John Stephen, creator of Carnaby Street, honoured for his contribution to London
Saturday 03 September 2005
John Stephen, who died in February last year, is credited with creating Carnaby Street, building an empire of 15 fashion boutiques there with his business partner Bill Franks. Under his influence, the once unheard-of thoroughfare tucked away behind Oxford Street came to rival the Kings Road as the trendiest place to shop in the 1960s.
In recognition of his achievements, Westminster City Council is to unveil a blue plaque in his name at 1 Carnaby Street, close to the site of his first shop, His Clothes. His other outlets were Mod Male and Male West One, all frequented by the era's leading pop stars, models and actors.
As well as attracting The Beatles, The Who and The Rolling Stones, they were a magnet for ordinary youngsters desperate to escape their parents' world of stuffy suits and blouses.
What they clamoured for was a range of styles that have been copied and absorbed into mainstream fashion houses ever since. His trademarks were hipster trousers, floral shirts, mini kilts for men, low-slung elephant cord trousers, androgynous velvet double-breasted jackets, and caftans for men.
The gay Glaswegian hailed from an unlikely background. A failed welder's apprentice, he cut a "handsome and dashing" figure. Arriving in London aged 18, within two years he had bought himself his first Rolls Royce. He achieved this by spotting the potential of Levi's shrink-to-fit jeans and importing them directly from the States to sell by mail order.
He led an extravagant lifestyle, dining in the finest restaurants such as the Ivy and the Mirabelle, always accompanied by his beloved German shepherd, Prince.
The fashion designer Mary Quant, who met Stephen several times, said: "He made Carnaby Street. He was Carnaby Street. He invented a look for young men which was wildly exuberant, dashing and fun."
His friend and business partner of 48 years, Bill Franks, 68, remembers him as "the youngest person to get a Rolls Royce at that time - he had one before The Beatles.In those days people who had Rolls Royces were lords - not ordinary people, which is what John was, and that's precisely why he got it. He would get stopped by the police, and they would ask him 'what are you driving your father's car for?' "
According to Mr Franks, he never let fame and fortune go to his head. "He was always there for people, and would help anyone out who was down on their luck."
There were difficult times too. When he was 34, Stephen was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in his neck, which was successfully treated with radiotherapy. He was diagnosed with cancer again in 1999, eventually succumbing to the disease in 2004, aged 69.
Mr Franks added: "A lot of other designers got MBEs, but he didn't really get anything. I am very please that this plaque is going up - if anybody deserves it, he certainly does."
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