No swirling graphic or mind-bending print has been left unturned in the Fashion & Textile Museum’s new exhibition Beautiful People: The Boutique in 1960s Counterculture. The immersive show is a vibrant celebration of Sixties fashion, looking at how the youthquake translated into a creative hotbed of radical designers, most of them based in or around SW3. With eight of the decade’s most iconic stores recreated, Biba, Mr Fish and Hung On You among them, and pieces worn by the likes of George Harrison and Jimi Hendrix on display, it’s a trip down memory lane in more ways than one.
Mid-60s London and there was one place to be: the King’s Road. This was the street that set trends.
A perfect storm of changing societal attitudes towards gender and sexuality, anti-establishment views and freedom of expression resulted in a creative hotbed in SW3 with radical designers – Barbara Hulanicki, Ossie Clark, Celia Birtwell among them – catering to a youthful, experimental crowd.
As singer and 60s icon Marianne Faithfull said: “We were young, rich and beautiful, and the tide – we thought – was turning in our favour. We were going to change everything, of course, but mostly we were going to change the rules.”
Alongside the explosion of youth culture, the Op Art movement – a form of abstract art that gives the illusion of movement – was gathering momentum through artists such as Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely. Op Art patterns began popping up on everything from clothes to furniture – psychedelia had arrived.
Some six decades later, we have gone full circle as designers such as Prada, Raf Simons and Marine Serre turn to optical prints and geometric motifs in their collections. Perhaps, as has been suggested, like the youthquake of the 60s, these mind-bending swirls and whirls tap into the zeitgeist, echoing our own pandemic-induced turmoil. Who knows?
But it seems prescient that the Fashion and Textile Museum’s new major exhibition this autumn is Beautiful People: The Boutique in 1960s Counterculture, which explores how a handful of era-defining Chelsea boutiques sparked a fashion revolution.
Eight of the decade’s most influential stores – Hung On You, Granny Takes A Trip, Biba, Apple Boutique, Apple Tailoring, Mr Fish, Dandie Fashions and Quorum – have been faithfully recreated – a vision of oversized lapels, experimental graphics, flamboyant florals and striking tailoring – while the era’s most recognisable garments worn by the likes of Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix and Keith Moon are also on display.
For a joyful, colourful trip down memory lane, this is it. We’ve never needed it more.
‘Beautiful People: The Boutique in 1960s Counterculture’ is at the Fashion and Textile Museum from 1 October – 13 March 2022