I met John Lennon in 1957 on my first day at Liverpool College of Art. He accosted in the Life Drawing class, asking "Hey, are you that bird who painted Lonnie Donnegan?" I was.
The local newspapers had run a story of how I'd been talent spotted by Lonnie Donnegan, the UK's skiffle king, and (after Buddy Holly) John's music idol. Impressed by my quick pencil sketch (thrust under his nose at a record signing by my super-fan friend Ann), Lonnie had commissioned a full portrait in oils during the summer of 1957, when I was just 16 years old. I thought I was the bees’ knees! And John thought I was a legend. Little did we know that this laconic John Lennon, rocking a teddy boy quiff at the time, would become a proper legend. On an almost unimaginable scale.
John and I struck up a friendship based on mutual admiration of each other's artistic talent and we also laughed a lot, both together and at each other. I sketched him often and bartered items (including a favourite yellow sweater) for some of his hilarious drawings, from art school doodles to a Quarry Bank exercise book crammed with caricatures from his Quarrybank schooldays.
As every biography relates, John also went on to date and marry the lovely Cynthia Powell, who was my great friend from Junior Art School.
It was Cynthia who tempted me back from my idyllic post-graduate life in Rome, where I spent my time painting portraits of fascinating leaders and aristocratic families, hand-painting couture fabrics at the house of Sorelle Fontana, near the Spanish Steps or acting as an extra in films such as Cleopatra and Il Gattopardo. "Why don't you come back to Liverpool and sell all those fabulous leather and suede clothes you design for yourself? John and I will help you" Cyn promised.
Although they didn’t help me in any financial sense, John and Cyn were among the first clients through the door at my boutique/atelier in Liverpool and in 1964 I created a signature leather cap for John, which was frequently replaced due to loss and even theft. We kept in touch for many years, while Cynthia and I remained lifelong friends.
I made the first “John Lennon Cap” in 1964. It was black leather, with quite a high crown (at his request) and saddle stitching detail (done by hand) along the seams. This is the one you see him wearing during the filming of HELP.
I introduced the double plait (or braid) across the top of the peak - fastened to a leather button either side - to create a signature piece for John. He was such distinctive and unique character that it would never have occurred to me to make him a plain, run-of-the-mill hat. I've always liked to challenge myself! That said, John did commission a few plain caps from me later on, presumably so that he had spares (or perhaps to give away, I can't remember).
The Ferrari badge you see in the photos was John’s own. He passed his driving test in February 1965 and bought a powder blue Ferrari 330 GT coupe. I assume the badge was a free gift! You can buy one on eBay for around 10 dollars.
I first replicated the cap – coordinated with bespoke, individual coats - for John’s half-sisters Julia and Jackie and stepbrothers David and Michael. In a chapter of her book Imagine This, entitled Fab Coats And Caps, Julia writes that they were “the best coats in the world”, and that John had ordered the matching “Lennon Caps” for them as a special surprise.
I first replicated the cap – coordinated with bespoke, individual coats - for John’s half-sisters Julia and Jackie and stepbrothers David and Michael. In a chapter of her book Imagine This, entitled Fab Coats And Caps, Julia writes that they were “the best coats in the world”, and that John had ordered the matching “Lennon Caps” for them as a special surprise. The last time I saw Lonnie Donnegan was at the filming of Shine On Lennon: Tribute Show in 2000, a live Channel 4 show commemorating 20 years since John's tragic death. The event was staged at Air Studios, hosted by the late, great producer George Martin, who was so instrumental in creating The Beatles' sound. You can watch the whole show on YouTube: the duet between Noel Gallagher and The Stereophonics' Kelly Jones is terrific.
My daughter proudly introduced me to various celebrities and Channel 4 associates, many of whom said "oooh I would love to have one of those caps!". After a long night, I forgot all about it. For approximately 17 years.
Then, in 2017, my cap shape (variously described as John Lennon, Greek Fisherman, Baker Boy or News Boy) suddenly made fashion headlines again. I found myself besieged at my talks with requests to re-issue the original. So now you can not only be on-trend; but you can also own an authentic little connection to my old friend the music legend.
I charged John 25 guineas (over 350 pounds in today's money) per cap - mates' rates! So the replica you can buy today is comparatively keenly priced ):