Carnaby Street: before and after the hype

At the end of sixties, it was a small London street a hotspot for rebellious jongerenmode. Half the music world, did his shopping. Then came the tourists.

© Wim Denolf

“Everywhere the Carnabetian army marches on, each one a dedicated follower of fashion” sang The Kinks in 1965. At that time, could certainly be British fashionistas Carnaby Street with the eyes shut and indicate on the map below. However, it was the 17th century street within walking distance of Oxford Circus for a long time in the shadow of the theatres and night spots elsewhere in Soho. A pesthuis (one of the first in the city), sewing plants of the tailors in the neighbouring Saville Row, cheap, but also poor housing: a lot more told in the history books not about the “Carnaby Village”.


© Wim Denolf

The first clothing store in the neighborhood opened in ’54. Vince in Newburgh Street was then a pioneer in beatnikmode, now a Levi’s Vintage shop was a mannenwinkel of Bill Green, a photographer of muscles and wrestlers who own the (homo-erotic) outfits of the models well. Later withdrew its colorful, according to the whole world “effeminate” designs in fabrics like silk and velvet, and tight jeans customers as Pablo Picasso and Sean Connery. That last, when it was still a beginning actor, he posed for the newspaper advertisements of Vince, as a sailor from Jean Genets Querelle.

The real breakthrough came only in ’58, after the opening of His Clothes. Owner John Stephen, later alternately “The King of Carnaby Street”, “The £1 Million Mod” and “The Modfather”, and was a graduate from Glasgow who then apprenticed as a welder in the shipbuilding industry – a job that was difficult to reconcile was his orientation, nor with its penchant for sophisticated men’s fashion.


The real breakthrough came only in ’58, after the opening of His Clothes.

The Shot moved at the age of eighteen to London, where he initially the cost earned as a waiter and winkelassistent. Thanks to the import of American jeans he could a few years later, however, a Rolls Royce to afford and to own his own business. And also His Clothes hit like a bomb. A bright yellow interior, trendy music, and staff, a cheap offer with innovative fabrics, fits and details, a lot of lekstokkleuren and floral motifs: His Clothes was a Ceo, avant la lettre. “It didn’t matter how quickly everything fell apart”, would performances George Melly say later. “The purpose of the pieces was not to be sustainable, but to dazzle”.

© Wim Denolf

Stephens was a flamboyant taste hit soon to the style-conscious Mods, but also with artists such as the Rolling Stones, The Kinks and Jimi Hendrix. For a tv appearance of Cliff Richard, he made last minute than a sweater and a blanket in mohair. “Stephen came up with a look for young men who are enthusiastic, smart, and fun it was”, conceived and co-inventor of the miniskirt and the hot pants Mary Quant “peacock revolution” together. The break in style with the traditional British tailors was great.


Once the innovative concept of His Clothes and the advancing jongerenmarkt – the first teenagers with their own disposable income – their viability is proven, there was no stopping it. In the early sixties, opened one store after the other and was Carnaby Street, a hotspot for rebellious jongerenmode. Wealthy young shopten in King’s Road, the workers and lower middle class in Soho.

“Carnaby Street looked like a movie set, quite different than the identical look of other London neighborhoods”, wrote Biba founder Barbara Hulanicki years ago in The Financial Times. “There were British flags on the walls, there were racks of clothes outside, there is blaring music and there was an energy in the air like nowhere else.”


Mods, hippies and other young people were in and around Carnaby Street dandyspullen, parka’s, washed denim, bell-bottoms and other affordable stuff. As specialized I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet in military wear and Union Jack shirts (the window of the case inspired designer Peter Blake and The Beatles for the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) and was Mates one of the first unisekswinkels. Visitors of the neighborhood could also just their eyes, the cost: shop fronts with psychedelic murals, live models in the display case, everywhere was something to see.

© Wim Denolf

Tom Cat celebrated his opening in ’66 by Tom Jones and the Casino Royale actress is on the road to send with a cheetah, and you could be more celebrities spotting. Jimi Hendrix, Twiggy, Brigitte Bardot, Elton John, The Who, the rolling Stones and the Beatles: the list of known (at that time still not of ordinary mortals shielded) “Carnabetians” is endless. Modhelden The Small Faces signed on the spot to a record deal in ’65, Paul McCartney met there in ’67 his future wife Linda Eastman in a bar. The place in question, The Bag O’ Bails in Kingly Street, closed a year later, while its doors and reopened only in 2013 as a private members club.

Swinging London

Carnaby Street was also one of the hubs of the British music press. In ’52, established New Music Express had an office, later followed including Smash Hits and The Face.

The worldwide fame of the neighborhood, however, due to Time, that in april of ’66 are cover dedicated to’ swinging London ‘ and Carnaby Street, the epicentre of the hype called. The article had an effect: the end of the sixties was the street in terms of visitor numbers the second tourist attraction of the town, after Buckingham Palace.


We had no internet, thanks to the music reached the revolution of the jongerenmode however, the Flemish youth.

“Every young person wanted to go to Carnaby Street,” says stylist Linda Van Waesberge, who just not was eighteen when she Carnaby Street shortly after the publication in Time for the first visit. “In Belgium it was fun jongerenmode when not or hardly found. A handful of small shops went up in Carnaby Street or buy stuff, but generally, the range here is terrible well-behaved and boring. But we knew what was in Carnaby Street lived. We had no internet, thanks to the music reached the revolution of the jongerenmode however, the Flemish youth. I still remember vividly the reactions to a short yellow dress and platform shoes which I purchased in London had – the people did not have their bikes (laughs).”

Sid and Nancy

Due to the hustle and bustle was “Carnaby Village” in ’73, largely pedestrianized. Though it was the peak of the hype, according to many, when all is over. The refreshing approach of the retailers and their supply was slowly starting to make their way to the large shopping streets, and with the sustainable impoverishment of the offer.

Moreover, it became Great Britain, in the seventies, under the spell of punk and gothic. “Tourists flocked to the palace in the expectation that they Keith Richards would look like with a fur coat and a psychedelic glasses, followed by slender girls in minrokjes and vilthoeden”, wrote Q-muziekjournaliste Mark Ellen. “Instead, they found mod revivalwinkels and punkzaken full of torn plastic pants, plaid heupdoeken and Sid and Nancy T-shirts”.


© Wim Denolf

Rebellious is Carnaby Street in the year 2017 not more. But a tourist trap, is the annually by 44 million people visited near nor. There, real estate company Shaftesbury, which owns most of the houses in Carnaby Village, from the nineties it over with.

The thirteen streets of the near aim also now on foodies (Saturday, June 3, also find the annual Carnaby Street Eat place, with cheap tastings al fresco), while fashionistas may expect a well-balanced mix of well-known street style and denimmerken as Diesel, Replay, Scotch & Soda, American Apparel, Dr. Martens, Puma, Vans and Camper and small, independent boutiques – more than a hundred in total.

The map of the shopping district is constantly evolving. Over the past twelve months alone, opened under the Spanish mannenlabel Fact, outdoormerk The North Face and the American mocassinspecialist GH Bass a store in the area. In the beauty sector, there were more openings of the Californian Urban Decay and Estée Edit, the more accessible millennialmerk of the group Estée Lauder. The pedestrian character of the neighborhood and the short distances to increase only the winkelpret.

Typical Britishs

To British heritagemerken and links with the world of music is no lack.

To British heritagemerken and links with the world of music is no lack. In addition to well-known names like Ben Sherman, Fred Perry, and Barbour, you can enjoy a visit at Baracuta (14a Newburgh Street), a label from Manchester, which since 1937 is known for its Harrington jackets, as worn by the mods, and icons such as Elvis Presley, Steve McQueen and James Dean. Also the sharp cut suits of Sherry’s (63 Broadwick Street) and The Face (1 Marlborough Court) are since the years sixty purebred mods like a glove.

The Great Frog © Wim Denolf

Lovers of British tailoring and eye-catching socks or ties can then go to Peckham Rye (11 Newburgh Street) and Mark Powell (2 Marshall Street), known thanks to customers such as Paul Weller, Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Bryan Ferry. The Great Frog (10 most frequently used Street) on his side since 1972 rings with dooskoppen or claws, and other rock-‘n’ -roll jewelry. Under more Slash, Deborah Harry, and Metallica did all their shopping.

The connection with music is the strongest among Pretty Green (57 Carnaby Street), a on the modcultuur inspired clothing label in 2008 that was founded by Liam Gallagher of Oasis. The parkas, jackets, shirts and polo’s seem to be right out of his wardrobe. From a different keg taps Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream (36 Marshall Street), the in 2005 established streetwearlabels of Pharrell Williams, the Japanese dj, producer and designer Nigo and later also Jay Z. Fashion and trends in music may change, insignificant is Carnaby Street, not more.

Practical: With the Eurostar, you will travel in about two hours from Brussels to the heart of London. Tickets are available from 39 euro for a single trip from Brussels and from 50 euros from any other Belgian station. Please refer to the online platform Eurostar Snap for the cheapest tickets.

Overnight: Knack Weekend, stayed at the luxurious Courthouse Hotel 19-21 Great Marlborough Street), with direct access to Carnaby Street. Plus points include the indoor pool, spa and wellness centre with sauna and gym, and the extensive breakfast buffet.

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