Chelsea Girl: Let's twist again
The revival of Sixties high-street emporium Chelsea Girl brings a touch of fashion nostalgia to a new generation.
Monday 21 March 2011
It's always interesting to note the Proustian resonances that shops can have on our consumer consciousness. Whether your first trip to the mall away from the beady eye of your parents or your first salon appointment on the Rue Cambon, shopping stays in the memory as much as a taste or a smell. The places we haunted as teenagers – invariably now closed down or revamped (for this, read dragged into the Day-Glo realm of the 21st century) – are as fixed in our memories as the music of the time.
Which is why it's no surprise that many a seasoned shopper has a nostalgic glint in their eye at the news of a relaunch of the much-loved British high-street name Chelsea Girl. Defunct since it morphed into River Island in 1988, from 1965 Chelsea Girl offered Mary Quant at manageable prices, and was one of the first stores across the country to provide affordable and trend-led pieces to a young audience desperate for them.
"I loved Chelsea Girl as a youth," says Katie Grand, editor of Love magazine. "There was a huge one in Birmingham and it was one of my favourite places to hang out."
Boasting a selection of modish pieces that were, in the Sixties, relatively difficult to find outside the capital or at pocket money-friendly prices, Chelsea Girl – so named for the capital's fashionable epicentre, the King's Road – was a saviour for the style-savvy teenager. "C&A was the big clothing store we all went to as a family," fashion commentator Caryn Franklin remembers, "but Chelsea Girl was where I headed to declare my independence." And it remained so well into the Seventies and Eighties.
"It was the nearest thing that passed as a happening boutique in Hounslow when I was in my early teens," Franklin adds. "The thing I remember most was that it was pitch-black in there and hard to see anything you were buying, but that – together with the glamorously disinterested shop assistants and Slade soundtrack – was proof of absolute credibility for me."
And this week sees the return of the name, launching as a vintage-inspired (original Chelsea Girl customers may bridle at being classed as this) capsule that will be available from River Island stores nationwide. Taking the brand's heritage as its reference points – and feeding off the near-ubiquitous Seventies aesthetic for summer – the range includes fluid and wispy shapes, bohemian influences, and floral and paisley pieces that could well have walked straight in off Carnaby Street.
"I had a lovely black gathered skirt that I used to wear with a mauve pair of pointy kitten-heel shoes," Katie Grand remembers. "Come to think of it, it was quite 'Prada autumn/ winter 2010'."
Designer Lucy Moller paid heed to the brand's original USP, researching on eBay and in her mother's attic. The collection will be aimed at a younger audience, and the familiar logo is resurrected on cropped cotton T-shirts and tote bags.
"I don't remember Chelsea Girl myself," admits Moller, who joined River Island as a design intern in 2006, but "my mum has such fond memories of the collection. She had kept some of the original clothing in our attic, and I fell in love with a pair of tan suede hotpants with lace fringing – which I would never have imagined my mum wearing!"
Mums in their girlhood is the reason Chelsea Girl is remembered so affectionately – everyone has a paisley minidress or crochet waistcoat lurking in their loft, and there are so many vintage pieces knocking around on eBay that the label has taken on rather a rosy tinge. So it makes sense to offer it to the next generation of shoppers.
As well as arriving in stores this month, the Chelsea Girl redux will also be available at a pop-up shop opening in Selfridges. What was once the beating heart of the British high street is back to prove it still has a finger on the pulse. So no matter what age you are, don't forget to go with hundreds of your friends and clog up the changing rooms for hours – it's all part of the Proustian shopping experience.
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