Published on November 18, 2013 | by Alistair Shone

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The evolution of King’s Road

King’s Road was once known for punks and their ‘anti-fashion’ style [wikimedia: Axel Hindemith]

King’s Road is one of the most famous streets in London. It runs for two miles through Chelsea and Fulham and remains the heart of west London. Today it is mainly associated with designer clothing, luxury restaurants and the fashionistas who walk along it.

Made in Chelsea, the E4 reality TV series about rich kids in the West London location, has thrown King’s Road back into the spotlight. However it is not the first time the road has been at the centre of popular culture.

In the 1960s King’s Road started to become a destination for the fashion-hungry. Many independent designers started selling their clothes on the road, with one of the first being Mary Quant.

Her first shop, Bazaar, which she opened with photographer Archie McNair at number 138a, opened in 1955 as the phenomenon of the mini-skirt hit London.

The length of Mary Quant’s skirts – or lack thereof – attracted outrage, but also a young generation rebelling against the elitism of fashion. If the internet had been around back then, Mary Quant’s designs would have gone viral.

In the ‘60s women would buy the latest copy of Vogue and hope that they could find a dressmaker who could more or less copy the exact designs from Paris in the magazines. Quant’s Bazaar shop became a place for young women to buy something new and fresh that wasn’t being paraded in the fashion journals of the time.

Quant told Brenda Polan in The Great Fashion Designers: “It was the girls on the King’s Road who invented the mini. I was making easy, youthful, simple clothes, in which you move, in which you could run and jump and we would make them how the customer wanted. I wore them very short and the customers would say ‘shorter, shorter’.”

In the ’70s, a rebellious schoolteacher and jewellery maker named Vivienne Westwood opened a shop on the King’s Road with Malcolm McClaren. In its first iteration in 1971, the shop, then called Let It Rock, became the centre of the punk fashion movement. Westwood drew inspiration from bikers, prostitutes and fetishism.

Punk rejected fashion as aspirational and featured a lot of leather, ripped clothes, safety pins and razor blades. The shop changed its exterior and name in 1973 to Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die and in 1974 to SEX and later to Seditionaries in 1976. The store’s designs confronted taboos, and a provocative image on a T-shirtled to their prosecution under obscenity laws.

The shop was re-branded again as World’s End and it remains at 430 King’s Road. It is one of, if not the most, striking shop on King’s Road today. The shop has a large cuckoo clock on it’s front and inside, the floors slope to the side.

The store still trades classic Westwood designs and accessories and encourages do-it-yourself designs. However, it seems to be one of the few lasting memories of the rebellious and youthful King’s Road.

Today, it has transformed itself once again. Instead of a group of punks hanging out on the streets, you will find millionaires, chauffeurs and their maids making a daily errand or shopping for a new outfit that will cost them thousands.

King’s Road is beautiful, luxurious and upscale; a stark contrast to the grittier east London, where a new generation have flocked.

The question is whether a life of luxury is the final resting place for King’s Road, or whether it will keep evolving and be the centre of a popular culture movement once again.

Or maybe punks will take over and get back to hanging out on the King’s Road’s now pristine pavements.

 

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