It's half a century since the advent of that most momentous of decades for youth culture, the 1960s. At it's heart was Carnaby Street, icon of Swinging London and magnet for dedicated followers of fashion. A new book and local exhibition by fashion historians Judith Clark and Amy de la Haye, celebrate this colourful area.
Carnaby Street: 1960-2010 is a double misnomer. Firstly (and rightly) the exhibition considers the wider neighbourhood to Regent Street and Marshall Street - an area dubbed simply 'Carnaby' by marketeers and certain adverts in our sidebar. Second, the timeline stretches back much further than the 60's. It's an unusual but welcome contrast to read of the plague pits, cholera epidemics and semi-rural history of the land alongside tales of high fashion and rock & roll. But make no mistake, this is first and foremost about the last half century, and the various fashion and musical trends that have washed through these streets.
Like the industry and culture it represents, the exhibition is a riot of colour, neatly marrying style and substance. If you choose to peruse it via the book, your senses will be further stimulated by the smell. Yes, the smell. The book comes wrapped in some kind of funky acrylic sheath, adding to its tactile appeal and giving your living room that heady aroma of freshly painted wall. Inside, historical anecdotes jostle with full-page photos, psychedelic prints and blown-up song lyrics. In a genius bit of design, as styles get smoother, so does the quality of the paper. It's the closest you'll get to having the swinging sixties in one baking-tray-sized volume.
The content, while going into no great depth, gives a decent overview of the changes that have taken place - from the rise of John Stephen's fashion empire and the 'groovy, baby' culture parodied in Austin Powers, through to mod and punk influences, into the bleaker period of the 80s and 90s, and on to the revival of the area in the Noughties. If there's one notable omission, it's the Spirit of Soho mural, which stands on the corner of Broadwick Street - an incredible piece of art, with the similar purpose of celebrating the area. But no mention.
Minor quibbles aside, if you're a fashion junky, sixties aficionado or just want to learn more about how one street changed the world, we can only say 'yeah, baby, yeah!'.