Shades of the Sixties

Exhibition: Beautiful People: The Boutique in 1960s Counterculture at Fashion & Textile Museum, London

Bold colourful prints and mini dresses defined fashion in the Swinging Sixties, but there was a lot more going on behind these designs than their vibrant aesthetic. A new exhibition at the Fashion & Textile Museum in London, Beautiful People: The Boutique in 1960s Counterculture celebrates the London boutiques that shaped the look of this stylish era. 

The Chelsea Set

Co-curated by husband and wife team Mark and Cleo Butterfield, the pair spent a decade creating the  the show which offers visitors a trip down memory lane, where they can experience what it was like on King’s Road, Chelsea in the sixties. Here, eight key boutiques were responsible for inspiring the street style of a generation: Hung On You, Granny Takes A Trip, Biba, Apple Boutique, Apple Tailoring, Mr Fish, Dandie Fashions and Quorum. Some of these stores were short-lived including Apple Tailoring, owned by The Beatles which lasted a year, but during that time, it still drew the attention and imagination of fashion conscious shoppers.

The Birth of Upcycled Fashion

The 1960s was the first time ‘upcycling’ was recognised as a form of fashion, a trend that Cleo who has been selling and hiring vintage since the mid-1960s herself, continues to advocate. At the exhibition launch Cleo explained:“upcycling vintage clothing was an important movement. People finally realised it wasn’t a terrible thing to wear something that someone else had worn. It was a form of anti-consumerism. In the ‘60s there was a rise in mass production of synthetic fabrics which were hideous but then you’d look at clothes from the 1930s which used beautiful fabrics like silk.”

A growing feeling of individualism appealed to young people but it wasn’t just women who found pleasure in prints as Mark explained: “For me this is where menswear really happens. Before this menswear was pretty boring, even the mods. This is when it was ok for men to wear prints. People might have done it before, but not men - though not everyone approved. I remember being on King’s Road and old women would hit me in the street!”

The exhibition is split into three areas, comprising over 100 outfits and incorporates a photography section curated by Terence Pepper and Grace Lee where you can see magazine covers and iconic photos of the 'influencers' of the day such as Twiggy and Jane Asher.

Star Style

On the ground floor the exhibition is split into displays that represent the fashion of each store, complete with logos and shop signs and each piece has its own tale. One of them is the striking floral kaftan on display in the Hung On You section worn by the frontman of the band Kaleidoscope who wore it in the 1960s, and more recently wore it at a reunion tour five years ago and still managed to fit into it! Look out too for outfits worn by the likes of music royalty Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix.

The distinct colourful 1960s aesthetic that is universally recognised comprises layers of influence as Cleo explains: “We saw diverse cultural influences in clothing, the hippies would travel to places like the Silk Road and bring back afghan jackets, we saw romantic influences and William Morris and people would flock to Pontings a fabric store on Kensington High Street to buy prints and old fabrics from the 1940s which would be used in upcycling like patchwork". 

It was known as ‘bricolage’ which in English means DIY – Do It Yourself. Theresa Collenette Assistant Curator from the museum adds: “Finding your own look was about finding yourself. You were going on this journey, it was a development of yourself and travelling to find your individuality.”

Though the exhibition celebrates the work of just eight boutiques Head of Exhibitions at the museum Dennis Northdruft stresses how influential they were: “This was a very specific time period and group of people and boutiques that changed how everyone dressed and though it was short, it continues to influence to this day.”

The exhibition is on from 1stOctober 2021 – 13 March 2022.

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