Monday, August 3, 2009

Mod Fashion & Carnaby Street

In looking back at a question I asked on a “Beading” discussion board, I was directed to an article relating to Mod fashion on Wikipedia. Since I rarely take what is written on Wikipedia as “true”, I decided to follow the links at the bottom of the article to get a closer look at what “Mod” really meant. In doing so, I was directed to the website Carnaby London.

I was amazed to learn that Carnaby Street, historically, was originally built in 1683 and over the years became known as “the swinging city”. Carnaby Street is just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus in London and a rich history of fashion, music, and is all about being unique and independent. Carnaby, a one-of-a-kind approach, is considered home to some high end international “flagship” stores and exclusive independents. There are no cars on Carnaby Street, like China Town in San Francisco, but is more of a place for that person on foot that wants to stroll visiting an array of shops offering just about anything. Located in London, United Kingdom, in the Soho district, near Oxford Street and Regent Street, Carnaby Street’s name was originally derived from Karnaby House, which is located to its east and was erected in 1683.

How does this relate to the wonderful world of Mod fashion? “In the 60s, when little villages could be found in every region, the Time magazine article called London "the swinging city.” (TIME, 1966) What the Time article actually said about Carnaby Street was “From Carnaby Street, the new, way-out fashion in young men's clothes is spreading around the globe, and so are the hairdos, the hairdon'ts and the sound of beat; in Czechoslovakia alone, there are 500 beat groups, all with English names.” (TIME, 1966) The 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s fashion, and 60s Mods were said to be influenced by designers on Carnaby Street. While the days of the “groovy” shops may have changed, Carnaby Street still offers shoppers a wide array of selections from the weird to the brilliant and has, once again, become the source for cutting edge fashion. The Carnaby Street reliant of “Swinging London” took North American by storm and helped to increase its international awareness after the April 15, 1966 publication of Time magazine's cover and article that celebrated Carnaby’s role: “Perhaps nothing illustrates the new swinging London better than narrow, three-block-long Carnaby Street, which is crammed with a cluster of the 'gear' boutiques where the girls and boys buy each other clothing.”

Carnaby Street became home to independent fashion boutiques and designers such as Mary Quant, Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin, Lord John, Take Six, and Irvine Sellars. All were located in Carnaby Street along with various underground music bars such as the Roaring Twenties. The Carnaby Street boom and origin was also home to a few canny “Soho” tailors, which helped the trends that were rising to be better understood.

Sherry’s, which sells 60’s accessories, womenswear, and menswear, was established in 1979 and has a more authentic feel than some of the larger chains on Carnaby Street. Mary Quant called Carnaby Street home back in the 60's at the same time that The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were frequently spotted among the ultra stylish large crowds. This is during the time when Carnaby Street was labeled the epicenter for worldwide coolness.

John Stephen was a Glaswegian clothes designer who had several shops on London's Carnaby Street. According to the plaque on one of Carnaby Street’s buildings: “John Stephen was founder of Carnaby Street as World Centre for Men’s fashion in the 1960’s.” His men's shop became known as a focal point for the London mods. In 1959, John moved to Carnaby Street and set up the first men’s clothing shop, after a fire had claimed his original shop.

There was a musical based on Carnaby Street during the 1960s called Carnaby Street the Musical, which followed the tale of The Who, the Spencer David Group, The Moody Blues and The Yardbirds. The Marquee was where these musicians played just before their careers began to take off. The musical includes not just music but also some of the fashion that became popular back in the 60s. The story concentrates on Jack Flash, who is said to have been the “man-about-town” who helps Jude to get into the band “Wild Thing”.

Carnaby Street has staked a claim on fashion’s frontier since the 1960’s and continues today to be at the heart of eclectic fashion and design. So, where do the Mods come into play here? Well, in the 1960s it was said to be the Mods that made the Mod style popular and then became closely associated with the Swinging Sixties. This is when many independent music shops, fashion boutiques, and designers such as Mary Quant were located there. Although Carnaby Street's time as a fashion centre was limited; Carnaby Street is still popular today amongst shoppers and sellers alike. Carnaby Street is included in a song by The Jam called "Carnaby Street", which was written by bassist Bruce Foxton.

The area surrounding Carnaby Street has seen a number of changes in the last few years, especially at the southern end, including new stores, a passage that goes through to Kingly Court. There are three floors of one-off 'concept' shops and studios hosting items that are not sold anywhere else in London. There are shops and cafes and no-car intersections; where one can purchase clothes from Diesel jeans to antique hippie wear. All of this within “bag-swinging distance of London's top 5 shopping spots for women at Oxford Circus” and today Carnaby Street is more of a tourist attraction. While Carnaby Street may not be as cutting-edge as it used to be, that’s not exactly what it is striving for today.

There was a significant amount of rebuilding that happened between 1820 and 1825, after the Carnaby Market was closed, which is when most of the property was purchased by a Lord Craven. 5 and 6 Carnaby Street was demolished and houses were erected in the 1720's, which were of some interest. When Lord Craven began building his pestilential disease house in the 1730's, the street was extended eastward, which later became known as South Row because the houses on its south side also formed the south side of Carnaby Market.

Does anyone actually go to Carnaby Street today? Sure, for those that don’t mind the lines for dressing rooms and cash registers; the village like atmosphere of pedestrian-only Carnaby Street is the perfect flipside. With over 100 shops, bars and restaurants in and around Carnaby Street there is something for anyone looking for that unique look and experience.


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