Manic Panic “The first punk boutique in America”

imageIn 1973/74 Tish and Snooky Bellomo were aspiring singers from the Bronx hanging out in the glam rock/drag scene at places like Max’s Kansas City where David Bowie, Lou Reed and Debbie Harry of Blondie were regulars. Everybody loved the way the sisters dressed, which lead to them opening a vintage clothing store in the spring of 1977. Manic Panic was located at 33 St. Mark’s Place – a rough neighbourhood in the East Village filled with junkies, squaters, and cheap rents.  They painted the floor of their store black and drilled holes in the wall so that the stiletto heels of shoes could be stuck into them for display.

The sisters would stock their shop from the thrift stores, buying anything they felt was cool looking from the 1950s and 1960s. They also ‘trashed’ pieces for resale. During the famous New York city blackout in July, Tish and Snooky slept in the store to chase off looters. The store prospered and by the end of 1977 they were being called the first punk boutique in America. By the spring of the following year other ‘punk’ stores started popping up on St. Marks.

“It attracted a group of people that I think felt just different from everybody else. It was sort of like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, where all the different people from all over the world are, like, playing with mashed potatoes and they end up at the giant mountain. It was sort of like that. Everybody who kind of felt like a misfit or like they didn’t belong anywhere, they would feel at home at CBGB at night and Manic Panic during the day.” Said Tish Bellomo

st_shoes_ties_manic_adjOn frequent trips to England the sisters would fill their suitcases with vintage stock that couldn’t be found easily over there, like vintage sunglasses and biker rings, and bring back beauty supplies and hair dyes, in a rainbow of colours, to sell in their store. The sisters became known for their lines of hair dye and make-up, necessary for creating the bordello-punk look of the era. On busy days a doorman was hired to limit the number of visitors into the store to keep shoplifting down.

New owners of the building didn’t renew their lease and so the sisters gave up their boutique to focus on wholesaling hair and beauty lines. In 1999 they moved to Long Island City, where the currently work out of a 14,000 sq. ft. warehouse.

Information for this article is courtesy of this article by Susan Laskow

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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2 Responses to Manic Panic “The first punk boutique in America”

  1. I used to dye my son’s hair with Manic Panic. I didn’t know there was a whole story behind the product. And a great one too! Thanks for the info Jonathan.

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