When you think about the movement of scenes in London, you can't help but think what might have been- had original modernists not picked a small side street called Carnaby street. The same way that the 1990 YBA crowd made an impact on the East End - but thats another post for another day.
Homosexuality was illegal in the UK until 1967, Its not really highlighted as a touch paper to swinging London. Coincidentally or not the law change was also the same year as the summer of love. There were menswear shops on Newburgh street way before Carnaby street, in Londons west end; most notably Vince Man's shop that catered predominantly to gay customers way back in 1954.
The shop was opened by Bill (sometimes Basil) Green a muscle-boy photographer and craftsman, his shop ran up until 1969. 007 Sean Connery famously modelled for Vince Man's shop in their summer 1957 brochure after just winning some body building world championship or other- Sean modelled a Capri shirt, slim jeans with a turn-up and espadrilles.
Taking your 2021 head off for a second you have to understand that wearing bright colours or even slim fit clothing pre-1960's could get you in some really hot water. So if you wanted to express yourself sartorially what ever your leanings there were only a handful of stores to visit. Pablo Picasso bought Suede trousers and The King of Denmark picked up shirts it at Vince Man's Shop -certainly wasn't cheap.
The stores were strategically positioned close to theatre land and marketed as stage and costume outfitters so that the windows would remain in tact. Being a stones throw from Soho and the Marshall Street baths were also strategic for the shop owners of these more exciting menswear emporiums. The 1950's stores catering to a more open minded consumer relied heavily on mail order, to avoid stigma at that time.
From 1954 through to 1964 Carnaby street was a quiet side street sandwiched between Regent Street and Newburgh Street and good old seedy Soho. A Glaswegian called John Stephen was instrumental in changing fashion retail and to a certain degree menswear nationwide, possibly internationally- he certainly put Carnaby street on the London map.
In 1955 John Stephens moved to London and spent time working for Moss Brothers clothing chain and also did a stint at the aforementioned Vince Man's shop as well as working in new fangled espresso Cafes in the evening. As a London out of towner evolving and hanging out with the emerging modernist movement his left-field view gave a vibrancy needed in clothing to match everything else that was going on in London at the time.
A year after this article in 1964 any self respecting modernist would not be seen on the street, it was the beginning of the end. An over commercialisation of a mod-mod world where the word Mod as with this article was plastered all over the W1 side street.
The Kinks song Dedicated Follower of Fashion lines 'Everywhere the Carnabetion army marches on, each one a dedicated follower of fashion' The voice used by Ray Davies was a fingers up to the BBC talking like a 'ten pound note' English accent or 'Look at Life' TV presenter. The young modernists were getting pissed off with being reported on called out and trying to be understood by the squares (no change there then).
Don Arden moved his record label HQ to the street, folklore has it opening an account for his Small Faces at John Stephens shops and breaking the bank. Many summers later The Jam shot a couple of Union Jack emblazoned press and sleeve cover shots on the street, the street became a pastiche.
This Anglozine Sunday supplement from our archive of rare magazines and zines; The Observer 8th November 1964. Dedicated to the million pound Mod, John Stephen:
"They all come pouring off the M1" The M1 motorway...............
Right I'm off to a spit and sawdust pub.