The Fall of the House of Elliott?

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This is one of the more notorious advertising posters of the late 1960s. The style of photography was intended to reflect the nudes of Bill Brandt. It’s one of the earliest examples of co-option of high art imagery to fashion advertising. It was intended to a younger, sexually enfranchised audience.

It was also, unfortunately, one of the first targets of the campaign by women’s rights groups against what they perceived as sexist or exploitative advertising on the London underground. If you saw this, or one of the other ads for this campaign on the tube, like as not it was defaced with the statement “This image degrades women,” or a sticker asking “what are you selling?”

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The answer, of course, is that they were selling boots. In this case, “they” was a British company called T. Elliott and Sons, a traditional firm of shoemakers that became enormously successful in the second half of the 1960s by adapting to the new, youth-centered market for shoes and boots. As Hillary Fawcett writes in a 2013 essay on the rise of accessories in fashion and advertising, Elliotts’ advertising was as critical to their success as their designs.

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Take for example, this poster, which was intended to advertise Elliott’s “Alice” boot, a Victorian-style throwback that was enormously popular in the late 1960s (see my earlier post on this subject). From its trippy, Aubrey Beardsley-inspired graphics, created by Paul Christodoulou, the Twiggy-like girl-woman waif Alice, and the drug-friendly subtext of Lewis Carroll’s work (“one pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small,” etc), it was the perfect distillation of the Zeitgeist. The fact that you could buy the poster for 5 shillings and stick it on your wall made it even better.

SWEET JANE BLOG-DOLLY ROCKER (G)

Elliotts’ boots were everywhere in the late sixties and early seventies. They crop up in fashion magazines of all shades. They even turn in in some less salubrious places, such as this 1972 pictorial from the British men’s magazine Mayfair, one of the few times I’ve seen a clothes credit on a centerfold.

MF_Vol7_No9_p37_Chris_Rossiter

Although I grew up in London, I’m not old enough to remember that first generation of Elliott’s adverts. But I do remember that in the late 1970s (probably around 1977/78) there were huge posters for women’s thigh-boots by Elliotts on the concourse of Baker Street station. They must have made quite an impression, because I can still remember them quite clearly and recall that they were shearling-lined ones.

And then – nothing. It seems like Elliotts just dropped off the face of the Earth. Google pulls up a few references to shoes and boots reprinted from contemporary articles in the sixties, but surprisingly little for a company that had such a high profile. So whatever happened to Elliotts? I don’t know.

So there’s the challenge for those of you reading this blog that are interested in boots from this period – can you come up with more information about this company, including more images and ideally images from the 1970s? No prize, just self satisfaction. Hopefully that’ll be enough.

Image Sources:

  • Elliott poster, late 1960s, by Roger Cuthbert (art director Bob Wright): scanned from Skin to Skin (Prudence Glynn, 1982)
  • “Boots by Elliotts, 89s. 11d:”RAVE magazine May 1968 via Sweet Jane
  • Elliott’s advert, 1969: Tumblr
  • Elliott “Alice” boot poster, 1966: thegeneologyofstyle.blogspot.com
  • Chris Rossiter in boots by Elliott: Mayfair, Sept 1972 via Creamcheese

Selected References:

Fawcett, Hilary, 2013. Handbags and glad-rags: the rise and rise of accessories in fashion and advertising. in Wharton, C. (ed). Advertising as Culture. Intellect Books. ISBN 1841506141.

Glynn, Prudence, 1982. Skin to Skin: Eroticism in Clothing. Oxford University Press.

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31 thoughts on “The Fall of the House of Elliott?

  1. Very interesting post. But now I am doubting: I always thought the cover illustration of “Revolver” was created by Klaus Voormann, one of the Beatles’ oldest friends from their days at the Star-Club in Hamburg.

    1. You’re absolutely right… it was Klaus Voorman. That seems to have been an error in the Fawcett essay; I’ve corrected it in the post. Thanks for pointing it out!

  2. Hard to imagine that back in the 70’s the UK and USA really did have very different clothing fads. I have faint recollections of hearing about Elliott’s shoes, but I might have picked it up after the fact. Certainly, in the U.S. at the time, Elliott’s were a non-factor.
    Conversely, Frye Boots were HUGE in the states and never made as much of an impact in the UK. The Frye-style boot (solid, heavy foot, 1 or 2 inch heel, earth-toned with a shaft of at least 16 inches) was probably THE boot of the mid-to-late 70’s, at least in California. I wonder if Elliott’s might be analogous Zodiac Shoes. For half of the 70’s (into the 80’s) Zodiac was Frye’s biggest competitor. They tended to make a more feminine version of the type, higher heel, narrower toe, more like a high-shafted, dressy cowboy boot. Unlike Frye, who’s been making the same boot for a century, most evidence (admittedly gathered from following Ebay auctions)suggests that Zodiac was an average knock-off manufacturer that briefly had a golden period where their product spoke to the zeitgeist. Most American boot fanciers born in the 60’s or before will certainly remember Zodiacs, Younger ones may not.

    1. Perhaps as the photographer who put together the girl on the rock Poster for Elliotts I could add a couple of insights on the shot. Yes I was influenced by Bill Brandt. The picture was shot at Beachy Head on the south coast of England. Unfortunately I forget the models name, but she did appear in more than one Elliott poster campaign. It’s nice to know it was one of the more notorious advertising posters of the 1960s. And I guess it set something of a trend. And I was not influenced by Guy Bourdin.The art director was Bob Wright.

      Roy Cuthbert.

      1. Roy, thank you so much for that additional information. I will edit the Guy Bourdin reference accordingly. And give you a proper credit for what is a beautiful piece of work. It really hasn’t dated at all.

    2. Oh dear, those boots! Elliott’s was great. Such breathtaking window displays. Loads of money was spend on that, especially at X-mas time. I know, because I sold them in the sixties. Hard work to get these boots on. I would love to have a poster of those boots. And all those famous people who popped in and chatted with me. It all really happened but who would believe me as a granny and living in another country? And it must be said: Elliott’s had very elegant and smashing shoes. At the time we were as staff not allowed to say nice shoes. A cake was nice, they said. Charles Jourdan and Christian Dior were hot at the time. Come to think of it, has anyone seen a picture of Lulu with these boots on? One day she and her fiancé Maurice Gibb came in. I thought she had those boots too.But I may be wrong, maybe she bought something else. But I keep having a picture in my mind from her with the ones on. I hope I am not wrong, though. Well, it has been such a long time ago.

      1. Thank you for a great comment and great reminiscence! Elliotts seems to have been such a prominent store, and then to have disappeared completely. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I worked in Elliott’s bond street and Kings road shops in the late sixties and early seventies. The sales staff training was fantastic the word nice was banned to describe shoes or boots. Elliott’s also sold suede shorts and jackets which were very popular. A great shop to work in then.

    1. I have been trying to see/get an image of a poster that was on the London Underground at that time with two twin girls called the “Elliot Ba-Lambs.” I can find no record of this at all. Please…someone reassure me that I’m not going mad and thius is a genuine memory.

      1. No, you’re not going mad. I remember it too. They were shearling-lined boots and there was a big poster of them in the Baker St tube, right over a flight of stairs leading down to the platforms from the ticket halls. Would have been sometime between 1978 and 1980 (I was being hauled up to Wimpole St every few weeks for dental appointments, so I can be quite specific about the years)

      2. Hello all, my father, Adrian Elliott, his brother Nicholas Elliott and their father, Cecil Elliott, ran Elliotts Shoes until they and the wider family sold the business in the early 1980’s. Unfortunately the early ’80s recession and dockers strikes killed this wonderful 300 year old business, a business I was due to go into.

        My father and his brother (identical twins) were the joint managing directors. My father designed/bought the shoes, mostly from Italy and Spain. He also did the marketing, wrote the brochures, arranged the advertising, photography etc whilst his brother was in charge of the shops and the staff training which was taken very seriously.

        I have some of the material, including a window display picture of the two Elliot Ba-lambs referred to above. These are in my loft! My father was very pleased with this name and the images which he and the team spent much time on.

        Thanks

        Matthew Elliott

      3. If someone tells me how to upload photos I’ll upload the Ba-twins and other stuff.

        ….by the way, just only just seen that one of my brothers and sister have added comments. There is a wealth of material around if anyone else is interested. Matthew

  4. I worked briefly in the Regent Street branch and the in 120 Kings Road in about 1971 I remember having payslips in pre and post metric currency. Many famous people came in too many to list but I remember them all. Most of the staffs’ names too. It was a fun time to work even in the power strikes when we retired to the pub down the side road for a drink in candlelight. Fond memories.

    1. Thanks for sharing your recollections! Obviously there’s a loyal community of former Elliott’s employees out there, which makes it all the more amazing that there’s so little to be discovered on-line

    2. I worked in Kings Rd store in 1974/75 and remember Laura Heller and a Miss Dragonara as staff members. I was only 16 or 17 and was sent to the dreaded new High St Ken Store to get it ready before it opened which was a living hell of a task for all staff concerned as we had to work late and had no choice but to transfer to H St Ken store ! I was unhappy and morose as the extra journey and the austerity of new surroundings and colleagues was too much and I left. Sad, though, as I really loved working at Kings Road store.

      I would love to be reminded of other staff. I have some great memories working at Kings Rd.

  5. I worked for T. Elliott & Sons from 1968 to 1972 in their Kings Road, Chelsea branch whose general manager was Mr. Carter who greeted all staff every morning with a cheery smile and “good morning!” The store had 5 floors including the basement and mezzanine floor where, at one time, I was the “complaints manager” – what a terrible title. I had a good relationship with The Chelsea Cobbler which was just as well as I had to keep going down there to refix the heels on the new range of shoes that only had one screw to keep it on which meant it started to revolve and the heel would drop off! I remember many of the staff, including Deon, Audbrey Carew and Owen Robinson who was THE top handbag salesman (you could say that then!) with his overly friendly camp selling technique. I also remember Mr. Wiseman and Lynn Cotton who the latter later worked for me at Charles Jourdan in Knightsbridge. I still have a photograph of the staff dinner of 1969 which included Nick Elliott, one of the Elliott twins. I also have a sad memory of our lovely cashier, a French girl Miss Defoe who took her own life over Christmas while all alone.

    The store was opposite the Chelsea Drugstore (multi floor coffee house) and Skin, so a great place for the celebrities to be seen whilst they shopped.

    We had all the famous people in that store, many of whom came nearly every week. Yes, Lulu did shop there – I know that as I sold her some Spanish boots that had a fabric lining and I had to pull up the zip with a zip puller after much stretching of the sides in the stockroom, helped by a colleague, using “leather expander.” The following morning, I then had to get them off her as her legs had swollen due to overnight partying! We had the whole cast of “Hair” in one afternoon in the basement. Lots of staff enjoyments but not a single sale from them. I could go on with these anecdotes, including asking Charles Bronson for his ID for a cheque transaction – I won’t tell you his reaction when he assumed that I didn’t know who he was – but that was the store procedure.

    I also worked in the Regent Street and Bond Street stores. I left Elliotts in 1971 to return later that year to manage the Weybridge store where I used to show my best customers would call in at least once a week.

    T. Elliott & Sons was certainly the place to buy, not only the most fashionable boots in the UK, but also shoes, bags and even slippers! Their sales training was second to none and their methodology of “Purpose & Taste” is one that I still follow today. For those of you reading this who worked at Elliotts, I expect you will also remember the “Super Sales” who was the top sales person who took over a sale which was obviously going wrong as there were too many single shoes surround the fitting stool being brought out by a confused sales person. Happy days!

  6. This is a fascinating find! My father, Adrian, now 82 and still going strong, is one of the Elliott twins, and I grew up in the 70s and 80s in the midst of the Elliott’s heyday. I worked at the company when I was a teenager, although not in the shops, and my youth was dominated by the business and the posters. My father was responsible for the advertising, and he was always proud of the daring ads in the tube. After the awkwardness of the ‘this poster degrades women’ stickers, which he never believed to be true but felt sad about all the same, he was delighted to see in the shearling posters stickers reading ‘this poster degrades sheep!’ I have so many stories and memories from that period, including a bunch of posters and brochures and advertising material. Great times, now long gone. It has been great to read the comments here and be reminded of what a great company it was at the time.

    1. One of the pleasures of blogging is when you stumble across a topic that helps draw people together. I had no idea when I wrote that short post about Elliott’s that it would resonate with so many individuals that had stories or experiences with the company. This blog has already spun off one book project, which is due to be published next year (more about that in a future post)…. I wonder whether there’s the potential for doing something similar about the history of Elliott’s? It seems a pity that so little is recorded about what was such a prominent company. So if Simon, Jessica, or anyone else is interested in talking more about this, send me a note at 1966andyp@gmail.com. BTW, I *love* the story about “this poster degrades sheep.”

  7. My daddy is Adrian Elliott and my memories of T
    Elliott’s and Sons was going up to London to my
    Daddy’s office and meeting mr sorrohan not sure I’ve spelt that correctly and trying on all the sample
    Shoes it was so much fun but I remember the twins
    And the iconic poster of Butterfly Boots of a beautiful lady in a purple Lycra cat suit and black suede thigh length boots with a silver crystal butterfly perfectly placed on her bottom she looked amazing sadly Elliott’s closed as a new partner caused all sorts of mischief to the point my daddy and uncle Nicholas decided sadly that there was no option but to close it was a very sad and hard time for my daddy but he recovered and went on to enjoy a career in motor cars xxx

    1. This is a message to Jessica Smith & Simon Elliott: I was really pleased to see your comments and hope that you had read my recollections too. I remember your Uncle Nick well although I did not have much contact with your dad as he was the Buyer whilst Nick was Operations, I believe. I also met your grandpa Cecil at the Christmas party in 1970 and have a picture of that event with me sitting next to your Uncle Nick and his lovely wife. Perhaps you’ll be able to contact me at dm.sheldon@gmail.com as I would love to get in touch with Nick again after all these years. Perhaps he’ll also remember Mrs. Archer the personnel manager (no HR then!) based in the Westbourne Grove head office which is where the first branch was opened.

  8. I had a Saturday job for three years at the Elliott branches in Epsom and Kingston while I was at school in the sixties. I remained loyal to their wonderful shoes and boots, had dozens of pairs, also a pair of fabulous white ‘living skin’ boots, until I emigrated in 1972 and went to Holland. Remarkably have not been able to locate any remnants of this great store on the internet.

  9. I posted a comment earlier on down here. And how awfully nice to read your comments too. After all, they are joined memories. Thank’s a lot. I’m surely coming back. Another memory may come up and then, surely, I will let you know. In the mean time: I do wish you all a Merry Christmas and a jolly good time.

  10. I have just bought a fabulous pair of men’s brogues by Elliott’s – and they still have the price sticker showing 105 shillings! I bought them because they look like a piece of artwork and I cant wait to polish them up and have them as a prop! The price was pre decimalisation in 1971, and I wanted to understand a bit about the company – hence I stumbled upon this blog. It is so fascinating – even though I have no involvement whatsoever with the company, just a very good imagination, and I have loved reading all the posts. Good luck to all of you in exchanging your stories. I will keep looking hoping to read more.

  11. I worked at Thomas Elliott & Sons from mid sixties to early seventies. I don’t think I was the best salesman but it was a fantastic place to work & there were some very interesting people working there. I was working there when I celebrated my 21st birthday & still have the card from some of the staff who were there at the time. I remember a lovely young man Danny Huckle, Miss (Eve)Dye (lovely woman, the Mrs Slocom of Elliotts), Mrs (Nellie) Barber, Mrs (Elsie) Howe & her daughter, Mrs Bowring-Walsh (who was one of the supervisors, Noel Earle, the Divine Miss Vivian Fisher, Mary Irwin, Rita Jordan, Graham Hardwick, Katie Cowan (always the top of the sales chart), Paul Clayton & Miss (Winnie) Langley (who were the “complaints fixers” & worked across the road in Berwick Street?), John Clarke (another of the supervisors) & Miss Marianne Benholz, Claudine Bertrand (a lovely French girl), sisters Nicky & Chrissie Dunn who stared in some of the “Carry On” films.

    I well remember those leather boots that were featured in the ads on the tube and personally sold several pairs (as everybody who worked there did at the time), they were the “must have” fashion item of the day & almost sold themselves. There were so many “stars” coming in around that time, it was a daily occurance. I can well remember serving so many of the stars or watching them being served by other members of staff. We had the carrier bags with the leggy model and I have trolled around London carrying that carrier bag for months. Those were the days.

    I was in David Jones Store here in Sydney and noticed that there is now in that store an outlet for Kurt Geiger Shoes and remembered back to the days when I worked for Thomas Elliott & Sons at the Bond Street store in London & how Kurt Geiger opened a store across the street and became the object of great interest & consternation to our management & staff. I remember how we would go across to see the window displays & report back & discuss. I therefore decided to check the internet to see what had become of Elliotts and to my surprise came across this blog with some reminisces from former staff & some of the Elliott family. And I was also very saddened to hear that the store had ceased to operate, something I would never have envisioned back at the time I left the company.

    And yes, the training was great. We went down to Kingston-on-Thames or Westbourne Grove. Remember the training Officer was Mrs (Eva) Berwick, a South African lady.

  12. Worked at the Kingston branch about 1968. Remember Janet Herridge, Mr Casswell, an Irishman who was the manager. Great days. Remember the pvc thigh boots and the ladies who came down from Posh Kingston Hill to try and buy: great fun for an 18 year old. Great shoes. There was an amazing team of window dresser who created amazing displays, the head guy lived at Thames Ditton. Great days

  13. As I’ve stated before, I was an Elliott employee from 1968 to 1972 and worked mainly in the Kings Road, Chelsea branch, a short spell in Bond Street, then Regent Street and finally as manager of Weybridge. This comment is particularly posted for the Elliott family (Jessica, Matthew and Adrian) and those at Kings Road, Chelsea branch, Christmas 1968 (or was it 1969?) I have a picture of the Christmas dinner with me sitting next to Adrian & his wife and would love to share this with you but cannot figure out how to do this. Please do get in touch with me if you would like to see this photo.

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