The Fool left its mark all over the 1960s, but few can match the name to the art today. The Dutch collective of artists and designers who named themselves after a Tarot card that’s often numbered as zero in the deck – as in the first – were unquestionable pioneers of the psychedelic aesthetic that defined one of the most memorable and revolutionary decades of the 20th century. From their far-out album art, marketing and set design, to the groovy fashion worn by the bands that led the British Invasion, most notably The Beatles, the collective’s work had a tremendous influence on the hippie movement as a whole. So let’s take a trip (pun semi-intended) and discover the tastemakers behind the look that propelled a cultural phenomenon….
Marijke Koger would become the leader of the collective that included Dutch artists Yosha Leeger, Simon Posthuma and Barry Finch as its original members. She was a high school dropout who opened her first fashion boutique at the age of 18 in Amsterdam, where she met her band of future collaborators. Together, they decided to pack up and move to the “magic island” of Ibiza, where intellectuals, artists, painters and photographers were starting to establish their residence. It was there that a photographer for The Times, Karl Ferris, snapped a photo of Marijke and her friends, wearing the collective’s eclectic designs made from colourful batik fabrics.
The photo story was promptly sent off to print in London and almost overnight, they became the faces of the burgeoning hippie movement. London was abuzz with murmurs about this “exotic” new look that was such a departure from the geometric Mod fashion dominating British youth culture at the time. Seizing the opportunity, the hungry young designers made their way to London where they met a high-powered publicist and quickly became designers in demand.
Marijke was first introduced to tarot in 1966 by Graham Bond, a rising blues musician at the time, and was instantly intrigued by the cards’ ethereal properties as well as their notable artistic identity. Originating in Italy in the 1400s, tarot has associations with the occult dating back to 1780 in France, when mystics first started to ascribe meaning to the different figures on the cards. Since the hippie movement was associated with mind altering psychedelics, there was a natural draw to esotericism. Marijke was only interested in the lighter energy of tarot, and identified most with the fool card because it represented cultural and creative activities. From then on, her collective became known as The Fool.
Later, when The Beatles met members of The Fool for the first time, Marijke would do a tarot reading for Paul McCartney when he unexpectedly showed up at their London apartment with John Lennon. The band’s manager Brian Epstein had already been working with the collective and commissioned their work for his concert flyers. The Beatles by this time were ready to shed their Mod style, and when Lennon and McCartney saw the The Fool’s psychedelic artwork, they insisted on seeing more.
“During John and Paul’s first visit to our house in Bayswater,” remembers The Fool’s Simon Posthuma, “they saw the ‘Wonderwall,’ a composition consisting of a decorated armoire and a bust, against an arched wall, painted in the style that was up until then new to the world. ‘I love it, I want to live in it,‘ John said … and Paul agreed. Afterwards, Marijke laid the tarot cards for Paul. It turned out to be his inspiration for writing The Fool on the Hill.“
The Fool was now in business with The Beatles, who were gearing up to open their first business enterprise; a concept store in the heart of swinging London that they hoped could capture the true essence of the band and become a cultural keystone. After designing the band’s wardrobe for the television broadcasts of All You Need Is Love and the Magical Mystery Tour, The Fool were given full creative freedom for the band’s retail venture, from designing the boutique’s three story exterior and interior, to the clothing and accessories on sale.
It was called “The Apple Boutique” and opened on Baker Street in 1967, much to the excitement of the press, who dubbed it a “psychedelic supermarket”:
The store faced trouble almost from the start. For one, The Fool’s striking mural turned out to be just a bit too striking, and had to be promptly painted over in white, allegedly due to the increase in traffic jams brought on by distracted drivers and complaints from the neighbours.
Only a year later, the Apple boutique closed down, having lost a lot of money very quickly, which was blamed on a shoplifting problem. Despite the failure of the shop, it was only the beginning of the Beatles venture under their trademarked “Apple” name. (In 1976, George Harrison spotted an advert for Apple Computer while flicking through a British magazine and two years later, the first lawsuit was filed – but more on that here).
The Fool’s working relationship with The Beatles didn’t cease with the ill-fated Apple boutique either. Not only did they continue to collaborate commercially with the band and its members, but they also designed private pieces. John Lennon asked for his piano and guitars to be painted by their hand, and in addition to his Mini car, George Harrison’s fireplace was ornamented with The Fool’s colourful, signature Art Nouveau inspired motifs.
Of course, they weren’t the only designers inspired by Art Nouveau in the 60s – in fact there was a large revival of work inspired by the organic shapes and themes explored at the turn of the century. The Fool saw these seductive styles as the key to a new psychedelic vision.
In 1968, their popular aesthetic won them an important gig designing the set for Wonderwall, starring a young Jane Birkin and scored by George Harrison. While reviews were mixed at the time, visually, it’s one of the most stunning films to come out of the 1960s, and now considered a cult classic which perfectly embodies the era.
The Fool was now busier than ever creating and defining the look of British counterculture. The same year that the collective designed the sleeve graphics for The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP, they worked with Eric Clapton to decorate his infamous guitar and the rest of the instruments and costumes for his band Cream, as well as the album’s packaging.
Other leading music bands of the 1960s were lining up to work with them, but in 1968, The Fool decided to create music of their own when US Mercury Records offered them a recording contract. Their psychedelic folk album, The Fool, was a monumental flop – although pop culture magazine Dangerous Minds now calls it “an incredible, but long-forgotten album”.
For their final act as a group after moving to Los Angeles, they created a mural on the Aquarius Theatre for a production of the Broadway musical Hair. But this wasn’t just any mural, it was the largest mural in the world at the time. Shortly after, the collective went their separate ways.
Yasha and Barry started a clothing boutique on Melrose called The Chariot but returned to Amsterdam soon after. Marijke and Simon Posthuma, who were married at the time, stayed in Los Angeles to pursue a music career as a duo, but also split up eventually and Simon too, returned to Amsterdam.
Sadly Simon Posthuma died last year, but Marijke can still be found living in LA; painting and designing album artwork and sharing all of the wild tales from her life on her blog. Her online musings are a rare opportunity to hear tales of this legendary time straight from the source, as she recalls her adventures from within the inner sanctum of rock royalty.