The editor of GQ recounts discovering his love for the independence and style of Seven Dials as a teenager and why the area’s vibrant creativity remains today
It was the badge shop that did it for me. Maybe it was even called ‘The Badge Shop’. I can’t remember; it was over 40 years ago. But what I do remember is that I spent so much time in Earlham Street in Seven Dials that by rights I should have been paying rent. I loved the place and always have.
Now when I go to Seven Dials it’s to visit my beloved Carhartt, or to wander into one of the fabulous independent boutiques that still dot Earlham and Monmouth Streets such as Nappa Dori and Ace and Tate. I also like to pop into Murdock when I can for a trim or shave before an event. But in the autumn of 1978, I arrived in the area to start a design course at St Martin’s School of Art on the Charing Cross Road. I had just spent a year on a Foundation Course in Chelsea, and had applied to St Martin’s not because it was the best art school in the world (it was then and is now), not just because I was in love with a girl on the graphics course (I was), but because it was smack bang in the most fashionable part of town, just minutes from places like the Marquee and the 100 Club, and a short hop from Seven Dials, and Earlham Street, where I spent an almost unforgivable amount of time in the badge shop. (As a young man of 17, a leather jacket wasn’t a leather jacket unless it had a small button badge on both lapels.)
I spent three glorious years at St Martin’s, and I can’t think back to those times without conjuring up extremely warm feelings towards Seven Dials. I can still remember what it felt like to walk the streets, in my baseball boots and leggings, staring at all the history around me. A punk in London.
Seven Dials became almost a second home for me, as in the early 1980s, when I joined i-D magazine (which had started life as a kind of tip-sheet for wannabe know-it-alls like myself), its head office was just around the corner. So not only were my nights spent there – in nightclubs like Hell and the Blitz, and cocktail bars like Zanzibar – but my days were too, as I’d wander the streets at lunchtime, looking for extravagant shops in which to spend my wages.
Since then, the area has become even more of a vibrant cultural hub, and while it has certainly been gentrified, it has been done with style and grace. You can still feel its strong heritage; still feel the white heat of creativity pouring from the pavements, still feel the buzz of city life. Walking through Seven Dials today you’ll find some of the best and most innovative stores in London – including Aesop, Fred Perry, Superga, Happy Socks and Farah – and an increasing number of rather brilliant artisanal, community-driven restaurants and food stores.
I still love the place. It is warm, genuine, and always a lot of fun. My only regret is the fact that the badge shop has moved on. Where to, I know not. But in my heart, it’s still tucked away in Earlham Street, selling Ramones badges at £2 a pop.
Dylan Jones is the editor of GQ
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