When we were researching our book 70s Style & Design we often wished we could have sampled the early ’70s scene at first hand. Oh to have hung out with hippie acid-freak drag queens the Cockettes in San Francisco, and Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark in David Hockney’s London basement, like our good friend Frances Lynn.
Frances had the pleasure of both (as chronicled in her recent novel, Frantic) before ending up as gossip columinist for hipster mag Ritz (London’s answer to Interview) in the late 70s. Apparently her bitchiness was legendary, causing shudders as she walked into rooms. Is this true, we asked her. ’When gossiping for Ritz I was completely uninhibited and used to bang out my column as if it were my diary,’ she says. ‘I could never understand why my victims used to scream at me, or even threaten to hire hit men.’
Frances reveals that reading Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies inspired her to write a gossip column and to invent her character Jet Spray Cooler. ‘Each month in Ritz I used to write that he was a big admirer of Amanda Lear and wanted to meet her,’ says Frances, ‘and she kept calling me, demanding to know who he was. She wouldn’t let up, so in the end I had to admit that he was fictitious.
‘In retrospect,’ she concludes, ‘it was exhausting going out 24 hours a day but I got a lot of perks!’ Indeed – like hanging out with Jack Nicolson and Bette Midler at one of Bette’s after-parties at the Waldorf hotel in the late 70s. Here Frances is sporting a particularly lovely blouse by Celia, who also designed the cover of Frantic, and possibly the print on the dress that Amanda is wearing, a little Ossie Clark number.
Talking of Celia, here’s one of her gorgeous early 70s illustrations of her prints – the one on the right is the iconic Tulips design, used for an Ossie Clark dress as sported by socialite Nicky Samuel among others. Celia is currently selling some vintage Celia/Ossie frocks in her shop on Westbourne Park Road, London – check out Celia Birtwell’s website. Incidentally, Dominic is writing a book about Celia to be published in autumn 2011 by Quadrille – keep an eye on the Amazon listing