Billy Murphy: The Emperor of Wyoming And London’s King’s Road

"There were many kings of the King’s Road at different periods of time but there was only one Emperor" - Lloyd Johnson

Emperor Kings Road Billy_Murphy

Billy Murphy by Sean Moorman

Billy Murphy was a thoroughly lovely bloke whose contribution to street fashion – particularly in Britain and specifically in and around the King’s Road – is sorely underrated.

I knew all about Billy’s significance in his field decades before I met him. His shop The Emperor Of Wyoming was “an extremely important staging post not just in the story of British rock and roll fashion but also the development of the vintage scene in this country”. Opened by Murphy at 404 King’s Road in 1972, TEOW specialised in selected items of Westernwear and American clothing at a time when the pickings were slim for such garments in London.

 

Billy Murphy Stetson, embroidered shirt and hand-tooled leather belt from The Emperor Of Wyoming. Photo: David Parkinson for Club International, February 1974

Stetson, embroidered shirt and hand-tooled leather belt from The Emperor Of Wyoming. Photo: David Parkinson for Club International, February 1974

David Parkinson for Club International, February 1974

David Parkinson for Club International, February 1974

David Parkinson for Club International, February 1974

David Parkinson for Club International, February 1974

 

The received histories of the Chelsea thoroughfare  concentrate on 430 King’s Road and places such as Acme Attractions, but ignoring The Emperor Of Wyoming presents an incomplete picture of the retail landscape there in the early to mid-70s. Murphy’s shop was a major draw, and rightly championed by influential fashion editors  of the period such as Janet Street-Porter and Pru Walters.

 

Red, yellow and green check shirt, gun-belt, whip and tie-ring from The Emperor Of Wyoming. Photo: Karl Stoecker for West One, May 14, 1974

Red, yellow and green check shirt, gun-belt, whip and tie-ring from The Emperor Of Wyoming. Photo: Karl Stoecker for West One, May 14, 1974

Put simply, Murphy’s particular area of excellence formed the missing link between the niche sales of Americana imported and explored by one of his close pals Trevor Myles at the nearby Paradise Garage in 1971 and the explosion of interest when another King’s Road outlet, Flip, started shipping substantial amounts into the UK towards the end of the decade.

And during my researches, when I turned up photography of his lovingly curated clothes in an issue of Club International, I made sure to dig out a pristine copy for Billy. Not that he struck me as the type of character to trade on his past; Billy’s unassuming nature was just one aspect of his delightful charm which will be missed by those who knew him well and the thousands like me who pleasured in just a passing acquaintance.

Thanks to Sean Moorman for his kind permission to feature the portrait of Billy. Visit Sean’s site here.