Tommy Roberts, who died last week, left an enormous five decade mark on UK culture, as an integral part of Swinging London in the 1960s, the glam movement of Seventies, the Hi Tech style of the 1980s and mid-century modern revival of the 90s and Naughties.
He was a larger than life character both in size and demeanour. Born Thomas Stephen Roberts on February 6 1942, in Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire. His father, served in North Africa with the Rifle Brigade, setting up after the war importing neckties. Tommy graduated Goldsmiths’ College, managed coffee bars and became part of the Soho jazz club scene in the early 1960s.
In 1965 he opened his first boutique, Kleptomania, in Kingly Street, just behind Carnaby Street it was frequented by pop stars like The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin as well as the Kinks. Roberts’s commissioned young designers such as Paul Smith and his wife Pauline Denyer to make clothes. He was more than likely the pioneer of the lifestyle boutique, as we know it. His four floor Kensington shop Mr Freedom, launched in 1970, sold commissioned furniture, lighting and other houseware items, along with clothes and a restaurant called “Mr Feed Em,” complete with Allan Jones furniture, serving British cuisine with a red white and blue twist! This was two years before Barbara Hulanicki moved Biba into the former Derry & Tom’s, Art Deco department store.
Mr Freedom was one of the most innovative boutiques in rock fashion history, it was as much a show as a shop. It was a fashion, art, and design mecca for Swinging London’s most outré set. It attracted famous customers like Mick Jagger, Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton to its Kings Rd and Kensington emporiums. Mr Freedom was frequently mentioned in the mainstream press which helped to promote London style to the world. Other customers were the upcoming designer Vivienne Westwood, and her partner Malcolm McLaren, who took over Mr Freedom’s Kings Rd shop to open their Fifties revival store, Let it Rock, which became ‘Sex’ or the Sex Shop during the Punk era. Roberts spent the last two decades of his life as an art and high end decorative arts dealer, opening a successful shop in the west and then the east end of London. He is survived by his wife, two sons from his first marriage and a son from his second.
Photo: © Artlyst