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By Andrew VaughanIt was Flip. Always Flip but not the main shop on Long Acre, Covent Garden. It was the warehouse in Curtain Road, around the corner from work. Curtain Road that is now achingly cool. Shoreditch twats and all that. However back then it was empty warehouses or schmutter factories. Where the Angel met the City. Where behind the Moorfields Eye Hospital sat little pubs in amongst the blocks of flats. From the bookies to the working men's caffs. Up and down the City Road, in and out The Eagle. It was Arsenal country. It was 1980.
I'd go three days a week at lunchtimes. Buy the MA1 flying jacket, the Pendleton work coat. The old Levi's. The shirts: plaid, madras and sweat. Looking through rails and rails of Americana. Most of it shit but in amongst it some gems. My mates went. We all went. Suits for weddings. For Kid Creole at The Lyceum. For nights at Coconut Grove. Rarely put our heads in the main shop as it was for tourists. It had rates and rents to pay and priced accordingly and of course we kept Curtain Road to ourselves. Ourselves being everybody in North London that was into their clothes. Post-punk. London Calling, things changing...
To Rumours cocktail bar for a night out. By the Strand. Off the 134 bus, back of Centrepoint, cut through Covent Garden for exotic drinks with our mates, chasing exotic girls and as 1980 becomes 1981 a shop opens near Rumours. J Simons and it's like Flip but a million times better. There is no need to spend hours digging and delving for decent clothes. Jackets, jeans, shirts, shoes. It was beautiful. Wooden floors, leather chairs and that smell of leather when you walked in. A curse hello from the lads in the shop. A quiet word from them if you were fucking up with what you were buying. It was a beautiful shop. A seminal shop. It still is. However the sad, sad news is that J Simons is now closing. Almost thirty years after it opened at 2 Russell Street, WC2.
But the story goes much further back than thirty years ...After the second World War a whole new-world literally opened up before peoples eyes. As rationing was phased out many products and influences entered the nation's senses. Most of these came from across the pond and nothing was more influential than clothing. In Soho the jazz bars would be full of American sounds and by the end of the fifties the clothes were also American. This was an East American cool that was based on the clothes that formed the Ivy League look from the influential colleges in America. Button-down shirts, penny loafers, wing-tip brogues and flat fronted chino trousers.
As the 50's became the 60's the sharp young lads around the cities of Britain began to appropriate this look but added Traditional English and European looks to it as well as the Jamaican rude boy look that the newly arrived immigrants had brought with them. By 1965 this was becoming a much sought after look and a lad from the East End of London called John Simons opened The Ivy Shop on Richmond Hill. A shop that is, arguably, the most important menswear shop in Britain ever. Here he took the imported American clothes along with all the European and Jamaican influences and his tailoring skill and created the proper Modernist look. This wasn't the cartoon Carnaby Street mod that can be seen in Quadrophenia. There were no mirrors, rabbit tails and patches here. It was simple quality clothing. In 1969 Simons is credited with inventing the Harrington Jacket that was a variation on the golf jacket that Ryan O'Neal's character Rodney Harrington wore in the then popular soap opera Peyton Place. That jacket - or a variant of it - is still a staple item in many a lad's wardrobe.
And that is the influence. As Mod split two ways with the hardcore tough mods mutating into skinheads and the "artier" mods moving towards the hippy movement those clothes from the sixties remain the constant among many a young buck's look. As well as the Harrington jacket much of the clothes that John Simons and others brought into the country and introduced to sharp dressed young working class men can still be seen today. The omnipresent Duffel Coat was worn by the modernists and beatniks. As was the reefer jacket. Flat fronted trousers, Levi's and Crombie coats. The suit that never loses its appeal is a simple three-button slim fitting 60's influenced coat. The anoraks of Massimo Osti are strictly modernist in design. And take a look at your shoes. They can produce as many variations of design as they like but they will never better a pair of English brogues or an American loafer or a Sperry Topsider. As for boots next time you pass a Clarks shoe shop in town take a look at the Desert Boot. It is near perfect. As for the brands - John Smedley, Lacoste, Marks & Spencers, Ralph Lauren, Levi's, Barbour, Champion sweatshirts, Cabourn and everything else that is just right are made along modernist lines. Paul Smith has made his fortune from such ethics and produced some of the most desirable clothes you will ever see or wear.
It's John Simons legacy. The man has been that important. His shops have been that important. But of course I didn't realise that back in 1981. I also didn't know that a summer later I'd be trawling shops for Lacoste and Fila tennis shirts and didn't realise the provenance of them went back to Americana and as all that passed and we all moved on and we grew older we looked for new things but we always harked back.
Now as John's is about to close - the irony is that the clothes that he stocks have never been more relevant. You cannot move on the High Street for plaid shirts. The Woolrich Parka is this winter's coat of choice, ditto Red Wing for the feet while the world and his wife have spent the summer in deck shoes.
So even though I have been an infrequent visitor recently when it closes in February 2010 I will shed a tear. It has been part of my growing up. part of my education. And as I type this I look down and I'm wearing Loakes Sahara desert boots, flat-fronted cords from Marksies, a cashmere 'V' over a Sero The Purist shirt. A shirt I bought from John's some twenty five years ago. It's frayed and I can't do the top button up but as the label says "Nothing is obvious except the quality'". A label that could be attached to J Simons shop.So if you are retiring John then have a good one - you deserve it...