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The original pop shop

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Number 430 King’s Road in Chelsea’s World’s End has been at the forefront of youth culture and fashion since the 1960s

It is arguable that the 450 sq ft ground floor of the three-storey Victorian end-of-terrace house at 430 King’s Road in west London’s World’s End constitutes a space of cultural importance to rival not only the world’s greatest museums and galleries but also the likes of Andy Warhol’s Factory, or even London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts.

Indeed the cast of characters who have passed through the slender portals – from Warhol himself, Cecil Beaton and Charles Saatchi to Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious and Madonna – are enough to guarantee its place in history.

A retail outlet since its establishment as Joseph Thorn’s pawnbroker’s in the late 19th century, it has also performed as a dolly-bird boutique, psychedelic hippie haven, Pop Art fashion experiment and – in particular in the 1970s and early 80s – as a fulcrum for the exchange of subversive artistic, political and social ideas expressed through an explosive mixture of design, fashion and music.

As one-time occupant, the late cultural provocateur Malcolm McLaren, told me in 2008: ‘It is magical. When I arrived there I felt I had found my home, somewhere I could practice my alchemy. There isn’t another place in the world like it.’

Mr Freedom

Mr Freedom (September 1969 - December 1970)

In the absence of a plaque erected by a benign authority, 430 King’s Road is these days remarkable as a prettified and recently refurbed version of the last manifestation in which McLaren was involved: the early 80s New Romantic outlet Worlds End, still run by his former partner Vivienne Westwood and featuring an Olde Curiosity Shoppe frontage and ornate backwards-spinning 13-hour clock.

But what catalysed this small environment into significance and why did the great, the good, as well as the mad, bad and dangerous-to-know, congregate there in such numbers?

As ever with property, location is all, for this Thames-side neighbourhood has a deep history of licentiousness, transgression and transformation, themes distilled and played out ever since it was occupied by the Cremorne Pleasure Gardens in the mid-1800s (then described as ‘a territory of the demi-monde frequented by dandies and women of questionable morals’).

Land development and industrialisation was completed by the arrival of the Lots Road Power Station, which in turn created a nexus of grimy slums. Socially minded clearance was started in the early 20th century and accelerated by heavy bombing during the Second World War.

This made way for the densely populated Cremorne Estate, where social housing has ensured that World’s End has never fallen prey to gentrification. After a post-war period as a café, a yacht agency and a scooter dealership, the address made its first entry in fashion as The 430 Boutique, reflecting the fleeting changes of Swinging London and run by Bill Fuller and Carol Derry as selling ‘the cheapest clothes this side of Biba’s’.

Their establishment gave way to hippy outlet Hung On You in 1967, operated by Michael Rainey and Jane Ormsby Gore, who mixed ethnic clothing, psychedelics and fine tailoring in equal measure.

Two years later it was transformed into Pop Art fashion mecca Mr Freedom, but such was its success – Beaton acquired 25 garments to feature in the V&A’s first ever contemporary fashion show, An Anthology – that Mr Freedom was in place for less than 18 months before shifting to larger premises in Kensington.

One of the partners, Trevor Myles, stayed to pioneer the boom in pre-worn and faded denim with Paradise Garage, but was replaced after six months by former art student McLaren and Vivienne Westwood.

They rang the changes first with Teddy Boy outlet Let It Rock – named after McLaren’s favourite Chuck Berry song and counting among its clientele young advertising executive Charles Saatchi, who loaded his Rolls-Royce up with original 1950s 45s and 78s – and then Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die, which paid tribute to the leather and chains of British rocker culture.

Subsequent transitions – first into Sex and then Seditionaries: Clothes For Heroes – not only rode the zeitgeist but became an integral part of the forward motion of popular culture as the Sex Pistols burned their way through the world’s media. Warhol himself stopped by and asked for a one-off  T-shirt design featuring just the names ‘Johnny Rotten’ and ‘Sid Vicious’. Naturally, and doubtless impolitely, his request was declined.

The final flourish was the refurbishment as Worlds End in the autumn of 1980. ‘I wanted to create a pirate galleon so people felt they could now leave the King’s Road,’ said McLaren, who oversaw the reconstruction of the premises to invoke magic and romance in the era of the new generation of performers with whom he worked, including Adam Ant, Boy George and Bow Wow Wow. The jarring exterior was matched by interior walls in brilliant turquoise and deliberately sloped flooring, which gives the impression of being on a listing ship. Light bulbs were shellacked with copper to create ‘an afterglow of a distant, romantic and exotic past’.

Had McLaren had his way, 430 would have been changed once again a year later to reflect his ethnological musical adventures around the world, which resulted in the Duck Rock album. Westwood, now keen to follow the path of a conventional fashion designer, sanely ruled against this plan, and so another strange store – part archaeological dig/part anthropological lesson and called Nostalgia Of Mud – was opened off Oxford Street in 1982.

This presaged the McLaren/Westwood split; he high-tailed it to Hollywood and the designer kept the shop, the appearance of which has remained unchanged for decades.

Others make occasional attempts to plug into the energy of the original series of environments, such as the reproduction of Seditionaries’ interior at the New York Met’s Punk: Chaos To Couture show in 2013 and the invocation of the facade for Louis Vuitton’s A/W 2015 menswear catwalk show in Paris earlier this year.

A recent refurbishment has seen 430 King’s Road reopen to pretty much the original design. These days it is a heritage site more likely to appear on tourist apps than act as the base for expression and exchange of contemporary ideas. The clock outside continues to whir backwards, apparently to a time when the address was home to more than just the selling of clothes.

Mr Freedom (September 1969 - December 1970)

Mr Freedom interior

Tommy Roberts was intent on making a show and creating a stage set, employing four recently graduated fine arts students, who had set up business as Electric Colour Company, ‘customisers in 3-D’, to handle the refit. Customers – among them Paloma Picasso, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Sellers, Elton John and Mick Jagger – were enveloped in a total Pop environment to match the Disney character T-shirts, velvet hot-pants and absurdist display pieces, which included artists Sue and Simon Haynes’ 8ft-tall blue fun fur rendition of King Kong.

Paradise Garage (May - October 1971)

Paradise Garage

Splitting from Tommy Roberts, Trevor Myles went to Americana, exoticism and used clothing, importing bales of denim, Hawaiian shirts and leopard-print jeans and fixing on the concept of a dustbowl mid-Western gas station/shack. Once again Electric Colour Company came up trumps with a towering verdigris-flavoured corrugated iron facade decorated with bamboo lettering. The theme was developed in the interior’s makeshift sales counter, resting on painted oil-drums, the raffia matting adorning the floor, walls and ceiling and the pair of birds of paradise which chirruped in a bamboo cage.

Let It Rock (November 1971 - Spring 1973)

Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood

With Myles bored and frolicking in Jamaica, 430 was taken over by Malcolm McLaren, who had recently left Goldsmiths College after eight years at various London art schools. Settling in to sell the original 50s rock and roll records he had accumulated with his grant money, he saw that engaging in fashion ‘seemed as artistic as anything else you might do…opening Let It Rock was an extension of my studio, like jumping into the musical end of painting’. With art-school chum Patrick Casey and his partner, schoolteacher Vivienne Westwood, the back of 430 was dedicated to a carefully constructed recreation of an imaginary  Teddy Boy’s sitting room in Willesden in the 1950s: a fitting installation for one who had studied environmental art and urban interventions.

Sex (Autumn 1974 - November 1976)

Sex

Having developed an interest in the potency and fetishism of leatherwear and rocker apparel, McLaren worked with a trained wheelwright and carpenter Vic Mead to produce a facade and interior which, when combined with the clothing designs created with Westwood, expressed his desire to blow the lid off British sexual repression. An astounding social and political statement masquerading as a retail fashion space, Sex became the hub of London’s avant-garde and in doing so was the incubator not only of the Sex Pistols but also the wider Punk movement. From the 4ft high pink vinyl sign to the walls draped in flesh-coloured, soft latex, with fetish accoutrements and bold clothing designs in rubber, leather, nylon and vinyl, the package made for a socially and sexually charged atmosphere suitable for revolution.

Seditionaries: Clothes For Heroes (December 1976 - Autumn 1980)

Seditionaries

Customer Ben Kelly’s realisation of the UK’s first commercial High Tech/industrial design – for Paul Howie’s boutique in Covent Garden – prompted a commission when McLaren and Westwood opted to inaugurate a new phase at 430 to match Punk’s urgency. A fortress-like atmosphere of impenetrability was enforced by an apparently anonymous facade based around stark neon, metal grills, an etched name-plate and exposed venting. ‘The shop had to look like a ruin, albeit a perfectly designed ruin,’ said McLaren. With bright nylon-covered Adeptus seating, photographic murals adorning the walls displayed scenes of devastation in the aftermath of the Dresden bombings, lit by harsh lighting, some beaming through the jagged holes McLaren himself punched into the ceiling. The brutalism of Seditionaries’ interior appeared to be in conversation with the built environment in the immediate vicinity: Eric Lyons’ hulking World’s End Estate – which continues to loom over 430 King’s Road today – was finally completed within a couple of months of Seditionaries’ opening.

Paul Gorman’s book Malcolm McLaren: The Biography will be published by Constable & Robinson in 2017

 

 

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