There are not many places like Portobello Road that represent the legacy of the past and comprise our collective memories, through mess and beauty, cheap and luxurious items, and an overall feeling of touching the past. In very few other places is it possible to experience a greater pleasure from uncanny discoveries through fashion, arts, and music.
It is a way to escape reality through imagination, losing ourselves in a daydream born from the observation of an antique object in a vintage shop, or from a song playing on one of the music players in the stalls. Walking down this road brings back memories from our own past, and simultaneously uncovers a past we haven’t lived, but can imagine or feel, mediated by these time capsules, ready to be explored.
This is an all-encompassing experience, where all the senses are stimulated by a variety of sounds, hues, smells, textures and, as the senses mingle together, the ages do the same. Music and fashion have the power to evoke memories, images, stories from the past, and Portobello saved all of them, in unique enclaves of chaotic beauty.
I met Nigel House, director of the iconic music company Rough Trade, who still works in the Notting Hill store, and asked him to choose a few albums and artists whose work tells the story of Portobello Road. He concentrated on the decades from the 1960s to the 1980s, focusing on a history of counterculture, from hippie to punk.
It becomes clear that the memory of Portobello Road as a centre for underground culture lives on. This place was a home to artists, bohemians, poets, anarchists, and musicians, from the space rock group Hawkwind, who wrote “Hall of the Mountain Grill” inspired by a Portobello café, to Joe Strummer of the Clash, who worked there. Among the artists who became part of the history of this place are Jimmy Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Mick Jagger, Patty Smith, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley. This points, once again, at the role of Portobello Road, its magnetic force to attract and nurture a plethora of seminal artists, who would eventually become essential to our collective cultural memory.
Wandering through Portobello Road is also discovering iconic clothing pieces from the history of British fashion, through styles and trends, subcultures and movements. Looking into the vintage shops and the stalls of the Portobello Green market, I find outfits from every decade starting with the 1930s and 1940s: beautifully crafted evening gowns and elegant feathered capes, alongside petticoat skirts and Teddy Boy jackets in the style of the 1950s. The 1960s feature maxi floral hippie skirts and outfits, while the 1970s bring psychedelic prints and bottom flared trousers. Creations of Vivienne Westwood or the haute couture style masterpieces of Jean Paul Gaultier from the 1980s add to the aura of timelessness that defines this place.
This road, vibrating with music, fashion, and history is an inspiration to young designers, artists, or writers who seek to create something new and different, rooted however in the charm of the past.
Words: Veronica Mafolino
Video: Footage from The Last Dealers on Portobello Road, 2016 by Hanna Aqvilin
Copy edited by Elena Stanciu