John Stephen – the man who made Carnaby Street While most of those involved in Swinging London’s most famous fashion outlet, Carnaby Street, have now become part of the national psyche, the street’s most influential character, John Stephen, the man who made London swinging, has largely been forgotten. Born in Glasgow in 1934, Stephen first worked as a welder before, aged 18, moving to London in 1952 where he found a job in the military department at Moss Bros in Covent Garden. Just four years later he opened his first shop on Beak Street, which – after a fire – relocated to an insignificant, narrow sidestreet in Soho: Carnaby Street. Together with his business partner and boyfriend Bill Franks, Stephen would go on to revolutionise fashion retailing. His shop, His Clothes, was painted canary yellow, pop music played in the background and the sales assistants were young and hip – a stark contrast to the somber and formal shopping experience in contemporary department stores like Moss Bros where Stephen had started out. More than anything however, Stephen had a talent for getting men interested in fashion. He realised that young men no longer wanted to look like carbon copies of their fathers in work suits and grey flannels. Instead he was the first to import Levi jeans and sold afforable simple three-button jackets and brightly coloured Italian shirts. By 1967 Stephen operated a chain of 15 shops, including women’s wear, on Carnaby Street alone with branches all over London, the US, Oslo and Rome. The first real fashion mogul, the flamboyant Stephen bought his first Rolls Royce for his 20th birthday. Legend has it he was stopped by police many times thinking he had taken his father’s car. Stephen continued to innovate with androgynous fashion, the fast turn-over of stock so common in modern retailing and an impressive range of what today would be known as celebrity endorsement. Everybody from the Beatles to the Rolling Stones, Elizabeth Taylor, The Who or The Small Faces wanted to dress in his clothes. Carnaby Street’s influence was mainly down to Stephen and his fashion empire. A victim of its own popularity, the street soon became a tourist attraction, leaving the original Soho scene to move elsewhere. Stephen closed down his by then financially struggling brand in 1975 – the archive went to the V&A – and largely withdrew from public life. He stayed in fashion retail however and imported European fashion under the name of Francisco-M and opened the first Lanvin franchise in the UK. John Stephen died in 2004. There is a small commemorative plaque honoring his legacy at 1 Carnaby Street. 2 Responses Jo, Owner, CutandChicVintage.etsy.com April 25th, 2012 What I would give to have been in the Carnaby Street scene during the sixties! Lena April 26th, 2012 Me too!