Carnaby Street has seen it all. Synonymous with the ‘Swinging 60’s’, it also played its part in the ‘Snarling 70’s’.
The West End street has had a knack for placing its finger on the mood of the day and driving fashions and aspects of modern culture – particularly music. Murray’s Jazz Club opened there in 1913 and harnessed the boom in jazz inspired tango.
But it was 50 years later that Carnaby St. stamped itself on the global map.
London and Carnaby Street was the epicentre of the ‘groovy’ 60’s, an era captured both ridiculously and strangely accurately by Mike Myers in his Austin Powers movies.
Fashion, music and film utterly rooted in Carnaby St. Influence, propelled the swinging 60’s and went on to blast the world with new sights, sounds and styles. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Kinks, Bridgitte Bardot, Elizabeth Taylor, Tom Jones and countless others visited, shopped and partied at Carnaby St. It was liberating, upbeat, energetic, joyful.
Who could have predicted what would come only a decade later…
The 60’s in London swung, but in the second half of the 1970’s, they snarled and spat.
And once again Carnaby St played a central part. Punk fashion burst onto the scene (anybody who thinks punk was anti-system and commerce etc, think again!) driven by Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and his notorious quintet of: Rotten, Vicious, Matlock, Jones and Cook.
This era may have been closer to the earliest origins of the street. Built in 1682 by bricklayer Richard Tyler, Carnaby St took its name from the first building there – Karnaby House. Following The Great Plague, Pesthouses were built to quarantine plague victims; the first one was erected on Carnaby St. No doubt this fact would have gone down well 300 years later at the height of punk!
By the 1980’s trends were encompassing New Wave, Goth, Mod revival, Rock and and second wave of Punk, and Carnaby St. accommodated all. Designers like Vivienne Westwood and Mary Quant amongst others always keeping Carnaby St. at the cutting edge as high profile celebs continued to flock to the street.
Music continued to be a the forefront or Carnaby life. In 2002 hip-hop record store Deal Real opened, immediately attracting such luminaries as: Amy Winehouse, Kanye West, Mark Ronson, Mos Def and John Legend, and helping discover and nurture new talent.
All of which made the West End street a rather unlikely centre of youth hip-hop culture.
In 2012 The Rolling Stones returned to Carnaby Street which was spectacularly themed to celebrated the band’s 50th anniversary.
This 350 year old street has changed the axis of the fashion and music world more than once and remains a must visit, even for the most ardent retail-phobic!