By Justin Bolois
In this week's music feature, we profile rock & roll tailor Glen Palmer and his helter-skelter journey designing outfits for musicians like Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Rod Stewart. Palmer invited us into his living quarters — located on Petty's Malibu estate — where he bemoaned the current state of fashion and talked about everything from the Rolling Stones' early attire to the time Gregg Allman passed out in his store. Below are excerpts from our conversation that didn't make the article, as well as some words on Palmer from Jeff Lynne.
On the Rolling Stones' fashion in their early days:
“While the Beatles hipped you to girl-groups, the Stones hipped you to guys like Jimmy Reed and Slim Harpo. At the time you had all these visiting soul bands backed up by English beat groups. I saw the Stones in their earlier days open up for Bo Diddley. But the next time I saw them they had completely changed their look. They looked so dirty that night. It really inspired me. Keith with his blue-weather Beatles jacket on that had been ripped. Jagger with his sweater on had seen better days, but they were really funky nonetheless.”
On the grunge look:
“The economy last year was almost worse than the grunge era. People liked to wear checked shirts and baseball caps for fuck's sake. With holes in it. Everyone was happy going to the Salvation Army for a few years.”
On the word “fashion”:
“I don't do fashion. What I do is what creates fashion, or what used to. I've done so many iconic things, so-called vintage t-shirts of rock stars wearing clothes I made.. But if anyone has a right to broadcast this shit I do, because I lived it.”
On New Orleans:
“Rock n' roll has become so uncomfortable. Everyone got greedy because the music has been taken away from them. Going to a concert is simply an exercise in abuse: aggressive bouncers, 14 dollar beers … This is why I like New Orleans. For not much money you can listen to the greatest music in the world without being worried about some linebacker poking your ass 'cause you're laughing too hard or tapping your foot. New Orleans was the missing piece to the puzzle. You never really understood why the Little Richard records sounded so fucking great. And Fats Domino too. They just swung like nothing else. It all made sense.”
On why his circle of friends is made up of musicians:
“I know a lot about music and know their language: early rock n' roll, R&B, soul.
It's just second nature, it's almost my people. It's always been that way.
On how Elvis taught him to read:
“I couldn't read until I started reading Melody Maker and the New Musical Express. I found all these old jazz magazines my dad had in the attic, and they all had Elvis in them. I got found in the attic reading about Elvis and they're like, 'We didn't think you could read.' Well there was nothing I wanted to read about. This I liked. I saw Elvis twice before he died. There is no bad stage with him. I love every minute of Elvis. I don't give a fuck if he's fat. If he's on the crapper I love him!”
On his sartorial knack:
“People stop me on the street. I have scarves and mufflers I've worn since I was a child. They ask where I get it from. I can just wrap an old piece of rag-around my neck. It's just the way I do things and tie things. It fascinates people.”
On his favorite clients to work with:
“Tom [Petty], no question about it. His is the best band in America. Period. There's different kinds of bands, but if you weigh it all up they are the shit. I'm quite proud to still be working for them all these years. And if that was my only qualification, then it's a good one.”
ELO frontman and Traveling Wilbury Jeff Lynne on Palmer's craftsmanship:
“I've never seen anyone like Glen before; he's a fascinating bloke. He doesn't go publicly seeking celebrity bullshit status. He just keeps to himself, does his work. And it's top notch, the best quality. I've tried other tailors but he just has the touch.”