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The Most Interesting Underpants in London

28-February-2012 0:00
in Curiosities
by Peter Berthoud

In Bowes Park a pair of underpants are gently decaying in public.

They have a fascinating and genuinely moving story to tell; now how many pairs of old pants can you say that about?

The Most Interesting Underpants in London

The pants occupy pride of place in the window display of George Moore Menswear at 99, Myddleton Road, in Bowes Park. The shop is no longer open for business but the owner still lives above it.

George Moore Menswear Myddleton Road

The owner is Brian Moore, son of the founder George. George Moore established the firm in 1942 and despite the problems associated with starting a business during a war he made a great success of it. When Mr Moore senior died in 1969 his widow and son, Brian, continued to run the shop. When Mr Moore junior decided to retire, around 13 years ago, he simply stopped trading, he didn't clear the window display but left it just as it was on the last day of business.

And so today we can enjoy this "museum piece" and all of its wonderful little exhibits.

A smart new shirt and tie, perfectly co-ordinated.

George Moore shirt and tie

A handy multi-purpose wallet featuring an under-arm security strap.

George Moore wallet

There is plenty for the ladies too.

George Moore ladies jumper

The hand-written tags warn that the item on the left is the "LAST ONE" but reassure us that the item on the right is available "IN OTHER COLOURS".

This was one of those rare places where it was once possible to stock up on bowties and Max Bygraves cassette tapes all at the same time. I can't think of any other current example in London.

Max Bygraves cassettes

An iconic image of Susan Hampshire nestles kitten-like amongst the warm and cosy gloves.

Susan Hampshire

So is this the work of an eccentric? Are there echoes of Dirty Dick, the 18th Century pub owner who famously stopped washing, or otherwise looking after himself, from the moment his fiancée died on their wedding day? Has wrack and ruin come to this shop in an unplanned, yet picturesque, fashion; like a retail version of Highgate Cemetery?

The answer is none of the above. Mr Moore simply stopped trading and left time to run its course. You can hear Mr Moore speak about his life and work in a recent short interview on the excellent Bowes & Bounds Connected website (it's the very model and epitome of a genuine community website). Mr Moore is articulate, clearly fully compos mentis, engaging and fascinating. He is a man who has lived in the same road since he was three, an engaged resident, a force for good, a real local hero.

His retirement has created a really beautiful piece of genuine community art. His "exhibition" is free and acessible to all, open 365 days a year, and although it is tiny, it has more than enough interest to merit multiple visits. At each glance one's eyes are drawn to some fresh detail.

It serves as a memorial to the family firm but also encourages us all to pause and reflect on all the previous lives that have been lived in this street. With none of the technological gadgetry, so beloved by modern museums and galleries, Mr Moore has produced an exhibit that is far more engaging than many of the big budget ones to be found in the great national collections.

George Moore Menswear window

Sunlight is bleaching the display, mildew is taking hold. The contents are slowly disintegrating. So there is movement here, albeit imperceptibly slow movement; this is a delicate ballet of decay. Dust is being allowed to return to dust in its own good time.
The first time I saw Mr Moore's shop I was delighted, surprised and amazed. An instinct for preservation immediately kicked in. Is this display under any kind of threat? Are there plans for redevelopment? Has a bloody coffee chain already started eyeing up the property? Has Mr Moore spoken to anyone at the National Trust about any long-term wishes he may have? How best can this gem be preserved and enjoyed?

Then, as I thought about it more, I realised that any potential preservation and conservation of the display would run absolutely counter to the reason why it is so engaging.

How could one begin to conserve such a variety of objects that are all softly decomposing? Well I think even the most able conservator would have their work cut out here  but even if every object was made stable, all the moulds neutralised, all bugs banished and the effects of temperature, humidity and sunlight controlled and mitigated against, that would miss the point entirely.
One can conserve an object or objects but one cannot "preserve" a process without ending it.

The thought-provoking charm of this unique window display is that it is a living process. It lives, as we all do, by taking small incremental steps towards our own inevitable departures.

But there is no sadness for me in the display, quite the opposite I find in it a celebration of life and a call to enjoy all that we can in the here and now. Fashion is transitory, businesses are transitory, we are all individually transitory - so let's make the most of the moment whilst we can.

And thanks to Mr Moore we can imagine ourselves doing so in some very reasonably priced short socks!

George Moore short socks

I would encourage anyone to go and go and enjoy these "must-see" underpants and the rest of Mr Moore's wonderful window display as they gently dissolve before your eyes. If you can't make it then I have put some more pictures of the shop's display on my Flickr Photostream and I'll add to these over time.

Bowes Park map

Nearest Tube: Bounds Green

Overground: Bowes Park

In putting together this post I am indebted to Serge & Tweed for their feature on George Moore earlier this year and to the previously mentioned Bowes & Bounds community website.

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