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Celebrated fashion market is forced to close after 30 years

LONDON IS set to lose one of the most famous landmarks of its fashion scene with the closure of Kensington Market early next year.

The Gothic labyrinth of lock-up shops, where Zandra Rhodes and Freddie Mercury once had stalls and Boy George and Lynne Franks used to shop, is going to close after 30 years.

The lease, owned by Kensington Market Ltd, expires at the end of this month. The market's 120 traders have been told they can stay for a few more months provided they sign a contract promising to vacate the premises by 29 January.

But stallholders are fighting to preserve the bastion of retro chic. Anastasiou Michael, who has been there since the market opened in 1969, says the extra four months do not make any difference. Like others, he is refusing to sign any contract to extend his time there and has instructed lawyers to sue for compensation.

Another trader, Joe Oksuzer, said: "Kensington Market is a living legend. You can't just close it down. People come here from all over the world - Japan, Italy, France. We are fighting. I have contacted my solicitor and he said that because we have been here so many years they can't just chuck us out like this."

The west London undercover market, which dressed the hippies in the Sixties, the punks in the Seventies and the Goths in the Eighties, is still a thriving emporium in the Nineties. Its array of floral synthetic tops, patchwork coats, crushed velvet, studded belts and loon pants make it a magnet for tourists and young people.

One of its most famous features is the clock repair stall run by Mr Michael, whose well-known customers have included Richard Branson, Margaret Thatcher, Princess Diana and the Queen.

Relative necomers to the market, such as Suzana McCabe, of Unique, a fashion stall selling one-off designs to stars such as Posh Spice,are also sad to see the market go.

"It is a living market," said Ms McCabe. "Why should it close after 30 years? England is going to end up looking like Europe with lots of big stores."