lot of money on clothes, I’d rather spend it on paintings. I haven’t got much money; you know I don’t earn any money in this country at all, and anyway clothes aren’t made well enough. The most I’ve ever spent on one garment is an Ossie Clark Snakeskin coat.”

“To the ground?” I queried.

“Oh yes, short clothes look terrible now, one is always inhibited about the way one sits, walks and runs down the street. I like to forget about what I’m wearing, not worrying about – are my knickers showing. It’s all right if you don’t worry, but I’ve been conditioned to worry about it.”

I sat there worrying if my knickers were showing, and feeling very butch in my short skirt.

With that, David Bailey walked in, bumping into a bounding Smudge, who rushed over to give a friendly lick.

“Bailey do you know Suzie?” Penelope introduced us and we exchanged sickly smiles. I always feel about two year old, being called Suzie, and surnames only always have a ‘God’ like ring to them. Bailey put on a record and we all listened in silence to Brute Force and his four letter word song. “That’s why it can’t be released,” Bailey explained.

I broke the magic by asking Penelope if she liked French clothes. “I hate French clothes, I hate the principle of the couturier. I used to love Yves St. Laurent clothes, only he started giving out this black thing and being in mourning for Vietnam. I think it’s the most hypocritical thing I’ve ever heard of, he doesn’t do anything about Vietnam, but make money out of it. Black’s okay if you have a figure problem. English clothes were wonderful five years ago, now they’re terrible and very expensive. Ossie Clark is the only revolutionary now, he makes pretty clothes, only they’re not particularly well made.”

“Can I quote that?” I interjected.

“Oh yes, I’ve told him so. Marshall McLuham says: ‘Fashion is a product of mass media, presenting ourselves as a showcase’. I think clothes just need to be comfortable. My wardrobe’s full of bits and pieces, I hate to throw anything away, I always think they’ll go with something. I really only wear about five things.”

I’d read she wore masses of make-up, literally painting it on every morning, but she hardly had any on.

“Oh sometimes I wear gobbs and gobbs, it just depends how depressed I feel in the morning. I think Mary Quant is best, but really best of all is stolen make-up, not stolen really but borrowed. Somebody else’s is always better than yours.

“I’m always amazed that all the individual, successful people ‘do their own thing.'” Penelope even cuts her own hair…”unless someone offers to trim it while I’m modelling”. I asked her why she wasn’t modelling in this country and she mumbled something about the tax man and then said: “I’m giving it up, I don’t want to hang about and become a has been.” Then she added much to my surprise: “I’m not in great demand. I started to write a book, then realised in the middle I didn’t really know what I was talking about; it was on the subject of Hinduism. I might go into films.”

With that Mary Quant, Alexander Plunket-Green, Bailey and Smudge came in and it looked like my interview was ended. We wandered down to the basement and spent half an hour searching for a picture of her. “Bailey hardly ever photographs me unless it’s work!” Sue Steward


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