Once the east ends teddy boys had got the ball rolling in the early 50’s excitement over new street fashion cults continued to gain momentum. Modern jazz enthusiasts kitted themselves out in the very latest and sharpest Ivy League looks, young Londoners hit the streets dressed to the nines in bespoke tailored clothes, immaculately presented and with a fiercely individual approach to subtle detailing and style.
When Mod went overground it spearheaded a new look for the decade. Indeed the very idea that you could have a look was in itself a radical notion that reverberated around the country and appeared to echo in the era of the fabulous, swinging sixties.
New fashions and looks began to appear seemingly overnight from small isolated zones of Britains capital. Fresh attitudes, desperate to light up the grey, somber streets of Britain, combined with an incredible talent not just for sensational shapes and styles of clothing design innovation but with a canny eye for setting up and controlling their own routes to market.
The era of boutique-mania had arrived and for the next few year a feverish explosion of small, flamboyant shops appeared across London. These boutiques were owned and run by a new, with-it breed of young designers and entrepreneurs catering for and specifically targeting people their own age, a new generation of hipsters eager to blow there money on the only thing that mattered; the latest looks and newest gear to be seen in.
In 1967 the Gear guidebook arrived. It was exactly as it claimed, a guidebook to the best places to shop the latest styles across the capital. This small pocket sized guide featured a neat round up of addresses leading the reader to the very latest in boutique heaven along with a brief but concise story to Londons emerging status as the centre of fashionable innovation.
The bulk of the names of the designers and stores featured reveal a who’s who of 60’s fashions front runners; design innovators like Mary Quant, John Stephen (the amount of entry’s in the store list is enough to cement the claim for Stephens title of The King of Carnaby Street) and Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin.
Other well known shops and owners like Nigel Waymouth of Granny Takes a Trip, Michael Rainey of Hung On You and I Was Lord Kitcheners Valet are reminders of how as well as new approaches to men’s and women’s fashion, this period also saw the birth of vintage clothing being donned as a specifc style statement. This divergence of looks is pinpointed geographically in the book with the twisting, pop fizz of Carnaby Street and the supremely stoned and arty ambience of the Kings Road representing the two main sites for boutique hunters in search of a new look.
Interspersed in the book are some wonderful pen and ink illustrations of swinging hipsters that perfectly capture the naivety and nerve of the periods fashions.
A faithful reproduction of the Gear guide has recently been released. It offers a great snapshot of the carousel of inventiveness that was mid 60’s London fashion, where a revolution in design and retail presentation echoed in a sense of the new and where the consumers themselves fully participated in making sixties London swing.