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Wayne Kirven, London fashion icon
Photograph: Andy Parsons

Wayne Kirven, style icon for 60 years and counting, tells his London story

Ever since he joined the city’s ‘modernist’ scene as a teenager, London legend Wayne Kirven has always been ahead of the curve

By Time Out London contributor
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‘Someone once said to me, “If you’re not good looking, you’ve got to care about your clothes.” And as I’m not particularly good looking, I’ve always cared about clothes!

I was born in 1945 in Mile End Hospital, and at first we lived with my grandfather in Globe Road, Bethnal Green. But then we moved out to Essex, which I hated. Every Saturday I’d get a bus or tube back into London to hang around at the Whitechapel Waste, which was a big secondhand market around the back of Whitechapel tube.

While I was there, I always went to the shop Paul for Music, which stocked rare records imported from the US. I was only about 13, but that shop made an impression on me: you’d see these incredible people outside. I was in awe of the way they looked and their taste in clothes. So I started going where all these older people went: Barry’s Ballroom, off the Narrow Way in Hackney.

Barry’s had initially been popular among smart Italians, but soon all the English guys were going there, too. It was my entry into the world of the modernist – this was before the term “mods” was around.

At around this time, I started getting into clothes. I used to go to this guy called Flash, who was making shirts for people like Frank Sinatra and all the Jewish guys from the East End. I began working at a clothes shop called Sportique in Soho, which had been set up by the designer John Michael Ingram. Then I got a job with the tailors Hector Powe, who made stuff for the French designer Pierre Cardin – The Beatles wore his suits.

‘London has always been about clothes’

Wayne Kirven

That whole period, between ’62 and ’64, really influenced me, and I started meeting likeminded people. These were the guys that began what became known as “Swinging London”. I was interviewed for Town magazine with a few friends of mine including Mark Feld, later known as Marc Bolan.

I’ll be honest: when Carnaby Street hit, it was the end. It brought that “Quadrophenia” look to Soho – scooters with 200 mirrors – and by then we’d moved on. We liked jazz and bluebeat as much as rhythm and blues. But the guys that came in from the suburbs liked rock ’n’ roll and shopped in Carnaby. By the ’70s it was dead, and we all went to King’s Road for something new.

I spent a few years flogging ties for people like Saint Laurent and Dolce & Gabbana. But after a while I gave that up, opened my own men’s clothes shop – Firma in Buckhurst Hill – and started a family.

I’m 73 now and retired. Well, when I say “retired”, I mean I still DJ, I design for a raincoat company, and I recently released my first record, a cover of Jack Scott’s 1978 song “The Way I Walk”. I still spend at least four days a week in central London for one reason or another.

London has always been about clothes, but throughout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, people really got fashion. The people of the city have changed since then – I would say that if you have to look at a map to find out where Burnt Oak is, you’re not a Londoner! But the spirit of the city hasn’t gone away. Its character is still here. It just needs to try and keep it alive.’

Interview by Joseph Gamp. Follow Wayne Kirven at www.instagram.com/waynefrombuckhursthill.

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