Only in the caricatured land of football is the King's Road thought of as trendy, argues Harry Pearson. Are you reading Mrs Karembeu?
Planet Football is a peculiar place, an alternative Earth where nothing ever changes and the hopelessly inaccurate can become the truth simply by repetition. This is a world where all Frenchmen are urbane, the whole of Brazil is a beach, no one relishes a trip to Turf Moor in January and everything north of Hadrian’s Wall is in Scotland. (How lucky Alf Ramsey was, by the way, that the Charlton boys chose to turn their backs on their native land and opt instead for England; and why don’t Newcastle United play in their own country, I wonder.)
This summer the citizens of Planet Football were worried. The source of their concern was Adriana Karembeu and her new life in Middlesbrough. Mrs Karembeu may come from eastern Europe (on Planet Football a place of uniform militaristic grimness, like Teesside with tanks) but she is also a model. Models are fashionable. On Planet Football people know their place and if you are fashionable that place is a long, winding thoroughfare in west London where hordes of with-it chicks and swinging cats regularly stop the red double deckers and nippy Mini coopers in their tracks by spontaneously dancing in the street to the groovy stereophonic stylings of John Barry and Henry Mancini. Yes, the King’s Road. Far out!
On Planet Football, the King’s Road is synonymous with Chelsea FC. Stamford Bridge is not actually in the King’s Road, but it says much for the delusional worldview of the would-be aficionados of cool who run the club that they like to pretend they are. Because when it comes to fashionability the King’s Road ranks right up there with Piccadilly Circus. It plots a course from a western zone where many of the shoppers apparently believe they are in Gloucestershire and fizzles out in region of expensive antique shops.
In between is what seem like miles of chain restaurants and the sort of clothing emporia that have a pun in their name (and refer to themselves as emporia). The leading fashion designers do not have shops here, the bars are full of foreign language students in Hard Rock Café T-shirts and the local population are so radically happening that for decades they elected Alan Clark as their MP.
Only on Planet Football, in fact, is the King’s Road considered the apotheosis of sartorial sophistication. The myth has been given a massive boost by the fabulous marketing department of Chelsea Village, a body whose regular outbursts of tasteless Mail-reader snobbery suggest they were created by Mike Leigh for Abigail’s Party but then omitted when he decided they were too ludicrous to be believable. How they came to settle on the King’s Road rather than, say, Dawes Road is, however, altogether harder to fathom because as far as I can make out the King’s Road has never, ever, been fashionable.
It was not at the heart of swinging London. The Kinks’ Dedicated Follower of Fashion makes no mention of it and while The Rolling Stones lived at World’s End for a while, they quickly scarpered the minute they got a bit of money, hardly the action of men whose address is at the very fulcrum of vogueishness.
Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren had their shop in the King’s Road, of course. But it’s hard to imagine that bondage trousers and T-shirts with pictures of cowboys with their dicks hanging out are what Chelsea Village have in mind when they trumpet the street’s modish credentials. In fact, it seems more like the type of thing Ken Bates would slap an electric fence around given half a chance.
In the end, it probably comes down to what you mean by fashionable. Football has always been more Brotherhood of Man than Mothers of Invention. A place where Eric Cantona’s admiration for Micky Rourke is looked on as a sign of a cutting edge intellect rather than arrested development. On Planet Football, the King’s Road may be regarded as the core of the beau monde. It’s position in the real world, though, is not quite so elevated. As the financial results of Chelsea Village’s glitzy enterprises show, it is a good deal easier to convince the denizens of Planet Football that you are at the epicentre of chic than it is the citizens of Planet Earth. “They call her Natasha but she looks like Elsie”, indeed.
From WSC 166 December 2000. What was happening this month