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Tommy Roberts: British Design Hero

Paul Gorman authors a new tome dedicated to the overlooked British design genius and his Mr Freedom brand

Tommy Roberts is arguably one of the most influential names to help mold London. His groundbreaking work in fashion – Mr. Freedom and City Lights Studio amongst it - managing Ian Dury in Kilburn & the High Roads and changing the face of retailing, is celebrated in author Paul Gorman’s book 'Tommy Roberts: British Design Hero'. Dazed caught up with Gorman to discuss the great Tommy Roberts, freedom and the courage to influence the world.

Tommy was able to present great design against a range of forms and disciplines - furniture, collectables, home wares. He was a pioneer

Dazed Digital: Tommy Roberts was so ahead of his time. Tell me about his way of working...
Paul Gorman: Tommy was able to present great design against a range of forms and disciplines - furniture, collectables, home wares. He was a pioneer. At the height of British boutique culture, he sold shoes. Fashion shoes weren't sold in fashion shops. They were sold across the road in shoe specialist shops. He sold furniture that he commissioned from young design students. It was a totally integrated approach to design for consumers.

In an interview in '71, Yohji Yamamoto talked about visiting Roberts' City Lights Studio. It was the first fashion store in Covent Garden. One of the main designers, Derek Morton, has worked with Paul Smith since the mid-70s and is now the head of the menswear in Japan. In many ways, Tommy was a kind of arbiter for popular culture. He was aware.

DD: He was, in so many ways, the first.
Paul Gorman:
Cecil Beaton recognised his work in 1971, putting together the first ever fashion exhibition for the Victoria & Albert museum called 'Fashion: An Anthology'. It was the history of fashion and Cecil Beaton included 24 pieces of Mr. Freedom in that exhibition. He knew about showmanship, retailing and silhouette, so someone like Paul Smith, who's written the forward to the book, is saluting him and saying "This man was our inspiration!"

DD: What would you like to say about Tommy with this book?
Paul Gorman:
I'm very attracted to the ups and downs - the story that's very familiar now. Tommy is a figure that doesn't fit easily into categories. It’s an alternative way at looking at an artist like Ian Dury, whom Tommy managed when he fronted the band Kilburn and the High Roads. That's the fascinating thing, for me, is putting the jigsaw together and this is an outlet for me to celebrate something that's saying to people, "Hey, look at Mr. Freedom, Tommy Roberts. You should know about them!"

'Mr Freedom - Tommy Roberts: British Design Hero' by Paul Gorman is published by Adelita