Freddie Hornik: Bespoke tailor to the rock aristocracy of the Seventies

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The Independent Online

In the early Seventies, many rock stars patronised the Granny Takes a Trip boutiques in New York, Los Angeles and London's Chelsea run by the tailor and clothes designer Freddie Hornik, in partnership with the New Yorkers Gene Krell and Marty Breslau. In 1969, the triumvirate took over the business previously owned by its founders John Pearse, Nigel Waymouth and Sheila Cohen, who no longer seemed to know how to cater for the hip clientèle they had attracted in the mid-Sixties. Hornik, still had his finger on the pulse thanks to his involvement with Dandie, the appropriately named London clothes shop based in Kensington Mews and on the King's Road.

Adding branches in New York and Los Angeles, Granny Takes a Trip became bespoke tailors to the rock aristocracy. In 1972, Lou Reed wore their black velvet and rhinestone suit on the cover of his Transformer album, Todd Rundgren modelled Hornik's sequined bolero jacket on the back of the gatefold sleeve to Something/Anything? and Mick Jagger sported a tartan velvet jacket from Granny's on the inside of the Rolling Stones' Exile On Main St. The following year, the soul singer Ronald Isley wore a Hornik jacket on the front of the Isley Brothers' 3+3 and, in 1974, Elton John sported a tiger-stripe jacket with a Granny's designer label – allegedly sewn on by shop assistant Roger Klein, who had bought the item second-hand – on the cover of Caribou.

Keith Richards, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, Jimmy Page and Paul McCartney wore Hornik creations on stage and on television but the prohibitive prices that the boutiques charged meant that only the wealthy could afford to shop at Granny's. By the mid-Seventies, Hornik was feuding with Krell and Breslau and the business collapsed. Having been immortalised in many photographs and films like Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same, however, original clothes from Granny's have become sought-after collector's items displayed at Hard Rock Cafés around the world.

Born Alfred Charles Walter Hornik in Brno, Czechoslovakia, in 1944, he was taken to Austria by his widowed mother and grandmother at the end of the Second World War. Three years later, they came to London to stay with relatives and his mother remarried. Hornik was a sickly child, in and out of hospital, which affected his schooling. Apprenticed as a junior cutter with Robert Taylor in Tooting, and then Jackson's of Oxford Street, he so impressed the staff that he was promoted, soon rising to credit manager. In the mid-Sixties he teamed up with Alan Holston, John Crittle and the Guinness heir Tara Browne – immortalized by the Beatles in "A Day in the Life" after dying in a car crash in 1966 – to launch Dandie. In 1968, the Beatles invested in the venture, which briefly became Apple Tailoring, until their manager Allen Klein decided to rein in the Fab Four's profligacy.

Opened in 1966, Granny Takes a Trip had been one of the "in" shops during the Swinging London era, along with I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet in Portobello Road and Carnaby Street. By 1969, the partners had run out of fashions from the past to recycle and gladly accepted Kornik's offer. The driving force behind the relaunch, Hornik showed his staff how to take measurements the old-fashioned way – a dozen for the jacket and five for the trousers – and transformed the old stock of satin, silk and velvet suits with the addition of appliqué motifs. He took inspiration from Nudie Cohn, the "Rodeo Tailor", whose trademark suits were and embroidered with beads, rhinestone and sequins.

His timely reinvention of Granny's took off with the advent of glam-rock. Marc Bolan, Roxy Music, Mick Ronson and Queen began shopping at the Chelsea branch, not only buying clothes but also footwear, as Hornik brought the shoemakers Costas of Tooting under the same roof (they made the stack-heeled boots worn by Joe Cocker at Woodstock in 1969). The opening of Granny's outlets in Manhattan and Hollywood should have proved the icing on the cake with a client list now including Alice Cooper, Keith Moon, Graham Nash and Ricky Nelson too, but it created tensions between Krell, Breslau and Hornik. Hornik's penchant for drugs only compounded the problems and the London shop closed at the end of 1974.

He vanished from the scene and later drove mini-cabs before retiring due to ill health. When interviewed by fashion historians, he displayed an amazingly detailed recollection and still possessed the outrageous sense of humour he had been famous for.

Pierre Perrone

Alfred Charles Walter Hornik, tailor, clothes designer: born Brno, Czechoslovakia 19 January 1944; died London 19 February 2009.