◼ IF I WERE THE V&A, I’d be eyeing up that fairytale frontage at 430 King’s Road and hoping to buy it up for our national collection, along with its crazy 13-hour clock that turns time backwards. Today the nursery-rhyme cottage façade with slate roofing and wonky door frame vanished behind a builder’s hoardings. For 34 years the Worlds End shop has played home to savages, witches, pirates and other Vivienne Westwood fantasies, but can demolition be imminent?
The shop has stood empty for weeks, “closed for refurbishment until further notice”, according to its blog, which adds that more space has been acquired in the basement of the listed 19th-century building. Viv’s son Ben has given one deadline after another, promising that Worlds End would reopen in October, then “further into November”, and last week “the beginning of December”. A council notice on the hoarding validates it until 30 Jan 2015, so this could mean all promises are off until February.
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Viv’s Mayfair flagship store heads her chain of 12 UK retail outlets with Ben supervising Worlds End and devising between them clever ways to reinvent mum’s vast repertoire of silhouettes from squiggle shirts to mountain hats. Following her former partner Malcolm McLaren’s death in 2010, Viv asserted her rights to the various shop names and retail trademarks from their 13 years together and has adroitly capitalised on their sales potential since.
Ben has wittily related the freaky tale his father Malcolm told him about how he acquired 430 King’s Road, when the owner gave him the keys one day in 1971 and never came back.
A dynasty of subversive shops have mythologised this Chelsea address which is today one of Britain’s youth-cultural tourist magnets. The hippie boutique Hung on You of 1967 was followed by Mr Freedom, Paradise Garage, and in 1971 Let It Rock, the first of five retail ventures pursued by McLaren and Westwood, after meeting at Harrow School of Art. Next came Too Fast to Live Too Young to Die, then the most notorious, Sex, the home in 1975 of punk and the Sex Pistols, Malcolm’s creation wearing his Svengali hat. Here too Jordan (née Pamela Rooke) became the female face of punk as both sales assistant and living mood board who single-handedly turned the safety pin into a fashion statement.
This week from Berlin Jordan expressed concern about the rumours surrounding the shop: “Really shocked, has it closed or is it being redesigned? Surely Vivienne hasn’t closed it, it is iconic!” Jordan was in Berlin, coincidentally, for the latest leg of the Punk’s Dead touring exhibition of Simon Barker’s photos of the movement’s earliest flowering. Simon, of course, aka Six, was one of punk’s feted Bromley Contingent who himself went on to front the Worlds End shop for many years. He piped up: “The problem is it is lined with asbestos. Plus Malcolm wouldn’t have cared about Worlds End being redeveloped – a ‘dance in the ruins’.”
Time for a check-call to the Westwood HQ. A spokeperson there purred soothingly: “What’s happening is a major renovation. To remove what’s in the walls and floors will take one or two months. Worlds End is definitely not in danger of being closed.” Sorry, Malcy: your dance has been postponed.