During a research trip to Europe, Young became fascinated with London’s boutique explosion, epitomized by the phenomenal success of Biba, which opened in 1964 filled with racks of vinyl miniskirts and delirious prints. He felt certain that New York was ripe for the concept, but Penney’s wasn’t interested in investing. Carl Rosen, the CEO of Puritan Fashion, a Seventh Avenue manufacturer of basic, traditional dresses, liked the idea. Rosen, who died in 1983, had a penchant for the groovy: He held the license to make Beatles T-shirts. (It follows quite neatly that Edie Locke, then the fashion editor of Mademoiselle, says of Paraphernalia, “It was to fashion what the Beatles were to music.”) “We knew about Carnaby Street,” says Lee Mellis, Puritan’s CFO at the time, “so we were ready to do it.”
Young opened a division of Puritan called Youthquake in 1965 and got to work. “Carl Rosen said I could do the store if it would cost less than $10,000,” Young says. “So I said sure, and then, of course, once it got rolling, it was too late to stop.” He imported Brits like Mary Quant and Ossie Clark but, most important, sought out young, untested American talent. There was Joel Schumacher (that Joel Schumacher, future Hollywood director of St. Elmo’s Fire, Batman Forever, and Bad Company), at the time a recent fashion-school grad who was making a living decorating the windows at Henri Bendel, and there was also Betsey Johnson, a zany assistant in the art department of Mademoiselle—she had won the magazine’s Guest Editor contest for college students and was charming the staff with the little sweaters and T-shirt dresses she sewed at home. She was “young and kicky and with-it,” Mademoiselle’s Locke remembers. So when Young called looking for ideas, Locke didn’t hesitate to recommend her. Johnson still remembers her first meeting with Young: “I had all these crayon drawings, and I went to meet Paul and there he was, drawing with crayons.” She was hired on the spot.
In 1965, women could not wear trousers to dine at La Côte Basque—or to work in most offices. “You have to realize how square everything was,” says Schumacher. “When we opened, women were still wearing hats and gloves. There was even a union rule that no dress could be shipped unless it was a certain length.” When Betsey Johnson arrived at City Hall to marry John Cale in a burgundy crushed-velvet tunic over a pair of matching trousers, she was turned away for wearing pants. “I went home,” she remembers, “and then I came back without the pants. Definitely showing crotch.” But rules were rules; they let her get married.
For Young and his team, the thing was to shock, to stand out. In a 1966 issue of Mademoiselle, an ad for a no-nonsense Maidenform girdle runs a page away from an ad for Paraphernalia that reads, DO YOU THINK MINISKIRTS ARE TOO MARVELOUSLY MINISCULE TO BELIEVE?
Because fashion was moving at warp speed, Paraphernalia sold clothes that were—literally—perishable. “It was the first era of throwaway clothes,” Johnson says. “The look, the vibe, the groove, they were like Laugh-In—there for the impact. And they kind of fell apart.”
“It was a very innovative time for fashion,” says the vintage-clothing dealer Keni Valenti. “Now fashion is just one big vintage revival. That was the last of the really, really innovative, the really experimental. The only thing you could do now that would be like that is run around naked.”
During the day, the stars of Manhattan’s nighttime world could often be found at Paraphernalia. “There were certain people who were always out,” Marisa Berenson says, “and we all went to Paraphernalia.” Jane Holzer describes the opening party in November 1965 as “Big Deal Warhol.” “I thought it would be a good idea to have English models,” Young says, “so I hired Patti Boyd, who was the girlfriend of George Harrison at the time. I also hired Jean Shrimpton, and then let her and Mary Quant collaborate on a line.”
Johnson and Schumacher hung out at Max’s Kansas City and knew everyone who could make a party a party, and they all showed up. “We had the runway in the workroom,” says Johnson, “and a rock-and-roll band. Anjelica Huston, Apollonia, Veruschka, Lauren Hutton . . . rock-and-rolling up and down the runway.” Top models at that time worked only in photo shoots, not on catwalks, so having these stars was something of a coup. “The opening of Paraphernalia was the only runway I ever walked, except maybe Halston,” remembers Berenson. “And it was really fun.” Young also installed a gorgeous young socialite named Susan Burden as the store’s first manager. “She was friends with Joan Kennedy, who was married to Ted at the time, so they would hang out,” he remembers.
In the first two weeks Paraphernalia was open, the store sold completely out of merchandise and had to close until the owners could produce enough inventory to keep going.
Soon thereafter, someone from the Factory called: Could Edie Sedgwick borrow some silver clothes? Andy, after all, was covering his studio in aluminum foil. Of course she could, and they suited her so well she became Johnson’s fit model. There she is in Ciao! Manhattan, shopping at Paraphernalia with Nena Thurman, mother of Uma, who was recently divorced from Timothy Leary. Julie Christie was photographed by Women’s Wear Daily in a tiny long-sleeved minidress by Betsey Johnson for Paraphernalia, and “the Julie Christie” quickly became the store’s signature style.