Colin Firth in A Single Man 2009 Directed by Tom Ford
Based on the 1964 novel by Christopher Isherwood, it
Michael Caine in The Ipcress File1965. Directed by Sidney J. Furie
This got me thinking about the importance of fashion in our daily life.
Before I entered the world of graphic design I had a succession of dead-end jobs. They were just a means to an end. And as a seventeen-year-old the main end for me was clothes or rather a fashion statement. My particular passion back then was called The Italian style – popularised by Italian actors like Marcello Mastroianni ...
Marcello Mastroianni in 8½ 1963. Directed by Frederico Fellini
This ultimately meant having your clothes made to measure. Too expensive for me, so making do with ‘off the peg’ was all I could afford.
But in one of my many jobs – a Clerk/dogsbody in a stockbroker's office – I came into contact with a whole bunch of fashionistas who were so stylish and exact in every detail of their dress, that I became besotted. They all looked so ‘cool’ (an expression originally used in the 60’s – nothing is new). From that moment, my main aim was to emulate this very exotic and hip group. They all had similar jobs to me at the various stockbroker offices in the City of London. Each day yours truly, along with this fashionable little mob, would have to hand deliver share certificates to the Stock Exchange Centralized Delivery in Throgmorton Street. – It was just a bunch of pigeon-holed shelves into which the share certificates were placed.
Anyway after this daily, and extremely mundane event, everyone made a dash for the local coffee bar where we would mostly stand around and pose. It was here that I would pick up tips on the very latest fashion innovations e.g. how many inches the side slits in trousers should be, the exact angle of a ticket pocket, the ideal width of a lapel etc. All heady stuff for a seventeen-year-old.
Music would also play a big part in the general banter. You have to bear in mind that all that existed at that time were small transistor radios, jukeboxes in cafes or record shops to hear the latest releases. No Walkman or iPods – they were the stuff of science fiction. Surveying the latest garb worn by this gaggle of clerks I would often sketch little details I liked from some of the snappier dressers in this group and I’d keep them in my dossier of fashion dreams.
Came the day when I had saved up enough money to have my first bespoke suit made was so exciting. I’d spent a lot of time drawing and redrawing what I wanted. I traveled to Shoreditch to a small Jewish tailor who had been recommended by the favoured few. You couldn’t go to just anyone. So after being measured and selecting a rather nice lightweight tweed in olive green, dog-toothed check. I went home and awaited the fitting. Two weeks later I was back with the tailor making final adjustments. Another two weeks passed and there I was looking in the mirror at the transformation of my sketch into a fully-fledged suit, perfectly fitting my slight frame. A two buttoned, cutaway jacket, with 2” vents, narrow lapels, angled pockets, with the addition of a ticket pocket and a natty colourful silk lining. I was the bee’s knees.
They may look good, but the were extremely painful to wear.
I then went on to design my own shoes – extended winkle pickers with two side straps in a dark brown snakeskin. They turned out to be the most painful shoes I have ever worn. As I moved jobs, my fashion sense evolved until in 1964 I discovered the Ivy League style via a shop in Shaftesbury Avenue called Austin's.
The Yardbirds with Eric Clapton, bottom right, during his Ivy League period.
In 1965, I joined a small American design group who had opened an office in the West End of London. The guys who ran the firm were straight out of Mad Men. They looked fantastic in their lightweight three button summer weight suits with Bass Weejuns penny loafers...
All was in balance until one day looking out of the studio window, which surveyed Albemarle Street close to the offices of NEMS Enterprises - the management company of the Beatles. One morning John, Paul, George and Ringo turned up in a white Rolls Royce, they exited wearing an array of exotic colour with beads and sheepskin fur lined jackets...
The look that defined the latter part of the 60's
We all looked from that window and then at ourselves – miniature Madison Avenue lookalikes. Pathetic...
Within a matter of weeks, longer hair, Zapata moustaches, beads, paisley patterned shirts, Chelsea boots and hipster flared trousers began to grace our studio.
We had found our new look and it dovetailed perfectly into the PushPin studio style that was beginning to change the face of British graphics in the 60s.
And so this pattern of evolution, rediscovery and cannibalisation of all forms of design has continued, creating the necessary change brought about by new generations, making their own claim on the world, whilst elbowing out the old. For a really funny and embarrassing (for those featured) spectacle, thumb through back issues of the D&AD annuals. You'll see some horrendous fashion statements.