As if cocking a snook at the surrounding glitz and glamour, I found this anarchic gem of a window by Gina on Sloane Street. Riffing on the iconic 1977 Jamie Reid “Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols” album cover, Gina are clearly having a tongue-in-cheek moment with their “God Save Gina”, and “Anarchy In Knightsbridge” tag lines.
What an appropriate way to merge the heritage of the nearby King’s Road and the Sex Pistols’ fashion connection with Vivienne Westwood to Her Majesty The Queen’s 90th birthday. Full marks to Gina for creativity and humour, my favourite combo.
Of course, when the original artwork for the Sex Pistols’ album came out it was hugely controversial. The record sleeve was originally intended to read “God Save Sex Pistols”, but just before its release Steve Jones – the Pistols’ only functioning guitarist – provided an admonishment he’d overheard from a pair of fans and replaced it with “Never mind the bollocks”, meaning “stop talking rubbish”. Many of the mainstream record stores refused to carry the album, album charts refused to list it, and shops refused to display the artwork in their windows on grounds that the word “bollocks” was offensive.
Eventually the band was taken to court under the antiquated obscenity laws of the day, but were able to prove that in the context of the album sleeve it means something akin to “nonsense”. On trial for indecency and inciting moral outrage, they were acquitted on all counts.
Jamie Reid broke down the conventions of record sleeve design by pointedly not including a shot of the band on the cover. Instead, opting for an acid yellow background as offensive to the eye as possible and crudely cut out lettering. An artist’s two fingered salute to the storied traditions of typesetting and commercial graphic design.
The lurid yellow album sleeve, the ripped and safety-pinned Union Flag poster for “Anarchy In The UK” established an unforgettable visual aesthetic for the punk movement. A design language that was provocative and unsettling at the time has mellowed with age, and has become as comfortable and familiar as a favourite armchair. But it’s worth noting that this most recognisable of brand languages almost never saw the light of day. Amid a storm of controversy the Sex Pistols were dropped by their label A&M on the eve of the album’s release, resulting in thousands of already pressed “God Save The Queen” singles being destroyed. The band were subsequently rejected by CBS, Polydor, Pye and Decca until finally an eleventh-hour deal was struck with Richard Branson. With the ink still wet on their contract with Virgin, the record was rushed into production.
I’m not sure what Jamie Reid would make of the modern day commercial derivatives of his groundbreaking graphic art. Reid was involved with the Situationists, an appropriately left-wing anti-authoritarian movement attempting to critique capitalism. But then again, although shunned by the big retailers, the album sold extremely well through independent record shops in exchange for capitalist money tokens. So perhaps by now he’d regard Gina’s window with good humour and marvel at his design’s long-lived cachet.