Paul Gorman's beautifully illustrated and well-written biography of the fashion and design entrepreneur Tommy Roberts throws a deserved and long overdue spotlight on a man who helped shape British pop fashion of the early seventies. There was so much more to the Roberts story and his influence on British design - as Sir Paul Smith readily acknowledges in his introduction - than I was aware of. A former Goldsmith's art student, Roberts started off near Carnaby Street in the swinging sixties selling military dress uniforms to such rock luminaries as Jimi Hendrix and The Who. But it was as his alter ego, the flamboyant Mr Freedom, that he introduced the fizzing bright comic book colours of Pop Art and the imagery of Disney cartoons to British fashion and became famous as a result.
Mr Freedom first found expression in a Chelsea World's End boutique (in premises later taken over by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood) before moving to a larger store at the bottom of Kensington Church Street, opposite Biba. With Kensington Market just around the corner, the area became the focal point of trendy London with Mr Freedom at the forefront. Robert's designs were worn on stage and film by Elton John, Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Marc Bolan and his famous T shirts were snapped up almost as soon as they went on sale. Paul Gorman's carefully researched story also takes us through Robert's days as music manager of Ian Dury and Kilburn and the High Roads, his pioneering of fashion retail in London's Covent Garden, through the post modernist hi tech design ethos of his shop Practical Styling, right up to his present day Tom Tom -a contemporary furniture shop just the other side of Shoreditch. Robert's, ahead of the crowd, as always, opened his premises in 2001. Mr Freedom - Tommy Roberts: British Design Hero, is an essential read for anyone interested in British design and Pop culture.