Which way to Carnaby Street?

We reflect on how the colourful history of London’s Carnaby Street is still reflected in its retail mix today

With some of the world’s biggest brands having recently demonstrated a commitment to Carnaby Street, with both adidas Originals and Levi’s opening new stores on this iconic street, this got us thinking about ‘Location, Location, Location’. We reflect on consumers longterm love of Carnaby Streets fashion, music and community atmosphere and examine how this has been purposely reflected within the retail mix today, more than 50 years since its height of fame.


Word on the Street

Gritty but prospering 1960’s London, was fuelled by post-war optimism and an entrepreneurial spirit. Many fashion traditions were being broken in an act of rebellion, mirroring the social and political changes of the time. It was an era where hemlines rose, trouser legs loosened, and no beehive was too high. Carnaby Street was at the heart and soul of this movement, attracting a vibrant network of forward-thinking fashionistas, running their own ‘on the ground’ boutiques, cafes and bars. The rebellious individuals of the time flocked to ‘see and be seen’ on Carnaby Street, were the boutiques were distinctly different from traditional formulaic-style department stores. The Streets popularity was reflected in its turnover which was more than £5million in 1966 alone.



Carnaby Streets DNA of London cool was also thriving with a growing number of independent music shops and clubs, creating a reputation as the heart of the popular music scene. Young people gathered on Carnaby’s boutique lined streets in the hopes of spotting the Beatles or a Rolling Stone. Quite simply Carnaby Street was where it was at.


Continual Reinvention

More than 50 years on, Carnaby Street is attracting big brands looking to take a bite of the authentic, intimate and creative free spirit that the area projects. Newly opened on Carnaby Street this October, the adidas Originals store demonstrates how to play upon the rich fashion and culture of the area. The store is designed as a hub for creatives to come together for collaborative opportunities through the use of an art installation space and DJ area, both of which are available to be used by anybody who wishes to do so. A clear nod to the historically rich, musical and creative community of Carnaby Street. US denim label Levi’s’ newly opened store in Soho, a stone’s throw away from Carnaby Street, also takes inspiration from Carnaby’s individualism and progressive thinking to lay the foundations for a more sustainable future; The store features vintage clothing, tailoring, customisation and repair services. This demonstrates how Carnaby Street encourages brands to reset their thinking and try new creative ideas.


Amplifying the Musical Heritage

‘RS No.9 Carnaby Street’, the Rolling Stones flagship store, is a direct link to Carnaby Streets eclectic musical and fashion fuelled past heritage. The store creates an interactive experience for fans to immerse themselves in the world of the Stones. Dr. Martens, a brand that’s been an integral part of the music scene for five decades, also has a store on Carnaby Street – another example of a nod to the streets musical heritage. These stores stand today as a vital part of maintaining the fashion and musical culture associated with Carnaby Street, and you may also still be ‘in with a chance’ of spotting a Rolling Stone!



Continuing the musical theme into the present day, Carnaby Street provides a free music festival ‘Soho Music Month’. The festival is held every year to celebrate the abundance of rich musical heritage and influence, still very much present on the Street. There’s also a number of cultural events and initiatives organized by Carnaby Street throughout the year; these include charity partnership ‘Choose Love’, sustainability initiative ‘Project Zero’ and the educational program ‘21 Youth Street’. All of these initiatives share the common theme of supporting the community on Carnaby Street.


Retails still groovy on Carnaby Street

Carnaby Streets colourful, creative and rebellious heritage provides the perfect opportunity for brands and retailers on the street today to experiment with forward-thinking store concepts. Not only have adidas Originals and Levi’s done this, other leading fashion brands such as Timberland, Ted Baker, Puma, END, 21Youth Street, Pro:Direct and Size? have also chosen the area to establish experimental and unique store formats.

As stores open again next week after a second lockdown in the UK, we look forward to Carnaby Street coming alive again and a new decade of retail innovation!

If you need support to develop your retail environments we can help. Contact Jenny Hillier at jenny@briggshillier.com

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Jenny Hillier

24th November 2020