Carnaby Street – it was once a fab place. I mean fabulous in a time when anything truly ‘fab’ was just being invented. I still recall the magic of Carnaby Street from 1970 when I tried to lose my parents there. I was 14 and in the grip of anything vaguely psychedelic in appearance.
If it was purple I loved it. If it had flowers too – great. Fab. I was in love with Jimi Hendrix and had been convinced I was going to marry him until he died the year before. My parents just got sick of the incessant pleading to take me to Carnaby Street and so we went. It was totally embarrassing. All I wanted was to waft in and out of the boutiques and be cool. It’s impossible with your parents waiting outside holding your coat and a picnic lunch.Carnaby Street - it was once a fab place. I mean fabulous in a time when anything truly 'fab' was just being invented. Click To Tweet
What a difference three years makes. By the time I was 17 in 1973, I had a really cool boyfriend with a sports car and he totally ‘got’ Carnaby Street. So off we went. He was an avid photographer and was busy snapping while I wandered off. I didn’t feel so fab and cool when I realised I was lost.
So I stood nervously by a lamp-post in the middle of Carnaby Street between Foubert’s Place and Ganton Street wondering when the hell mobile phones might be invented.
I wanted to cry I was so scared. Meanwhile, the boyfriend knew exactly where I was. He very kindly snapped my discomfort before letting me know I didn’t have to get the bus home alone.
A year later we were back in Carnaby Street so he could buy his outfit for our wedding. Where else could you buy a white suit with massive flares, a lilac shirt, a white silk kipper tie and a pair of gigantic white platform boots?
Time moved on of course and we left the UK to live abroad in 1975 when the whole Carnaby Street/Swinging London thing was going punk. My memories have never died. The name Carnaby Street sends me into retro heaven even to this day.
So it was really weird when last year, I had a flashback to those days while walking in the famous Lanes area in Brighton.
A Bit of Carnaby Street in Brighton
The name of the shop could not have been more accurate; Curiouser and Curiouser is exactly what I became from the moment I got drawn in by its intriguing aura.
My curiosity began before I even saw the shop. From 50 yards away, as I wandered through Brighton’s Sydney Street in September 2014, I spotted Paterson Riley’s long blonde hair, dark glasses, black cowboy boots and hands encrusted with bold silver jewellery.
As he sat nonchalantly in the sun on the window ledge of Curiouser and Curiouser, I immediately thought of Carnaby Street in 1973. That was weird; I later found out that’s exactly where he set up his first shop the year before I got ‘lost’ just yards from Ganton Street where his shop was.
My first thought was – if this guy is not in Iron Maiden then he should be – but Paterson turned out not to be the rock star I imagined. My disappointment at him not being a major part of Iron Maiden disappeared when I found out exactly how he has been putting the metal into heavy metal for bands like them for decades.
Paterson Riley is a member of the rock brotherhood – just not in the way you might expect when you first see him.
It was impossible for me to walk by and not find out who this guy was. Brighton is stuffed to the brim with creative souls who wear creative clothes and do not get old – just like Carnaby Street used to be. But, you have to be really outstanding to stand out in the crowd in the Lanes, because everyone is a bit off the wall – in the best way imaginable.Paterson Riley is a member of the rock brotherhood - just not in the way you might expect when you first see him. Click To Tweet
However, Paterson kind of eclipses anyone else’s ‘off the wallness’ because of the quietly enigmatic thing he has going on. So I asked if I could take his picture. He said yes in a vaguely amused way and after I got to know him a little better, I could kind of see why a mature woman from the provinces might amuse a man of his diverse experience. I got the feeling he has lived a very colorful life.
More Carnaby Street Echoes
We started chatting and the more he talked, the curiouser I became and just when I didn’t think I could get any curiouser, he took me into the shop to meet Ingrid. If Paterson made me think Carnaby Street, Ingrid made me think Mary Quant, Vidal Sassoon, Biba, Zandra Rhodes, Twiggy and 60s chic all rolled into one.Ingrid made me think Mary Quant, Vidal Sassoon, Biba, Zandra Rhodes, Twiggy and 60s chic all rolled into one. Click To Tweet
She was standing behind the glass counter of Curiouser and Curiouser and was exactly the kind of partner I would have expected a man like Paterson to have – exquisitely glamorous in a very European way with a gently husky German accent to match.
Ingrid, who is also a jeweller, was surrounded by gleaming glass cabinets, inside which Paterson’s darkly beautiful silver creations shone under bright lights.
The most intriguing and beautiful pieces of silver jewellery were displayed on glass shelves. Eye rings, famed for appearing in the Harry Potter film, stared unblinkingly from the display cases. Solid silver skull rings sat boldly alongside other statement pieces – clearly designed to be worn on fingers that thrash electric guitars. The bright spotlights revealed the intricate markings of a maker who gets lost in his craft.Eye rings, famed for appearing in the Harry Potter film, stared unblinkingly from the display cases. Click To Tweet
The Great Frog – a Carnaby Street Institution to This Day
Paterson Riley, it turned out, is a founder of the world-famous brand, The Great Frog, a renowned jewellery shop in Ganton Street London. The Great Frog, since its creation, has provided niche jewellery to rockers, bikers and other edgy, image conscious people outside the mainstream. The brand has always catered to international clients in the fashion and music industries and is now run by Paterson’s son Reino, who he describes as a ‘extremely talented’ designer and maker.
Paterson’s ground breaking company hit the London scene in 1972 at a time when exciting new trends for rockers were likely to find eager clients keen for an edgy new look after an era where the mod image ruled. And Paterson’s designs really were at the cutting edge for the rockers whose time was about to come.
At that point, the Great Frog was just a tadpole swimming upstream on Carnaby Street in post sixties London. Now, over 40 years later, with further stores in LA and New York, the brand has a list of celebrity clients that reads like the who’s who of rock royalty. But Paterson does not drop names easily; he shrugs off the whole celebrity culture thing and talks only of his love of being in the workshop at the back of the shop in Brighton; the shop he opened with partner Ingrid in 1992.
When Paterson, who is originally from New Zealand, founded The Great Frog in 1972, he worked from the basement of the Ganton Street shop at the heart of the Carnaby Street scene. It was there that he designed the original skull ring adored by many famous heavy metal and rock musicians such as Aerosmith, Metallica, Iron Maiden and Motörhead.
He designed the original skull ring adored by many famous heavy metal and rock musicians such as Aerosmith, Metallica, Iron Maiden and Motörhead. Click To Tweet
The shop premises that Paterson took on in the early 70s, and where it remains to this day, dates back to 1676. It is reported to have been built on top of a plague pit, a claim that can only have added spice to the macabre nature of Paterson’s designs.
The Great Frog is one business that has stood firm against a backdrop of change. It remains a solid feature of Carnaby Street and although Reino now runs the business, Paterson remains a director of the company.
When Paterson created his first designs, he was blazing a trail along which many bikers and rock ‘n roll heavyweights would ride in search of the very masculine, gothic style jewellery he produced.
Some impressive and sought after names in the music, fashion, entertainment and literary world own jewellery that has come from the Great Frog or, directly from Paterson’s workshop in Brighton. But despite his celebrity connections going back many years, any names he reveals when pushed are spoken matter of factually in his quiet manner.
He is not interested in TV and does not own a computer. i Phones mean nothing to him. It seems as if everything that means anything to him is right there in the Lanes where he and Ingrid run their little shop of delights.
Curiouser and Curiouser
He is happiest, he says, at his workbench in the small workshop inside Curiouser and Curiouser. Most days, he can be found there carving bold, beautiful and sometimes bizarre designs into the green jeweller’s wax that forms the starting point in the process to create his iconic pieces of bespoke silver jewellery. I returned in March this year to complete an interview with Paterson and take some pictures of his workshop.
It is a far cry from the basement in Ganton Street where it all began in 1972 but then Brighton does have the creative buzz that artistic people like Paterson and Ingrid seem drawn to. There are times when the culture of the Lanes really reminds me of how the public face of Carnaby Street appeared to be 40 years ago. The Lanes attracts musicians, photographers, artists, poets, writers and makers of beautiful things. And of course, it also attracts the tourists who come to soak up the vibe created by such people and to hopefully buy their wares.
However, they may find it hard to buy some of Paterson’s special creations because he does not like being parted from them. It is not easy to get hold of some of his more elaborate pieces and I suspect some arm twisting may have to happen to persuade him to let some of his works of art go.
People like Paterson and Ingrid help make the Lanes the incredible hive of creativity it is today. And when Paterson takes a break from his workshop to sit on the window ledge and watch the world go by, he adds something to the rich imagery of the street. He adds to the magic that is Sydney Street and he makes us want to know what is inside Curiouser and Curiouser.
When I dared to ask Paterson Riley how old he is I already knew he wasn’t going to tell me. People like him don’t have numbers, they just are. Stereotypical aging is not for people like Ingrid and Paterson. They are part of the new breed of people who just live and grow without ever buying into the whole Old Age thing and quite rightly so.
Paterson told me it is all about striving and improving and he is probably right. When people stop striving they must surely get old and die.
I have been to Carnaby Street twice since 1971 when I was an impressionable 14-year-old wanting to buy anything that was purple. Once when I got lost briefly in 1973 and again in ’74 when I accompanied the fiance to buy his flamboyant wedding attire. But Paterson tells me Carnaby Street has changed. The hippy ‘paradise’ of the 60s and 70s is long gone, if indeed it ever really existed outside the hype of the press. But somehow, Ingrid and Paterson keep the spirit of the original Carnaby Street fantasy alive with their beautiful Brighton shop and the vibrancy of their own image.
Paterson and Ingrid – Growing Young Together.
Why else would the sight of Paterson Riley have made me think of Carnaby Street when I had absolutely no idea of the connection and had not been there for 41 years?
Like I said, it really is Curiouser and Curiouser and it is a place well worth a visit. The shop is multi-layered. Not only does it house Curiouser and Curiouser and The Great Frog but also an intriguing business called Forget You Not. Check back here in a few weeks when I hope to have an in-depth look at what Forget You Not is all about. I will be speaking to jeweller Natasha Susman about her unique, hand-crafted memorial jewellery. So watch this space.
Visit the website or better still – visit the shop in The lanes next time you are in Brighton. Click here to go to the Curiouser & Curiouser website.