Looking for something a bit more flash than what Savile Row or the High Street had to offer, a few fashion-forward Londoners began to frequent a warren of stores and corners called Carnaby Street in that city’s SoHo district in the late 1950s. The loud prints, loose ankles, military surplus, and other bits of flair offered by retailers like Mr. Fish, Kleptomania, Mary Quant, I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet, and many others supplied first the Mods, then the Hippies, then the punks with all the fabric they needed to create their own sartorial identities. Pete Townsend’s Union Jack suits came from Carnaby, as did Jimi Hendrix’s bold blouses, and Rod Stewart’s groin-hugging trousers. From the Beatles, to the Stones, to many of the Brit acts that came after, Carnaby gave a look to sound and inspired many a future designer there and abroad. It’s only suiting then that some 50 years after the district began its rise to fame that a new exhibition of photographs, clothes, and other historical materials, “Carnaby Street: 1960 – 2010”, will be opening this Friday the 26th in the spot where it all began.
Starring the evocative black-and-white images captured by photographer Philip Townsend in Carnaby’s heyday, the exhibition will also house examples of the clothes that brought the Street so much attention as well as a three-dimensional digital timeline that will show the area’s evolution from “green field site with a well and a scarecrow 500 years ago” to the cauldron of creativity it became. Yes, it’s true that Carnaby has become a little reproduction of High Street shopping itself—it’s now the home to a G-Star store, an American Apparel, and a—ugh—Steve Madden. But there are still some cutting-edge fashions and Swinging Sixties throwbacks to be found as you bargain hunt on your way to this cheery exhibition that recalls a time when fashion was exciting, full of rebellion, and, as one can see, fun.
“Carnaby Street: 1960 – 2010”
February 26 – April 1, 2010
38 Carnaby Street
All images by Philip Townsend, courtesy of The Philip Townsend Archive.