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Mark Petty’s Multicoloured Coats

February 3, 2011
by the gentle author

It has been so grey recently that I decided to visit my esteemed friend Mark Petty, the trendsetter, who I introduced you to last year. Mark is well known in Spitalfields and Bethnal Green for his primary coloured leather suits and, even in these dark days, can always be relied to upon to elevate our lives with the audacious use of colour in his personal wardrobe. In fact, when I met Mark in Cheshire St recently, he invited me round to see his series of multicoloured coats that he has designed, each adorned with motifs which tell a story, and, even though, based on Mark’s previous outfits my expectations were high, I can assure you that I was not disappointed.

“My mother used to say I have the creative touch. At work, I used to make the sausage rolls and meat pies that it was my job to bake – but then I made all the cakes and puddings too!” Mark told me proudly, confiding the innate creativity that he has directed to such spectacular effect recently.

Mark Petty’s multicoloured coats represent the latest fruits of the collaboration between Mark as pattern-cutter and Mr Singh of Batty Fashions in the Hackney Rd who sews them. As with many of the most creative partnerships it is not entirely without friction, yet the finished results successfully combine Mark’s flamboyant colour sense with Mr Singh’s attention to fit and finish – even if just occasionally Mark’s extravagant imagination is too much for Mr Singh’s conservative sensibilities, as with the case of the words “Bethnal Green” across the rear of the lilac shorts below, which Mark had to sew on himself.

I am fascinated by the iconography of Mark’s coats, rendered so elegantly in Matisse-style cutouts, which in each case have vivid personal meaning for Mark. Of the first coat he designed, the tangerine number with the geese, Mark explained the origin of this imagery in his childhood. “When I was much younger, I lived with my mother and my uncle and aunt in this bungalow in the wilds of nowhere in Essex,” he explained, as if beginning a fairy tale, “and the only way to get out was through this horrible wood. I liked geese and when my mother went up to feed them, I fed them too. And she told me the story of this woman who used to drive her geese through East London.”

“I drew up the patterns of the geese and I said to Mr Singh, ‘We’re not going to have any disagreements, we’re going to do it my way!'” admitted Mark affectionately, recalling how it all began. You might wonder why anyone might choose such a breathtaking colour for a coat when most people prefer brown or black or blue, but in order to tell the story of these coats I  think can reveal to you – without compromising Mark’s privacy – that his initial impulse was to draw the attention of a “significant other” that Mark cherished.

This intention is overt in the second coat which adopts the theme of railways and shows two steam trains in love, meeting under a light, with the text, “Come to me.” While the third coat, in Mark’s favourite colour of pink, manifests open-hearted emotionalism,with friendly animals that incarnate innocent affection and the unqualified declaration, “Can you handle it?” This gloriously exuberant design has bear motifs because Mark revealed that this was his term of endearment for his beloved, who never saw the coat because the relationship foundered – casting a sweet melancholic poetry upon the garment today.

The final coats in the sequence explore Mark’s feelings in the aftermath, beginning with a subdued blue coat illustrating the Ice Age, with images of extinct creatures, dodos and woolly mammoths on ice flows, labelled in Fahrenheit , an outdated form of measurement. This is followed by a vivid red coat with a Prehistoric theme, going further back in time. This garment is defiant in its emotionalism, with a pair of Brontosauruses in love and a picture of a bear dropping a mobile phone – as Mark’s beloved did when he saw the first coat – and a fond image of Mark’s washing machine that he keeps in his bedroom because it will not go through the kitchen door. In this coat, the relationship is memorialised and celebrated, as Mark takes ownership of his feelings and translates them into images that satisfy him.

“As a child, I had no toys except a Brontosaurus. We were a family that never stayed much in place, we came over from Ireland in the fourteen sixties. So I thought I’d include Brontosauruses to record who I am.” announced Mark, with a broad smile to reveal the culmination of his series, “My last coat will be a mythological theme, Welsh Dragons to commemorate people I once knew and people who have died and gone.”

Mark Petty understands the magic power of clothes – and his project to take his innermost feelings and put them on the outside, unashamedly, is one that expresses an extraordinary commitment to emotional truth. It demonstrates moral courage too, because while these coats are unapologetically outspoken, Mark possesses an undemonstrative personality. “I used to go out in fear because of the kids throwing bottles and calling me a ‘white tranny bitch,'” he confided to me with an absurd grimace, “you don’t expect it here in Bethnal Green that’s supposed to be so multicultural. But I go out anyway, because I am determined. You have to do these things. Because I believe if you use love, you show there is more to life than hatred”.

The  first joyous coat emblazoned with the geese of Mark’s childhood.

The railway themed coat, completed with a cossack hat.

Two steam trains in love meet under a light.

Little bears in celebration of innocent affection.

Can you handle it? – a declaration of unrequited love.

This Ice Age themed coat features dodos, woolly mammoths and creatures that are extinct.

Woolly Mammoths separated by the Atlantic upon ice flows labelled with temperatures in Fahrenheit.

Motifs of bear with a mobile phone and a washing machine adorn this coat.

Brontosauruses in love, with Pterodactyls flying overhead.

Mark’s new hat design, paired with his Shoreditch hot pants, proposes an optimistic look for Spring.

Read my first story about Mark Petty, Trendsetter

8 Responses leave one →
  1. jeannette permalink
    February 3, 2011

    me and about 50 million other americans of every gender are huge fans of rupaul’s drag race on tv not least because ru just comes out and says it: it’s not the drag, it’s the magic.
    thank you for another brilliant piece.

  2. paul permalink
    February 3, 2011

    Mark, I love the cut of your jib. Bravo Zulu !

  3. jo watts permalink
    February 3, 2011


  4. February 3, 2011

    Yet another unique piece – I love this man and I love his style. I enjoy your daily posts more than I can say.

  5. February 3, 2011

    LOVE your articles, who you choose & how you write with such respect for the eccentric individual. Wish someone had done the same for the East Village back in the day. Some places seem to pressure cook creative output. Hope it lasts and lasts.
    Best, p

  6. February 5, 2011

    yes indeed , a lovely new look for spring 🙂
    bravo to mark and to the gentle author for this beautiful piece

  7. February 4, 2012

    What an excellent chap, thanks for sharing

  8. Belinda Harman permalink
    February 26, 2012

    I have been walking past this fellow for years usually in Mansford Street, Bethnal Green. In fact I walked passed him only yesterday he was in the pink outfit with the lambs. I’ve always wanted to say hello to him, but never had the confidence to. I really appreciate him its good to have characters around with such great individuality. He is living art, I think I will say hi next time I see him.

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