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Nifty Fifty

The district that spawned mod fashion celebrates its golden anniversary.

Author Christine H. O'Toole


Image – Conde Nast Archive / Corbis

CARNABY STREET, the trendy London district that helped popularize the miniskirt, is turning 50 this year. But don’t expect a neighborhood made famous by the Rolling Stones and the Sex Pistols to let down its hemlines. With free concerts scheduled for June 5 and 6, Carnaby Street rocks on.

At the beginning of the Swinging ’60s, fashionistas started swarming the narrow lanes off Regent Street, London’s grand shopping boulevard. The Georgian storefronts on these little roads housed increasingly edgy designer boutiques. One of the fashion mavens drawn to them was Zandra Rhodes, who started her couture career as a textile designer at the tiny Foale & Tuffin boutique. Using Rhodes’ brilliantly patterned fabrics, Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin helped put tiny skirts, colored tights and the now-infamous pantsuit on the fashion map.

The inspiration for the Carnaby Street look? Pop Art, says Rhodes. “It was Andy Warhol and the Union Jack and the U.S. stars and stripes and top hats—both sides of the Atlantic in a higgledy-piggledy mix.” Rockers took notice. The vintage military jackets from a boutique called I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet showed up on Jimi Hendrix and influenced the cover of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The district also played a role in the emergence of punk, funk and hip-hop. And while the music may have changed, you can bet today’s fashionistas still stop in to pay homage to shops such as The Great Frog and Lambretta.

One Response to “Nifty Fifty”

  1. Carol Says:
    May 3rd, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    I remember buying my first Laura Ashley frock from a boutique in swinging London — still have it, still love it. Thanks for the nod to the thrill of Mod fashion.

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