Words: John-Michael O’Sullivan
Photography: Jamie Kendrick
The giant clock outside number 430 King’s Road runs backwards, at speed, its old-fashioned dials twirling down the hours from thirteen to one. It’s been that way since 1982, pinned onto the hanging tiles that droop over the skewed entrance to World’s End – the last-gasp, bad-fairytale offspring of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. In the thirty-three years since it first opened, the tiny shop (hardly big enough to be a shop at all, in fact, barely even a room) has floated somewhere outside of Greenwich Mean Time, its lurching ship-plank floor and blue-green walls impervious to the city changing outside its casement windows.
In the two decades before World’s End opened, though, number 430 had been on an extraordinary adventure. Wedged in to the west by cheap-and-cheerful restaurants, and to the east by the bulwark of the Chelsea Conservative Club, the shop had regenerated itself several times over – each time either vividly in tune with, or streets ahead of, the pulse of the times. So, before number 430 blossomed into an Enid Blyton fantasyland, it had done hard time as Seditionaries, a stark, ruined space plastered with giant images of bomb-blasted Berlin, lurking behind a blank, shuttered frontage. Before Seditionaries came SEX; bubblegum-pink, scare-the-neighbours, vinyl-wrapped letters floating in front of the scrawled slogan ‘Craft Must Have Clothes/but the truth loves to go naked.’, luring unsuspecting customers (including two young Japanese tourists named Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo) into an interior lined with ripples of latex and adorned with porn-mag graffiti. Before SEX was Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die, selling zoot suits and rocker gear behind a giant painted skull and crossbones. Before TFTLTYTD came Let It Rock, McLaren and Westwood’s first shop, the name sprayed on corrugated metal sheeting outside signal the abandoned jukebox and old posters the chintzy suburban sitting room that lay behind. Before Let It Rock came Trevor Myles’ Paradise Garage, an Americana-obsessed makeshift wonderland of bamboo, oil-drum counters, birds of paradise and raffia matting. Before Paradise Garage’s shrine to vintage denim came Mr. Freedom, the Pop Art fantasy dreamt up by Myles and Tommy Robert. And before Mr. Freedom came Michael Rainey’s seminal menswear shop Hung on You. And before Hung on You that came 4.30, one of the countless boutiques that sprang up all over Chelsea and Fulham in those heedless, low-rent, Technicolor years – the youthquake years when shops like Quorum, opened on backstreets and in living rooms, down basement stairs or in hard-to-find garrets.
Number 430’s history is like a lineage verse from the Old Testament. 4.30 begat Hung on You begat Mr. Freedom begat Paradise Garage begat Let It Rock begat Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die begat SEX begat SEDITIONARIES begat World’s End. Before 4.30, the shop had been other things. But those two decades saw the tiny, back-of-beyond shop develop a presence and an impact that far outweighed its size. Year after year, it replaced the blissed innocence of the Swinging Sixties with danger, chaos, aggression and anarchy – and then, when everything had been shaken beyond redemption, it tucked everyone to bed beneath its fairytale clock, and settled down to an endless happy ending.
But by then it had done what all the best London shops have done in every decade – it left a mark. (In number 430’s case, perhaps less a mark than a scar.) Just like Hyper Hyper and Biba in Kensington, or the ghost of Vexed Generation hovering over Berwick Street market; like Ossie Clark’s Quorum, or Marc Hare’s Something, or Pippa Brooks’ SHOP on Brewer Street, or Yuko Yabiku’s The Pineal Eye, or Andrew Ibi’s The Convenience Store. Every shopping street in London has invisible phantoms lurking behind the Pret-A-Manger facades, of the places that blazed trails both unforgettable and half-forgotten.
It’s 2015, and number 430 Kings Road soldiers on; invincible, yet further away from the centre of things than ever. London’s moved east – to new shops on new streets, like Redchurch Street’s Hostem or Shacklewell Lane’s LN-CC. Recently refurbished, World’s End has reemerged from the hoardings as a shinier, slightly tidier facsimile of itself. Round the corner, the main Kings Road drag still basks in the memories of its long-gone glory. It’s stuck in time, just as number 430 is; just as Savile Row lies sleeping in the endless grey twilight of the Thirties, and Floral Street clings to the Cool Britannia buzz of the late Nineties, and just as Redchurch Street is already marooned in 2011. Now there’s Duke Street in North Mayfair, all set up by the Grosvenor Estate as a ready-made heir to Redchurch Street’s throne, complete with a perfectly-curated brand list: E. Tautz, Private White V.C., The Duke Street Emporium, AMI.
Beyond 430, Kings Road itself ebbs off into the west, lined with shabby antique-shop windows selling overstuffed sofas and wilting chandeliers. It finally loses itself in a tangle of junctions near Putney Bridge. And along the way everything that Kings Road might once have been disappears – the energy, the nostalgia, the noise, the cool. All that’s left is tarmac and traffic.