With their Wonder Workshop label, John Dove and Molly White dressed the glam rockers and the punks. Marc Bolan, Iggy Pop, and other such icons popularized their screen-printed designs, and allowed them to go down in rock ‘n’ roll history. Their tales of the swinging ’60s, bohemia, and selling jukeboxes to Pete Townshend, are of rock star proportion.
Their work has been defined by the music they love; they reel off what was on the stereo at the time, when talking about an experience or design. As they prepare for a forthcoming exhibition of work, Clash visited their home and studio to hear about their designs, adventures and the music they listened to on the way.
Their home in Norfolk illustrates their lives. The converted barn is covered in rock posters and pop art, including a Warhol, and John’s own sculptures from his days as an artist, plus their collaborative screen-prints. It is glaringly obvious music is major part of their day-to-day routine. John says that him and his son regularly hang out in the ‘music room’ playing the guitar, piano or vinyl.
He then shows me the Pye black box record player in their bedroom and a classic American jukebox he has left over from a deal struck in Portobello in the ’70s – he bought five for £30 each and sold one to Pete Townhsend and with the profit was able cover the cost of the rest.
Today, rockabilly was to be our soundtrack, with an interlude from Talking Heads when we move out to the studio adjacent their house. John believes that he benefits from a working-cum-living ‘environment’ and sees no distinction between a professional and personal life, which explains why the couple have found it so easy to be lovers, parents and business partners for over forty years.
Environment and location is also the reason why so many great musicians of the ’60s and ’70s wore their clothes.
“When we started doing the black T-shirts, it was the first collection of black T-shirts ever made. Molly at the time was working with Liberty on print designs, so the only contact we had was with elitist stores and when we first took our rock ‘n’ roll stuff, our Elvis and Marilyns, they thought they were really ugly and they literally chucked us out,” says John.
Then a hip new boutique called Paradise Garage opened on the Kings Road and “they loved the stuff and that’s where it all happened,” he concludes.
Molly and John also stocked in London’s “dark and groovy” boutique Granny Takes A Trip, also on Kings Road. Described by John as “the black hole of Calcutta”, the shop was a favorite of the stars of the day. Mick Jagger, Marc Bolan, The Beatles and Bowie all went to Granny’s to get their stage garb and fabulous fashions.
The Kings Road was the most happening street in London, and the world, at the time. Bands shopped, partied and hung out there and art happenings were a daily occurrence.
“Everyone knew everyone and there were bands coming in from America all the time,” says Molly. “We walked in the there one day and the whole of Granny’s had been sprayed with yellow,” she laughs.“Like a real industrial yellow that they used to paint tractors – a real Jackson Pollock all over the clothes. We should have photographed it!” The business partners behind the shop had come to blows and the shop was about to close. Feeling he had got the wrong end of the deal, one of the partners had taken a tin of paint to the shop interior to express his upset – but this was the ’60s, when artistic expression and action was the done thing.
Jackson Pollock was actually one of the prolific cultural figures John and Molly immortalized in their screen-printed street-wear designs. The rest were mainly musicians: Johnny Thunders, Marianne Faithfull, Sid Vicious, Iggy Pop and Mick Jagger all were captured in screen-printed T-shirt designs.
Zoot Money was the first musician to buy clothes from them. He bought a ‘Wild Thing’ bomber jacket with a leopard’s face on the back. Many others followed and Molly and John started to build a portfolio of customers – Marc Bolan, New York Dolls, Lou Reed, The Rolling Stones and The Who, amongst many others – wearing the T-shirts and clothes from their Wonder Workshop label.
In 1973, a young Iggy Pop put their design into rock ‘n’ roll history. An intoxicated Iggy, at his height of musical genius, chose to wear his ‘Wild Thing’ leopard head jacket as he sat for photographer Mick Rock, for his ‘Raw Power’ album artwork.
The jacket said everything about Iggy at the time and went on to become the “the Shroud of Turin of rock and roll”, as described by music mogul and avid collector Long Gone John.
The Sympathy For The Record Industry record label founder, who helped launched the careers of band including The White Stripes, Hole and Suicide, now owns the jacket.
He bought the jacket from a strung out Stan Lee of LA punk rock band The Dickies. The guitarist had earlier been shot and interviewed for Rolling Stone and bragged about swapping drugs with addict Iggy for this iconic piece of fashion. Since this, many fans of Iggy – and Molly and John – wanted to own it for themselves and offers were made to Lee. Long Gone John happened on a time he needed cash and bought the cheaply produced jacket for a knocked down $3000.
Molly and John are more into the aesthetics than notoriety of their work. They started out as artists and have brought their artist’s spirit to street-wear fashion. Many companies and designers have copied their work and it only encourages them to design more.
They were the first to print naked breasts on T-shirts, a rebellious design that Vivienne Westwood replicated and many think originally created. It then became a favourite amongst punks, even though it was made five years before their time.
“We did it first,” says John. “In fact what we did in the punk days is we brought it back, and we put a tattoo on it – we wanted to define it then.”
They say that their work was very much like punk rock but they were never really into the politics: “Situationism wasn’t something I was interested in, I was just into music; into rock ‘n’ roll,” says John, comparing himself to figureheads of the time including Westwood, her partner Malcolm McLaren, and graphics artist Jamie Reid.
He continues: “If the Sex Pistols wore our stuff, it’s just that they liked our stuff and because Iggy and the Dolls had it before, it wasn’t a statement.”
True to their word, Molly and John, instead of spending time looking back, are thinking about new work for their upcoming exhibition. They are screen-printing old designs on paper made from recycled T-shirts. Amongst this work is the ‘Rebel Set’, originally a series of black T-shirt designs of selected ‘rebels’ that including Johnny Thunders, Elvis, Sid Vicious and Lou Reed.
They have big ideas to extend the set to include modern day icons and there are two on the front of their minds. A certain tattooed beehive sporting songstress and a poetic Libertine-cum-Shambles. Can you guess which rebels Molly and John wish to commemorate in design?
If you can’t, hopefully you will be able to see them in the exhibition coming to London in May.
Find out more at http://www.wonderworkshop.co.uk
Words by Rose Forde
Photography by Nicolas Bourbaki