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  • Writer's pictureRock Tour London

Carnaby Street, Soho, London

Updated: Sep 23, 2021

While Carnaby Street's history goes back to the 1600s, I'm going to start my story's history in the 1950s

In 1952 a gentleman named John Stephen opened a shop called 'His Clothes' on Beak Street. He is credited with being known as the 'founder of Carnaby Street as a World Centre for Mens Fashion in the 1960s' because he moved his shop to 5 Carnaby Street after his Beak Street location burned down. He went on to open 5 more shops on the street. It is said that his merchandise was marketed toward teenagers but London's Rock and Roll Elite were attracted to his fashions. Names like Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks became regulars.

Carnaby was the place to be as it was the epicenter of new culture, new music and anyone with a rebellious identity. The Carnaby Street contingent of Swinging London stormed into international awareness with the April 15, 1966 edition of Time Magazine's cover and article that extolled the street's role in the new movement. Shop owners worked hard to one up each other with outrageous antics that included these two:

To promote the opening of the new boutique 'Tom Cat' owner Irvine Sellar asked Tom

Jones to walk down Carnaby Street with 'Casino Royale' actress Christine Spooner

and a cheetah.

Henry Moss and Harry Fox opened the womenswear boutique called Lady Jane

at 29 Carnaby Street with girls changing in the shop windows, which resulted

in Mr. Fox being arrested for obstructing the highway due to the crowds it drew.

The 1970s brought the iconic 'Carnaby Street Welcomes the World' sign and the street was pedestrianized. Punk Rock emerged with Punk's most iconic picture of The Sex Pistols on Carnaby Street in 1976 taken by photographer Ray Stevenson.

The 1980s delivered a new wave of British designers to the area that included Vivien Westwood and Mary Quant. Carnaby was once again where you went to express your defiant style be it Mod, Punk, Rocker or Goth.

2012 saw Carnaby London collaborating with the Rolling Stones to celebrate their 50th anniversary.

In 2018 Carnaby celebrated the film Bohemian Rhapsody with the launch of a Queen inspired light installation. The lights were switched on in October by Brian May and Roger Taylor and stars of the film including, Oscar winner, Rami Malek.

These days Carnaby Street and the surrounding streets are home to great shops, restaurants and bars. The yearly Christmas light displays are not to be missed but my favorite thing about Carnaby goes back to a story from 1966 when it was satirized by the Kinks in their hit 'Dedicated Follower of Fashion', which contains the line 'everywhere the Carnabetain Army marches on, each one a dedicated follower of fashion'.

Oh yes, he is.

Rock and Roll. London Rock and Roll Tours. London Rock and Roll History.


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