Film fans, Edgar Wright stans, artists and designers - rejoice. No, seriously, rejoice in the opportunity to create artwork inspired by Wright’s upcoming movie Last Night In Soho. The work will be judged and selected creators picked by Wright himself, with 4 selected creators landing $2,000 each and the chance to have their work used in the promotional marketing for the movie.
The brief, however, is a little tricky. Asking artists to create work that doesn’t show a talent likeness is one thing (which we’ve provided tips around, here), but the ask is also to be inspired by the movie’s themes of 1960s London, retro fashion, and how the exciting, glamorous London plays against its foreboding and seedy side.
We enlisted the wisdom of fashion historian Liz Tregenza, to help bring ‘60s London back to life.
1. What does the term ‘Swinging Sixties’ – and specifically ‘Swinging London’ – refer to?
The term Swinging London applies to the mid-sixties fashion and cultural scene which was dominated by the young. It was a modern revolution, stripping off the conservative image which Britain and London had long been associated with. The April 1966 cover of Time helped to define, internationally, what the Swinging Sixties were, but much of the cultural explosion behind it had started in the late 1950s; the rise of café culture, the new pop art scene and a younger more democratic feeling in the fashion industry.
TIME Magazine cover by Geoffrey Dickinson
2. Which societal and political factors drove the art, fashion, and music scenes?
Lots of changes happened in the 1960s which gave young people more freedom than ever before. For men, the end of national service in 1960 and for women the 1967 family planning act that opened up the contraceptive pill to women- married or not. Really these meant that young people did not have to grow up so quickly. Government grants also opened up tertiary education- there was an of art school trained creatives who came of age in the 1960s and helped to define the design industries.
3. What drew people to London as the place to be (and be seen)?
As the capital London has always drawn people to it- but the 1960s were really a decade for new opportunities in the city. New shops, cafes and restaurants were springing up at a rapid pace across the West End of London.
4. What are three words you’d use to describe the spirit and culture of 60s London as a whole?
Young, Kooky and way-in. These are words they would have used to describe it in the '60s, too.
5. What were some of the biggest cultural innovations to come out of London during that time (whether it be through art, music, fashion or design)?
I think the biggest has to be the mini (both the car and the skirt!). Both were perfect for London life really, and epitomised a freedom of movement that was really integral to the swinging sixties.
Culturally you also have to look at the rising cult of the celebrity. The 1960s saw the arrival of the first British supermodels. Patti Boyd, Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy. All of these very young women helped to define the look of the decade.
6. How did fashion shift attitudes and society more broadly? What did people express through the way they dressed?
I think fashion shifted attitudes because it was about freedom and breaking away from the status quo. The 1960s were really the decade when ready-to-wear clothes became high fashion. Until then fashions had trickled down from the Paris haute couture with styles gradually distilled by manufacturers in Britain, but the 1960s was the first decade really where London designers defined the fashion silhouette internationally.
7. Who were some of the standout designers – and what was their style/aesthetic defined by? Why did their work resonate at the time?
Many of the designers who made it big were young and female. They were designing clothes both they and their peers wanted to wear. Teenage fashion in the 1950s had typically been a diluted version of ‘mothers’ wardrobe, but the 1960s designers creating a whole new look. Mary Quant, with her signature 5-point bob designed by Vidal Sassoon, was perhaps the most famous. Her boutique, Bazaar on the Kings road wasn’t just somewhere to buy clothes, it was a place where the fashionable elite gathered.
There were others who, at the time, were almost as important as Quant. Norwegian born Kiki Byrne for example who trained at Harrow School of Art was often posited as Quant’s Chelsea rival. Other names include Foale and Tuffin, Angela Cash at London Town and Jean Muir’s label Jane and Jane.
The most prominent designs of the 1960s were really quite simple- shift dresses and miniskirts in bright colours with statement fastenings dominated. These were easily copied by women up and down the country, even those with only the most basic sewing skills.
Women were also seeing these bold modern fashions in a number of new magazines that were released in the 1960s, the most notable were Honey and Petticoat. The tagline of petticoat was ‘for the young and fancy free’ which really speaks of the era!
8. What – and who – defined the London sound in terms of music in this era?
The music scene of the 1960s, like the fashion scene, was dominated by youth. One of the biggest bands were the Beatles, whilst from Liverpool they still really represented the sound of swinging London. Other bands like The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who and Small Faces also helped to define the sound of the decade.
9. Where were some of the main creative hotspots in 60s London?
There were two key areas really- Chelsea and Soho.
A number of fashion figures had opened boutiques in Chelsea in the mid 1950s, and it continued to be a really important area throughout the 1960s. Bazaar, Top Gear, Countdown and Granny Takes a Trip were all on the Kings Road. At the centre of Soho was Carnaby Street, where most of the men’s boutiques were located. The area was pulsating with bars, cafes and nightclubs too.