People in fashion: An eye for fashion

Falconer started off selling junk on the Portobello Road. Now Kate Moss is a client and the V&A wants his clothes. Imogen Fox reports
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Indy Lifestyle Online
"FALCONER!" shouts Esther to her father from the front of the shop. "How much is this?" she asks, holding aloft a long white dress with delicate lace trimmings. Her father, known only by his surname, Falconer, screws his eyes up and presses his fingers to his temples. "pounds 150," he answers. Esther nods and returns to her customer. Together father and daughter have been hiring and selling vintage clothes in their shop The 1920s-1970s Crazy Clothes Connection for the past five years.

Inside the shop in London's Ladbroke Grove it's dark, chaotically messy and absolutely jampacked full of original dresses, coats, shirts and dinner jackets from decades gone by. Hats, gloves, shoes and belts fill every available space. The rails have even begun to spill out on to the pavement outside. As Falconer says, laughing: "Yes, this is the home of the Crazy Clothes Connection, and it is a crazy clothes connection. If I were to show you all our selection of clothes it would take about three years."

For Falconer the clothes aren't simply stock, they form a collection. Some are for sale, some may be hired, others are for neither. "The main thing is that they're here," he says. As he pulls dress after dress from one of the many bags ensconced within the cavernous CCC, Falconer's passion for clothes becomes clear. "Ain't that dangerous!" he exclaims, producing a flamboyant Seventies evening dress. Each item he handles in amazement, as if discovering it for the first time. He pounces on another. "What a piece, man," he breathes, clearly distracted.

All the clothes in Crazy Clothes are originals. Many of the pieces have no label, having been specially made for what he calls "posh people". Consequently, the clothes are not cheap (though very reasonable to hire). "The second-hand shop is across the road, the charity shop," says Falconer, "this could never be a second-hand shop." He picks up a pristine pair of golfing shoes from the Forties and turns them over to illustrate his point. The soles are perfect, they've never been worn. "Let's put it this way. If you had a Thirties or a Forties Rolls Royce, you wouldn't call it second-hand, you'd call it vintage."

Getting Falconer to explain the origins of the Crazy Clothes Connection proves difficult, as he doesn't regard it as consequential. "Nothing happened," he shrugs. He finally explains how he and his daughter came to run such an emporium. One day while selling junk on Portobello market, a man sold him two bags of fur coats for pounds 60. Business took off "like a bullet" so Falconer decided to attend the London College of Fashion to learn about the construction of fur coats. A skilled engineer, Falconer wanted to know exactly how they were put together. The animal rights movement in the Eighties soon put paid to this venture though. Forced back into junk for a short while, Falconer decided to give clothes a go - after all, he'd been making patchwork leather skirts and all sorts of clothes for his friends since the Seventies. "I started buying pieces and selling pieces and then I ended up in the shop," he says. Put like that, it all sounds very simple, but this belies the fact that the finding and aquiring of such a vast "collection" must be quite a feat. How does he find them? "You don't find things. If you are going down the street and you see a pound coin in the street you know that it's pounds 1 so you pick it up. If you see something in the street and you don't know what it is you're not going to pick it up, are you?"

It was back home in Jamaica that Falconer amassed his great wealth of knowledge about clothes, largely from his mother. "She was the best seamstress in the country. Back home they still talk about her sewing skills, even though she died 20 years ago. I was brought up in that sort of environment, I know about clothes all the way down from the Twenties." Even the Victoria and Albert Museum have used Falconer's expertise, consulting him for their Street Style exhibition in 1994. He obtained several authentic Rasta outfits and even donated one of his own original "Soul Boy" outfits to the exhibition. Falconer's daughter defers completely to his knowledge. "Everything I know I learnt from him. Speak to him about the clothes," she winks.

The Crazy Clothes Connection is now a well-established treasure trove and regular destination for London's fashion cognoscenti. Falconer says he's spotted many a designer snooping about the shop, and even as we talk a stylist pops in looking for some "original vintage pieces of knitwear". High above the counter hangs a photograph of Kate Moss, smiling broadly, with her arm around Falconer. Why do such folk shop at Crazy Clothes? "Let's put it this way - they come here for one reason. If they've been everywhere else and they can't get what they want, they come here; then they get what they want."

The 1920s-1970s Crazy Clothes Connection, 134 Lancaster Road, London, W11, 0171 221 3989. Open 11am to 7pm daily, closed Thursdays and Sundays

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