2010 is an exciting year for Carnaby as it marks the 50th anniversary since its famous heyday in the swinging 60’s. This iconic time, though documented and reminisced about extensively, only lasted 10 years and noone has really investigated the previous history of the area… until now.
For the first anniversary celebrations, landowners Shaftesbury commissioned LCF’s Judith Clark and Amy de la Haye to curate an exhibition of the history of Carnaby Street. A 3D timeline takes us through a wealth of facts about the area. The first records are from 1590 when Thomas Poultney bought 2 fields that lay across the location. The street was named after Karnaby House which lay on the east side of the street in 1686 and so it goes on.
Of course the street gained attention in the early 60’s, when youth culture evolved to be so different from what came before. The kids didn’t want to emulate their parents and a revolution in music and style evolved. The mods had adopted Ben Sherman as their brand of choice. Bands such as David Bowie, The Action, The Birds, The Who, Squeeze, Madness would all get their button down shirts from Carnaby Street and could be found hanging out in the area.; for kudos and credibility it was THE place to be seen.
Original 60’s dresses
The area lost its lustre in the 80’s and 90’s but due to the recent revival, many now make the pilgrimage to the famous street to enjoy its independent boutiques and international brands. But how many of the visitors know that this street was also the location for a pestilence house that housed plague victims? We may all be walking on skeletons that were ‘unceremoniously heaped into plague pits’ in the area. The exhibition interestingly notes that the macabre use of skull iconography, often used by designers, can be traced back to that era.
The opening night was a fabulous affair with lots of fashion industry heads in attendance, testament to the quality of the event. A book accompanies the exhibition and I’d definitely recommend popping in when you are in the area…. at least one good thing came out of having an empty shop unit.
Carnaby Street: 1960-2010 is on until April 10 at 38 Carnaby Street. Admission free.