An avenue that’s always in style, Carnaby Street in Westminster has been the home of popular fashions for decades. Named for Karnaby House that was built in the area in 1683 with the street created not long after, it first became known as a retail location in the 19th Century when the Carnaby market first appeared. However, it wouldn’t be until the 20th Century that Carnaby Street gained its well-known reputation as a fashion mecca for London. No matter the decade, the most popular styles could be found there, that is, if they didn’t originate on Carnaby Street in the first place. Enjoy these ten fashionable facts about this famous London spot.
From the Ashes
Carnaby Street got its start back in the 17th Century after the Great Fire of London burned down much of the surrounding area. Karnaby House and several other homes were built to transform it into a new residential district. Many of these buildings are still there and some would later form the basis of this important fashion district.
At some point or another, Carnaby Street catered to the fashion sense of whatever youth culture was prevalent at the time. Mods, Hippies, Punk, Rockers, Goths, Revivalist Mods, and more. John Stephen, a fashion designer, owned several of the shops along the street with each catering to a different sub-culture from 1975 to 1975. His success at making fashion easily accessible to young people in the 50s and 60s gave him the nicknames “The King of Carnaby Street” and “The £1m Mod”.
A Dark Past
The area around Carnaby Street wasn’t always known for the bright fashions that brought color and happiness to many. During the days of the Black Death, it was home to a “pest house” where those with the Bubonic Plague were cared for as well as being home to a mass grave for those who succumbed to the disease.
Most of the shops in the 50s and 60s specialised in men’s fashions as shops for women were mostly located on the King’s Road.
Home as it was to some of the most popular shops for young people in the 1960s, Carnaby Street had its fair share of famous music icons who would stop in for a nice outfit before heading to Top of the Pops and other programmes. Some of these acts included Jimi Hendrix, Tom Jones, The Who, The Small Faces, The Sex Pistols, The Jam, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles. When the street was closed in 1973 to make it a pedestrian thoroughfare, many of the fashionistas moved to Chelsea and Carnaby Street became populated with less trendy souvenir shops before being reclaimed by the boutiques later on.
What’s New, Pussycat?
For the opening of the Top Cat store, Tom Jones was hired to walk down Carnaby Street with Bond girl Christine Spooner in one arm while leading a cheetah on a leash.
Being the shopping place for so many famous musicians, Carnaby Street found its way into popular culture via their songs. The Kinks’ “Deadicated Follower of Fashion” contains the line “Everywhere the Carnabetian Army marches on, each one a dedicated follower of fashion”, a direct reference to Carnaby. Peggy March, famous for her song, “I Will Follow Him”, titled her 1966 album In der Carnaby Street. The Jam also penned the song “Carnaby Street”, which parallels the shops and consumerism with the situation in the world and the UK.
The Simpsons Did It
Carnaby Street culture even extends to the modern day, where the Simpsons episode “Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious” had Bart and Lisa appear on the street dressed in Mod fashion.
What’s All This, Then?
When Lady Jane opened in 1966 by Harry Fox and Henry Moss, it was the first boutique shop on Carnaby Street to cater exclusively to women. Interestingly enough, Moss had the idea to use live fashion models in his shop windows. This wouldn’t have been a problem except for the models dressing and undressing down to their knickers, which attracted such a large audience of men that Moss was arrested and fined £2 for obstructing the highway. Fox later parted from the shop and opened his own stores that included Lady Jane Again, Lady Jane’s Birdcage, and Sir Harry.
In addition to shops that cater to fashions from all over the globe, Carnaby Street has many restaurants with varying international cuisine. These restaurants include Marsala Zone (Indian), Myung Ga (Korean), Cha Cha Moon (Asian noodle bar), Stax (American Diner), Kua ‘Aina (Hawaiian), and even Mother Mash, a restaurant that specialises almost exclusively in mashed potatoes. Whatever you have an urge for, be it fashion or food, you can certainly find it on Carnaby Street.