CARNABY COOL; It's 50 Years since One Soho Side-Street Started to Take off as London's Hippest Shopping Destination. Jonathan Prynn Joins the Celebration

The Evening Standard (London, England), February 4, 2010 | Go to article overview

CARNABY COOL; It's 50 Years since One Soho Side-Street Started to Take off as London's Hippest Shopping Destination. Jonathan Prynn Joins the Celebration


Byline: Jonathan Prynn

IT'S LESS than 200 yards from end to end but for almost a decade its global influence was greater than any other thoroughfare in Britain -- with the arguable exception of Downing Street.

Carnaby Street was first built in the late 1680s but it will be forever synonymous with the decade when shops such as His Clothes, I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet and Kleptomania led successive waves of fashion culture from the mods and rockers of the mid-Sixties through the psychedelic hippy era to the Afghan and cheesecloth look of the early Seventies.

Although the street has more than 300 years of history, this year the 140 shops in and around Carnaby Street are marking the 50th anniversary of the start of its extraordinary Sixties heyday with a series of major events.

The celebrations begin on Friday 26 February with the launch of a free "Carnaby Street 1960 to 2010" exhibition at number 38 filled with artefacts ranging from a Sixties paper dress to a rare original copy of the Kinks single Dedicated Follower of Fashion which celebrates the marching "Carnabetian Army".

There are also testimonies from key figures such as Who legend Pete Townshend and interviews with ordinary people who lived and worked in the area.

In June there will be a "Summer of Love" music festival in the street, inspired by the sounds that rocked the world almost half a century ago, and in September a fashion show will link the era of the miniskirt with the modern fashion boutiques that line Carnaby Street today.

Curator Amy de la Haye says throughout its history the area has been linked with alternative lifestyles, dating back to the French Huguenots who first settled in the area through to the poet William Blake who was a local resident.

The street, which rapidly declined into a "Kiss me Quick" tourist tat ghetto in the mid-Seventies, is now owned by the property company Shaftesbury Estates, which has tried to revive its reputation by keeping out major chain stores. More than 60 per cent of the shops in the area today are independent.

Carnaby Street and its Soho environs may never again be the global crucible of youth culture that it was in the Sixties but according to Shaftesbury director Simon Quayle "it still provides something you can't get anywhere else". Overleaf, three Carnaby Street veterans remember its heyday.

PHILIP TOWNSEND, 69 PHOTOGRAPHER BEFORE the Sixties, Carnaby was a dreary, run-down street with just a few little shops. They shut on Saturday afternoon and all day on Sunday. The whole place closed down at 6pm, it was completely different from what it is now.

But Carnaby Street was just meant to happen. People who had never done things like run boutiques before suddenly got liberated and decided to do it. Entrepreneur John Stephens got all this clobber from somewhere -- bags and army surplus wear -- that was really good and not very expensive and it just took off. I've got pictures of Regent Street from the Sixties and there was nobody walking down it. Everyone just automatically went to the right into Carnaby Street and the whole place was jumping.

You were allowed to drive on Carnaby Street and park on it in those days, there were no restrictions. I had a Mini and everyone said, "that's very trendy". But if you tooted people to get out of the way, they thought you were a fascist pig so you had to be very careful.

You would always see The Beatles and the Rolling Stones wandering around -- the Stones had their offices in Regent Street. But we didn't have "celebrities" in those days, we just had interesting people, they didn't have minders and cars following them. You would also see all the models who were always upper-class girls. I was one of the first photographers to get out of the studios and go outside and use real life as a background. The Continental magazines loved it.

There was not a particularly druggy feel to start with, just a bit of pot and some LSD. …

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