The New (Old) Modernists of London Town

Written by Andrew Vaughan
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Youth cults, eh. Been there, done it, bought the Armani tee-shirt and all that.

And let's face it they don't exist anymore! Okay they probably do but they aren't on the older folks' radars and nor should they be. In this instance by older folk I mean the fifty and sixtysomething males of this parish.

The ones that have lived through the various cults and tribes. They were part of these cults, movements and gangs not because they were any latter-day hipsters; more the fact that they are now old and - if not that old certainly - old enough to have experienced being a young skinhead, a glam rock fan, punk, soulboy, mod revivalist, casual and raver.

They got lucky. They caught the whole of David Bowie's career. They listened to The Beatles and The Kinks when they were kids and got to hear the golden age of soul and reggae and were there in the long hot summer of 1976 where everything got interesting. They got Joy Division, The Jam, The Style Council and all Paul Weller's subsequent output. They danced to jazz-funk and were just about old enough to be able to still move their feet to acid house and Madchester.

Forty years on from that long hot summer where jazz funk met punk and it all exploded they are still here. You can still spot them out and about. In fact anybody that lived through those days when clothes, music and football were the key ingredients to life will have noticed them. In fact they will be one of them. They can be spotted all over the capital. From Barnes to Barnet and all stops in between. 

They are the well-dressed men that can be found in the pubs and cafés of Soho discussing football and footwear. They may be cradling a new vinyl album and discussing the various projects they are involved in or have simply finished work for the week and are 'up west' with the missus having a few beers before a show and dinner.

If you're younger than these guys you may not have realised who they are but rest assured they clocked you when you walked past them wearing your new Stone Island x Supreme coat and adidas reissues. See these guys know about clothes and the provenance of all this gear. Not that they'd wear any of it now but years on the terraces, in the clubs and pubs and reading articles in The Face magazine, The End and Boy's Own fanzines has left them with a lifelong appreciation of quality schmutter and all that goes with it.

However if you need a heads-up to who they are - they are the blokes in the raincoats, top coats, baker boy and newsboy caps and longwing brogues or suede desert boots. Their jeans will be narrow, on the short side and neatly turned up. Skinhead stylee if you like. They are the ones wearing the silk scarves and the buttoned-down shirts with the three-fingered roll. As spring becomes summer they will be the ones wearing the Madras popover shirts, J Keydge natural shoulder sports jackets, tailored chinos or shorts and the American loafers 'sans socks'.

Many - however - will have their own tailor - be it Mark Powell in Soho, Charlie Allen in Highbury or George the Tailor down the Walworth Road. But most of their clothes will be off the peg and make a hefty nod across to America. When looking to purchase these clothes these chaps will undoubtedly head to John Simons in Marylebone. That erstwhile shrine to everything Ivy and Americana. John's is more than a shop. It's like a Gentleman's club, an old school barber's or it's simply akin to walking into a well-dressed mate's bedroom and rifling through his clothes. Even if you go in and don't buy anything (very difficult) it's just a great experience as you have a good chat about life in general and clothes in particular while jazz music drifts out of the CD player.

Interestingly jazz appears to be the music of choice for these fifty and sixtysomethings. Maybe it's because a lot of the great jazz was produced just before they were born - a period that people tend to have a great interest in, or because they have come from the soul fraternity and maybe this is the logical step or maybe it just goes with the schmutter. I mean if jazz dynasty such as Miles Davis wore Bass Weejuns and Jimmy Smith wore Florsheim Yumas then that'll do for them. Whatever the case you will find plenty of these guys at Ronnie Scott's, Nell's and the Hideaway Club.

Soho of course is their spiritual home and they are all concerned at the gentrification of the area. Some are even heading across Oxford Street to Fitzrovia. In fact in years to come - as this not-youth cult expands and grows - we may see different factors emerge. One based in Bar Italia in Soho - the other in Italia Uno in Fitzrovia. I digress...

For now the majority can be found in and around Soho with of course the weekly visit to John's in Marylebone. They are the smart guys. The ones that while they "don't really do social media or the internet" are fully-aware of how it works and use it for their own needs. It is there to price up clothes and check what show is playing on Soho Radio. There's the occasional need to get tickets for a popular away match and the need to promote their own "things" but mainly these guys like to chat with their mates, go out with the girls and carry on like they always have done.

You'll still find them down the pub - even if it is now usually the afternoon session - rather than trying to get a final one after last orders. They still buy magazines - Jocks & Nerds and Umbrella mainly - and proper books. In fact a Kindle could be something the Devil produced! Their interest has spread to good food and good architecture. They love the latest exhibitions and launch parties. Deep down they are strictly old school. Pie and mash, shoes from Northampton and New England, Sunday roasts and spaghetti vongole, real ale and a roaring fire.

So when you're out and about. Take a look around you. You'll be surprised how many of them are around. These older fellas. The ones that cherry-pick a bit of mod, skinhead, Ivy League and casual. The ones that still love music and culture. The ones that care about what's happening to their city and worry how their children and grandchildren are going to live here in the future yet still love the old place to bits. This gang have grown up in a racially diverse city and their members demonstrate this. They are Londoners whether they originate from the Kingsland Road - Dalston, Kilmarnock - Scotland, Keighley - West Yorkshire or Kingston Jamaica. They are the fellas that 'grew up' in London when it was dark and dangerous. When wearing the wrong trousers in the wrong area/environment could get you a good hiding. It's all changed now and whilst they might not like some aspects of it they are going to enjoy the last quarter of their lives. They've still got their eye, they now appreciate what is around them and in some cases the kids have left home and they've a little more disposable income to play around with.

This is probably the first time that a section of fifty and sixtysomethings have still got a huge interest in clothes and popular culture. Over the next few years it will grow in number as chaps will realise that an anorak and trainers is not a great look when you're 52-years of age. These people will not be featured in Vice or i-D magazine nor will Samsung target them for their latest device but that's fine with these guys. This is the cult that hasn't really got a name but if you were to ask any of them they would probably say they are the New Modernists or if you like the New (Old) Modernists...

A Guide.

John Simons
John Rushton
Oi Polloi
John Lewis
Fred the Shoe
Brit Boot Company
American Classics
Natural Shoe Store
The Vintage Showroom
Their local Pie & Mash and local West Indian

The New Modernists are a little anal about not showing labels. They have been through that phase so now it's all about the quality...

City Caps
John Simons Apparel Company
John Smedley
Peckham Rye
Nicholson & Walcot
Aero Leathers
J Keydge
Their own tailor

Crockett & Jones
Alan Edmonds
Red Wing

Gregory Porter
Georgie Fame
Tubby Hayes
Miles, Coltrane. Coleman, Mingus & Brubeck
James Taylor Quartet

If it's not on BBC FOUR they are not really interested.

Robert Elms on Radio London
Soho Radio
Radio 4

Pubs of Soho & Fitzrovia
Bar Italia
Ronnie Scott's
Their local (pub and pie and mash shop)
The decent seats at the match
Italy in late spring

Read 6750 times Last modified on Saturday, 13 February 2021 14:54
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Andrew Vaughan

Andrew Vaughan

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