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|The K.WEST sign Restored|
Newly restored K.WEST sign (2012)
In November 2012, for just one month, Ziggy fans at a free London exhibition were able to view, for the first time in 30 years, the famous K.WEST sign that featured on the front cover of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars album.
Konn Furriers (K.West) First Floor at #21 Heddon Street.
The K.WEST sign belonged to a firm of furriers which in 1972 had their business on the first floor of #21 Heddon Street.
The "K" stood for Konn (Henry Konn was the owner) and "WEST" referred to their location in the West End of London. Amusingly, almost two months after the release of the Ziggy album (28 July 1972), RCA received a letter of disapproval from K.WEST's solicitors Michael Kramer & Co. stating: "Our clients are Furriers of high repute who deal with a clientele generally far removed from the pop music world" and complaining that their K.WEST sign's positioning on the album cover implied some sort of association with "Mr Bowie and the record".
In 1982, in generally poor condition, the original K.WEST sign was removed by a Bowie fan, with another design K.WEST furs eventually replacing it.
The K.WEST fur company itself left Heddon Street in 1991.
In July 2000, the original K.WEST sign surfaced looking a little worse for wear, as seen above, with the following email to me explaining its history and condition (that story can be found here):
...Probably the thing in my collection that will interest you most is the original "K.West" sign that after one drunken evening in the early nineteen eighties I 'removed'. It's the side that was photographed (I think that there were unsuccessful attempts to remove it before, which was why I grabbed it when I did!). The other side of the sign was damaged anyway. It was replaced by another similar (but not that similar) sign which was removed when the furriers closed in the mid '80s. Having just moved house I rediscovered that I had the sign and am about to install it on the conservatory wall.... Hope this has solved a mystery....It's funny - when I first went to Heddon Street (I only live about a mile from it) it wasn't a shrine at all - and to add more to the story it was with Ken Pitt that I went there in about 1979 - and it looked identical.... I have to stress that when I took the sign it really was on it's last legs and wouldn't have lasted a heavy storm - so I'm telling myself it was an act of preservation really! There's a few chips but otherwise its ok.....Anyway - I took the sign down from the attic (as you can see it's showing its age - although it was slightly damaged anyway before my 'liberation') and took a photo....
From 17 November to 1 December 2012 a free exhibition called David Bowie - Golden Years 1969-81 was held at The Movie Poster Art Gallery, 1 Colville Place, London. The exhibition celebrated the visual impact of David Bowie's poster and display campaigns.
The newly fully restored K.WEST sign (with new illuminaton) took centre stage - and was strategically placed in front of a giant mockup of the album cover waiting to be ceremoniously switched on.
Exhibition curator Tim Maddison in front of the restored K.WEST sign
Ziggy Stardust – A lost icon unveiled
As the centerpiece of the exhibition, the gallery is proud to unveil publically for the first time in 30 years the original Heddon Street K.WEST sign from the album’s front cover - probably the single most iconic cover location in British rock history, along with the Abbey Road zebra crossing. Rescued by a music industry veteran and finally restored, this is the original sign face seen on the album cover’s famous Brian Ward photograph, with Bowie standing underneath, a pose recreated in the original location by countless fans.
"After the road crossing from The Beatles Abbey Road, it's probably the single most iconic piece of street architecture as it were that you would find on any rock and pop album cover, certainly from this country. It's from Heddon Street in London's West End and anyone who knows the album ... will know the K.WEST sign, because it is directly above David Bowie on the album cover. The story behind it - was that it was essentially rescued almost exactly 30 years ago to this day from near destruction in Heddon Street in 1982. It was almost falling off. Bowie fans had tried to remove it and the gentleman who actually rescued it managed to take it down one night before it fell to pieces. We can't give his name away. He's a private collector but he is a music industry veteran. He has some connections with Bowie in the past with his work. Bowie, I can tell you, does know that the sign survives now and we gather he's very pleased that it did."
Curator Tim Maddison
Gary Kemp switchs the restored K.West sign on.
Bowie lamenting its loss in a Rolling Stone magazine story in 1983, had said "It's such a shame that sign went. People read so much into it. They thought K.WEST must be some sort of code for 'Quest.' It took on all these sort of mystical overtones."
Bowie superfan Gary Kemp gave a short speech before turning on the newly restored sign's illuminated lighting at the exhibition:
"The last time I saw this it was in situ, and it has always meant a lot to Bowie fans.
As you know it doesn't just mean the name of a furrier, it is also 'Quest' and we are still on that journey.
This is a little bit of it, magic."
David Bowie poses under the K.WEST sign (Feb 1981).
---This page last modified: 16/01/19---