Interview with Felicity Green
Felicity Green joined the Mirror Group in the early 1960s, first as Associate Editor of the Sunday Mirror , and then as Associate of the Daily Mirror. Her role was to promote the influence of women in every aspect of the paper but particularly in its presentation of popular fashion trends. In 1967 she chose the Dress of the Year for the Bath Museum of Costume.
She has received many awards for her original presentation of fashion. For five years in the early '90s she was a senior lecturer on the St Martins School of Art Fashion Journalism course. In 2005 she was elected to the Press Gazette Newspaper Hall of Fame.
See below for a transcript of an interview recorded with Felicity Green in March 2006.
Life as a journalist with the Mirror Group
Fashion has been a major interest in my life. During the sixties, when London was exploding with fashion, I was exploding with it too. It was the most exciting time to be in London.
When I moved over to the Mirror from the Sunday Mirror I came in as Associate Editor, a level which was very senior and they were all fairly terrified about what was going to happen… One particularly willing male Features Editor said, 'I've got some ideas ready for you, I thought you might like to have some decorative borders around your pages and so I've designed some with bows and some with flowers', and I said, 'Well, no, that actually really wasn't what I had in mind'. My main idea was to introduce women's pages of interest to men… this really became unisex in a way but with fashion very much the major thrust and they were very successful. What I wanted to put in those pages was fashion news, because at that time, unlike today, there were some really, really new trends.
When I had Mary [Quant's] first mini skirts in the paper our chairman, Cecil King, did not approve at all of what I was doing. He said, 'How long are you going to continue to put those ridiculous clothes in my newspaper… how long do you propose to go on with this?' And I said, 'well, as long as they are news. And what will you do with me if I do continue to put them in the paper?'… and he said, 'I will arrange for you to be fired' and walked on by. That was about the only guidance I ever got. But what I wanted to put in the paper were trends and news to inform and entertain… our readers couldn't afford Hardy Amies or Norman Hartnell.
At that time we were selling five million copies a day and we had an overlap with the Times at one end and people who couldn't read at the other, so our readership was fairly broad. I felt I wanted to relate clothes to people: where you might wear them, how you might wear them, clothes making a statement about you. In other words I think what I brought to the paper was something new in the way of presentation, in that I made fashion into features, I made it relate to your life, to your money, to your attitudes, to your prejudices, to your pleasures. People want to imagine themselves in the clothes, they want to see clothes in their mind's eye, they want to relate them to themselves. I felt we had to talk to readers and we had to make fashion come alive and I reckon we did it.
The Sixties fashion revolution
Until the end of the Fifties and the beginning of the Sixties, it was an evolution and the young generation followed in the footsteps of the older generation who had followed in the footsteps of the previous generation and so on. There was no youth culture at all. Suddenly the amazing thing that happened, and it happened in London, was that teenage girls did not want to look like their mothers, they wanted to go their own way, and out of that feeling evolved clothes that were for that generation only and that was a huge revolution. It didn't happen overnight, but King's Road happened and then Carnaby Street happened, and there were two new worlds of fashion. There was a schism right through this world of fashion, there was resentment from one side, from the older generation thinking it was all perfectly dreadful… and on the other side it was - 'We're doing our own thing and how brilliantly.' You were wearing cheap clothes, you were proud to be wearing cheap clothes, cheap clothes were fun. It had been a serious business before then and only a serious business.
[Designers] were always willing, and rather excited to co-operate with the fashion journalists but there was no PR working for them so contact was a problem. The other thing I remember about that time was model girls who arrived when you set up a shoot, they arrived with a big bag with their curling tongs, their make-up, their hairdryers, and various accessories, their own shoes, handbags etc. There were no hairdressers, no make-up artists, there were no stylists, it was you and the model and you worked it out between you.
I think the two most iconic fashion items were inter-related - the mini and the maxi skirt; skirt lengths just took over the world. When the miniskirt came into fashion it was worn by many, many women who really should have known better, but it was irresistible… Of course the thing that happened which was so cataclysmic was that fashion started at the lowest level. From the Sixties onwards it came from the street up, whereas before it had always come from the top down. So the miniskirt confused the 'important' top designers because they realised what was happening and they weren't quite sure if they could be a part of it, and they weren't sure if their customers would wish to be a part of it. So there was a period of enormous uncertainty where everybody who wasn't part of this 'youth culture' was very unsure and confused… There were clothes for older women and clothes for the younger women and there was no pretending there was a great marriage in the middle because there wasn't. There couldn't be. So the miniskirt was truly an earthquake… it was for the young and all the rest of the population felt old and neglected. However when the maxi skirt arrived it bonded the two ages for the first time.
At that time Barbara [Hulanicki] was a freelance fashion artist and she used to do fashion drawings for me for the Mirror. She always used to wear beautiful clothes. I used to notice what she was wearing and I just felt she was a very interesting girl. So I said to her, 'would you like to design something for me that we could put in the Daily Mirror as a very simple mail order offer?' And she said yes she would love to do it, and so together we worked out the famous A-line dress. It couldn't have been simpler, it was sleeveless with had two seams and I wanted a triangular kerchief to go with it and I wanted it in gingham. So Barbara went off and made this dress and I was absolutely enchanted with it and said, 'I'm going to do it huge on the centre spread of the Daily Mirror'. The advertisement director sent for me and said, 'Who is this foreign person that you are giving all this space to in the Daily Mirror?' And I said, 'Well she's not a foreign person, or if she is that's irrelevant. She's an extremely clever designer and this will be a big hit for our readers'. And he said 'How do you know she won't run off with our money? … You have to take your responsibilities very, very carefully because every fashion advertiser in this paper will object to the large space you're giving to this unknown foreigner.' I just said, 'Well, you have to trust me on this one'. So he did and I had to estimate how many we would sell and I estimated 3000 which was considered to be hugely optimistic… I think it sold 21,000 and Fitz, Barbara Hulanicki's husband was scouring the country looking for pink gingham because we ran out of fabric. In those days Mirror readers didn't have bank accounts so almost all sent in postal orders which his bank refused to accept. So he had to find a more willing bank. It was a stunning success, far in excess of what either Barbara or I had planned for.
Everything changed. First of all the display changed. Adel Rootstein started to make mannequins that brought lifestyle into the shop windows. The shop assistants before then were mostly quite senior and condescending, even snobbish and suddenly the people who were serving you were rather like the people that you were yourself; the shop assistants became younger, more human and much more interested in the kind of fashion that you were interested in. Really the person who changed the face of retail in this country was Barbara [Hulanicki], she did it alone. She introduced the first communal changing room. I mean imagine that in one of the elegant department stores, what an idea! But it was not too bad because you couldn't see anyone anyway because the Biba boutique was pitch dark! Her assistants looked exactly like the customers who shopped at Biba. They were all wearing the same kind of clothes and the same kind of make-up. The whole impromptu atmosphere of life on the street went inside the shops. But it took a long time, it didn't happen overnight for all the shops to get in to the mood.
For me what hit the men's market had absolutely nothing to do with tailoring. You had men walking around in frocks… men walking around in kaftans. You can't call that men's tailoring. This was street fashion and it took men by surprise just as it took the world by surprise. But men's tailoring for me didn't go through the world-wide revolution that women's clothes went through. I think it's easy to over estimate the effect that the fashion revolution had on men's clothes, I don't think it was a revolution, it was a refinement, and it was revolutionary only as far as what men wore in the King's Road and Carnaby Street. In such way out areas of London they were wearing jackets made out of Union Jacks and they were going the whole hog but I think that comes under another definition than men's tailoring. It was something quite different and it didn't last the course as women's fashion did.
I was the first one ever to appoint a men's fashion columnist in the Mirror and I sent him to do the Paris shows wearing a Pierre Cardin space suit with its bubble helmet and he never spoke to me again! But again it was the fun element, it really wasn't the discreet 'niceties' of men's tailoring because that wouldn't show up on the page and they wouldn't have been of world shattering interest to our readers either.