The Neighbourhood that surrounds our Notting Hill flagship store is one rooted in history and culture. In honour of what would be the 55th Annual Notting Hill Carnival, we are sharing a brief history of the event as well as our PAOLITA guide to dressing for the occasion.

While the usual festivities may not be taking place this year due to ongoing cancellations as a result of the pandemic, we at PAOLITA will still be dressing for the occasion over this bank holiday weekend. Find below a brief history of this important cultural event, and what we’ll be wearing to celebrate the incredible African Carribean culture that exists in our Notting Hill neighbourhood and throughout the vibrant city of London.

Since its inception in 1966 in west London, the Notting Hill Carnival has grown to become one of the largest and most celebrated carnivals across the globe.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people throng the streets of Notting Hill, Ladbroke Grove, Westbourne Park, Bayswater, and Royal Oak to enjoy the festivities to celebrate African-Caribbean culture in London.

The celebrations are fuelled by Caribbean traditions as well as the socioeconomic and political situations that prevailed during the post-1948 migration of peoples from the Caribbean.

Carnival’s origins in the Caribbean, particularly on the island of Trinidad, can be traced back to the time of enslavement and the pre-Lenten Mardi Gras masquerade parties held by the French plantation masters.

Enslaved Africans were barred from attending these balls, so they created their own celebration based on African dance traditions that satirised the slave masters through masquerade and song. Following the abolition of enslaved Africans in 1838, many free men and women came to the streets to carry on these traditions.

 

Following the arrival of the SS Empire Windrush on June 22, 1948, more than 300,000 Caribbean residents arrived in the United Kingdom. By the 1950s Brixton and Notting Hill had the largest Caribbean population in Britain.

Notting Hill was also a bastion for Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement during this time, a far-right movement that energised the local white working-class people to “Keep Britain White.” Attacks on the Black communities of Notting Hill, London, and Nottingham began in 1958-59 under the slogan of “Keep Britain White,” resulting in the killing of Antiguan-born carpenter Kelso Cochrane.

In reaction to these attacks and rising tensions, Trinidadian-born activist Claudia Jones, founder of the West Indian Gazette newspaper, organised a Caribbean Carnival in St. Pancras Town Hall on January 30, 1959. Jones’ Carnival was envisioned as a way to demonstrate solidarity and strength within the growing Caribbean populations, as well as to alleviate underlying tensions.

Later that year, community activists Rhaune Laslett and Andre Shervington organised a street festival to entertain local children while also aiming to calm tensions. To promote participation from the local Caribbean community, well-known Trinidadian singer Russell Henderson consented to take part and changed the festival into a carnival by including a procession and the usage of the steel pan.

This event signalled the start of the annual Notting Hill Carnival, with the progressive introduction of Caribbean aspects such as additional bands and costumes. By 1974, 100,000 individuals and a dozen bands had taken part, and in 1975, static sound systems were installed, introducing Jamaican reggae, dub, and ska music alongside traditional calypso and soca.

Today, Notting Hill has become a cultural institution, with up to two million visitors and 40,000 volunteers each year. The history of Notting Hill Carnival exemplifies the resilience and cultural diversity of London’s neighbourhoods. Despite political challenges, Notting Hill Carnival has expanded and prospered, serving as a forum for debate and communal solidarity. At PAOLITA we are proud to exist in such a prosperous and diverse community and look forward to celebrating the carnival with our vibrant community for many more years to come.

Carnival in Calliope

Carnival in Calliope

The carnival which is characterised by dancers in colourful costumes, makes the Calliope Body dress the perfect companion for all your carnival festivities. Pair with Hermina Athens jewels and our vibrant A Piedi flats for a kaleidoscopic daydream.

Dance and Dazzle in Urania

Dance and Dazzle in Urania

Our Urania print, inspired by the intricately embroidered coats and waistcoats of 19th century Greece, uses beautiful iridescent thread which glistens gorgeously while you dance the day away.