Listening to our favourite radio DJ Gilles Peterson t’other day, he played a hip hop record by whom I cannot tell you, but the words went along the lines of “you don’t listen to this song because it’s popular and gets radio play”; broadly, the ethos of the antihero i.e. if it’s liked by the many, it cannot be cool.
This ethos was certainly shared the skateboarding fraternity of my youth, as it is many subcultures and undoubtedly still is today. My musical hero Kurt Cobain certainly shared this point of view and became the anti-hero of a generation, with his choice of dress and style of music.
And it was this revelation that helped answer a question I am oft’ asked, “who is Brown in Town’s demographic”, to which I did not have an answer for many years; interestingly, I am never asked this question by our patrons, perhaps they recognise a kindred spirit?
I knew who they were, of course, they were property developers, barristers, graphic designers, skateboarders, drum and bass producers et al, but I could not put a finger on who they were as a demographic. Until now; they are, like me, all suit dodgers: who knew?
You see, before I met my maker, as it were, I was a suit dodging retailer who enjoyed working in London with mid-century modern furniture and dressing in pretty much anything but suits. I think my smartest ensemble was inspired by Michael Caine’s character Agent Palmer in Len Deighton’s Ipcress File i.e. black slacks, a roll-neck, desert boots and a beige macintosh raincoat, but never a suit.
My jumping off point was being informed in no uncertain terms by my American employers at the time, that I would be wearing suits for the duration of my tenure in South East Asia: which was ludicrous as it was the hottest place I’d ever visited, let alone lived! Enter stage left my tailor, Mr Whangsee, who did a roaring trade in suits for the American Embassy chaps. These suits were typically a two piece affair, consisting of three buttoned jacket and trousers with belt loops, double pleats and turn-ups; not my style by a long chalk, even to this suit dodger.
No, if I was to wear suits, I was going to wear suits which mimicked my sartorial heroes; Michael Caine in Get Carter or Steve McQueen in the Thomas Crown Affair, for example. And this ethos, with its petulant “I won’t do what you tell me” was nothing short of the anti-cool attitude of our youth.
And I believe the same can be said of a great many of our patrons. There is a jumping off point whereby they are able to do something which they would not normally do, but if they are going to do it, they want to do it on their terms and in their way, from suit to nuts, if you’ll pardon the pun.
More often than not their jumping off point is a wedding and if our patrons (whether guys for girls) are going to have to wear a suit (whereas typically they do not wear suits) on their special day, then they are going to wear a suit of their choosing, moreover, design and more often one that has been a guilty pleasure or aspiration.
For many, this suit is a three piece tweed suit, myself included. I love my tweed suits but would not have been seen dead in one back in the day. In a way, it is our rebellion against our rebellion, whether ravers, bankers, barbers, creatives or DJ’s; we are rebelling against not only our (former) selves, but against our subculture and everything which it told us we could not do. We are unleashing our alter-ego, whether we know it or not.
It is an irony that we are now wanting to wear suits, which once represented the mediocre, the populous, the enemy – the antithesis of the antihero, no?
When I was a lad, a skateboard company called Blockhead, which I’m thrilled to learn still exists, ran an ad campaign in the form a sticker to put on your board, which I think best summed this notion which read..
“Hey, What’s Cool? Oh, Nothing”.
I dedicate this blog to Simon Edwards. One of the best skateboarders of my generation; gone, but never forgotten.