Nowadays, the exclusive London suburb may be utterly gentrified and sanitised, full of yummy mummies, braying buffoons, middle-of-the-road rockers like Bryan Adams (who puts up on Cheyne Walk) and nondescript High Street shops. But there was a time when Chelsea was the epicentre of cool, an enclave where high-born and low-life, creativity and commerce collided, reshaping contemporary culture… And christening a footwear classic.
In the mid-20th century, Chelsea was the socio-economically diverse home to Swinging London’s swingin’-est hepcats. An early locus for this artsy-aristo-boho-muso crowd was the Fantasie coffee bar that opened on the King’s Road in 1955. A live music venue and one of the city’s first proper espresso joints, the café was situated below a bustling photographic studio used by the likes of Anthony Armstrong-Jones (who’d go on to be styled Lord Snowdon following his marriage to Princess Margaret). Sipping java at Fantasie, a fashionable young lady named Mary Quant and her boyfriend Alexander Plunkett Green devised plans for a Chelsea boutique they’d dub Bazaar.
In her 1966 autobiography, Quant by Quant, the designer wrote that Bazaar “was to be a bouillabaisse of clothes and accessories… sweaters, scarves, shifts, hats, jewellery and peculiar odds and ends”. Most notably, it was also to be ground zero for the mini-skirt phenomenon that swept the world in the sixties. “We were in at the beginning of a tremendous renaissance in fashion,” wrote Quant, who by the mid-sixties was reaping seven-figure mini-driven revenue. “It was not happening because of us. It was simply that, as things turned out, we were a part of it.” Of the neighbourhood where her operations were based, she said, “There was hardly a day when Chelsea was not mentioned or featured in one way or another in the newspapers. Chelsea suddenly became Britain’s San Francisco, Greenwich Village and the Left Bank. The press publicised its cellars, its beat joints, its girls and their clothes. Chelsea ceased to be a small part of London; it became international; its name interpreted a way of living and a way of dressing far more than a geographical area.”