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Friday, 21 April 2017

The Men behind Carnaby Style Night, in association with GQ

As a Scotsman, I'm proud to know that it was my fellow countryman who was the instigator of one of the most iconic areas of London. In the late 1950s, John Stephen opened a menswear store which became Carnaby Street’s first boutique. 60 years later and Carnaby is now a colourful, exciting, diverse and international style destination. Ask a chap in New York or Paris about the area and it's likely he'll know about the birthplace of cool Britannia.

On Thursday 4 May from 5-9pm, the Carnaby area will celebrate this with a mash-up of fashion, food and music with exclusive offers and experiences at their free Style Night event. There will be experiential activity throughout the 13 streets of Carnaby including London artist Ian Stevenson creating prints outside We Built This City.

As a patron of the area, I know many of the characters who frequent those streets like the chaps who manage Levi's Vintage Clothing and the knowledgable staff of Lomography. This week, I ventured into the historic quarter to photograph some of the men who give the area it's charm alongside the brick buildings, window boxes and colourful shop fronts. 

Check out #CarnabyStyleNight and @CarnabyLondon for more info, and register for your free ticket at All the brands featured below are participating, so if you see any of the men interviewed, say "Hello".

Gianluca Fiore, 22, Onitsuka Tiger

Describe yourself in 5 words. Creative, chocolate lover, messy hair.

How did you end up in London? I moved to London two and a half years ago. I'm Italian, from a region called Marche on the east coast. I started working for Onitsuka almost a year ago. Carnaby is my favorite place in London. You can really see the history of the area. It's not a place like any other. The shops around are unique and everyone has personal style and you can smell a little bit more freedom in the air.

Do you have a memory from the area you'd like to share? Last year, my best friend was working in the same area. She's now living abroad. After work we met at "The Shakespeare's Head" and sat on the steps outside until late at night. We talked about everything. The past, the present and the future. We laughed endlessly. Carnaby was getting quiet and dark. Sometimes in london everything moves too fast, people come and and go and it makes you feel like you are not good enough. It's important sometimes to stop and take the time to think. That night helped me not to give up.

Do you have a favourite restaurant in the area? Pizza Pilgrims for sure. I would like to be the kind of Italian that doesn't like pizza but I'm not.

Who are you? I'm a determined man and if I want something, I put all my energy into that. I always try to do my best. Most of the time I achieve it and if I don't, it means there is something else waiting for me.

Why are you good at what you do? To do a good job I always have to put myself in what I'm doing, I can't just do something without thinking. I'm very lucky because I work with brilliant people in a very good environment. You can't do a good job if you don't have good people around.

Leave us with some words of wisdom. Keep your eyes and mind open.

Lee John Smith, 30, Levis Vintage Clothing

How long have you lived in London and where are you from? I'm originally from a small town called Newbury in Berkshire. After some travelling I didn’t fancy going back to my little town so London was an obvious choice. That was nearly 11 years ago now and I've worked in the Newburgh Quarter since 2011.

What make's the Carnaby area special for you? It’s these little collection of side streets! The Newburgh Quarter is a perfect description, because it’s a hidden gem! Located so close to the bustle of Regent Street you have this little quartet of cobbles packed with shops, some of which are completely unique to the UK, staffed by some of the nicest people you'll ever meet. There is a real community here, we all look out for each other and respect each other. In the summer everyone on the street hangs out and has a drink after work. In the winter those with coffee machines makes coffee for those without. It’s been the starting point for so many excellent nights out.

Who are you? I like to take photographs. I like getting lost. I like going to see live music. I like bargain hunting in charity shops. I feel awkward answering questions like this because I still haven’t worked out a way of doing it without sounding like I'm taking out a personal ad in the paper...I like long walks on the beach and candle lit diners.

Do you have a favourite spot for food in the area? Kua ‘Aina do the best sweet potato fries. Why wouldn’t you want to buy food from people in Hawaiian shirts all year round?

Best place for a nightcap? The 'Ain't nothin' but...' bar on Kingly Street. If you like loud, feisty nightcaps full of dancing.

Decribe yourself in 5 words. Grumpy, Early, Scruffy, Busy, Over-caffeinated.

What makes you good at what you do? Because just like everyone else round here, I actually care about what I do. You can't be rubbish at something you're passionate about.

Leave us with some words of widsom. I'm not old enough to be wise yet so how about some advice. Don’t buy badly made boots, only drink expensive whiskey, always carry a camera and escape while you still can.

Vincent Bugg, 30, Levi's Vintage Clothing

Tell me about yourself. I've been living in London on and off since 2007 but London has always been my base. I grew up in the south of England in Hampshire and have worked in the area for 2 years. I've been a resident shopper since 1998.

Who are you? Bugg Bambi Barbie established in 1987, under construction ever since.

What make's the Carnaby area special for you? I have been a lover of real fashion from birth and to me Carnaby was the fashion hub of the world - Mary Quant's first shop was on 'Kings Road' however she first launched the mini skirt and hot pants on Carnaby in what we would call today a 'pop up shop' #factnotfiction

What do you do other than work in the store? I was trained as a dancer and worked as one from a young age. I auditioned for a show when I was 10 and got down to the final 4 boys, I was cut and they kept the remaining 3 boys. I said to my parents on route home that I would be in that show one day - I graduated in 2008 but left in 2007 to join that very same Westend show 'The Lion King'. I then went on to have a great career ticking off everything that I wanted to. This is when I decided to switch life up.

Do you have a memory of the area that sticks in your head? In 2000 I purchased my first pair of vintage skinny jeans from 'The Face' is between Carnaby and Newburgh Street. I returned back to my village in the south of England and everyone called me out for wearing women's leggings. It's a family run business and they remember me to this day. When I was 12 years old I was kicked out of dance school due to not conforming - I refused to be examined. I was told if I didn't want to be judged in this way then I knew where the door was. To the anger of my parents I was removed and never went back. Ever since I was told I wouldn't make it in the dance world I was determined and so it felt even better to have had the great career I have.

Best place for a nightcap? The Courthouse Hotel on Great Marlborough Street is amazing - an old courthouse with cell booths in the back.

What makes you good at what you do? I am a people person and aim to please. For such a long time as a dancer I never got to speak so a lot of silence to make up for.

Leave us with some words of wisdom. Realistically I have only just taken off my stabilisers but so far I have learned to live life in the present and absorb as much as you can. Keep your mind open to never judging anyone just try to understand from their perspective. Surrounded yourself with great people who enhance you and who you enhance back.

Vivien, 27, Lomography 

How long have you lived here and where are you from? I'm from Pimlico in south London and I've been living here for as long as I can remember.

Who are you? I have a musical project, Miles from Kinshasa, that I've been working on for the last couple of years. I'd like to think that I'm a tinkerer. I'm not particularly talented at one thing, I like to try things and as long as I love what I create, that's all that matters.

Decribe yourself in 5 words. Spiritual, creative, cultured, giggly, loose.

What makes you good at what you do? I feel that I'm good at displaying my idiosyncrasies in my work.

Leave us with some words of widsom. Do not get in a car with someone who is inebriated.

Jayden Stark, 23, Cubitts

How long have you worked in the area? Coming up to 5 months.

Where are you from? I've lived in London for 8 months, originally from a small town in New Zealand but came here after a stint in Sydney.

What make's the Carnaby area special for you? The diversity of the people and cultures make it always interesting to walk around. There's something for everyone.

Who are you? I'm an aerosexual. I love planes. I'll either be watching flight radar or venturing to a park underneath a flight path.

What makes you good at what you do? I always like to have fun with people to make them feel as comfortable as possible. At Cubbits this allows me to try and create an avenue for them to push their style limits while also fulfilling their optical requirements.

Jolan, 24, G.H. Bass

How long have you lived in London? I left the south west of France when I was 18 and moved to London. I stayed there for a year then I went back to France for a while and finally came back to London 3 years ago. So I've been here for 4 years.

What make's the Carnaby area special for you? Well it's cute and it has a lot of character. I like the vibe of it and the people living around here are quiet something.

Who are you? I am a young man with the goal to be a great one. I still have a way to go before discovering my full potential and learn how the whole thing works so meanwhile, I wonder around and try to enjoy life as much as possible.

Best place for a nightcap? Cahoots. I love the atmosphere.

Decribe yourself in 5 words. Free, reckless, impulsive, dreamer, spontaneous.

What makes you good at what you do? Just being myself. Genuine, friendly and fast.

Leave us with some words of widsom. 'The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.' This is not from me obviously but I couldn't put it in a better way. I discovered recently that travelling is the best school of life. Happiness, knowledge and all the good things that life has to offer are outside your comfort zone.