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Men of the Cloth – The low-down on four of London’s key clothiers in 1965

John Simons

Little did he know it, but in 1965 the clothes stylist John Simons was about to start the skinhead movement in Britain. Simons, a pure Mod at heart, had just opened the Ivy Shop in Richmond, Surrey. His plan was to introduce the American Ivy League look to young British executives.

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He had started out selling his own designs, such as raincoats with button-down collars and pockets, but with the arrival of US salesman Jeff Flood, the Ivy quickly filled with American brogues, trousers and button-down collar shirts.

Fashion-conscious working class kids from surrounding areas soon became regulars.

With their cropped GI-style haircuts and Ivy League clothes, this look formed the basis for a skinhead movement that would make its public debut at The Rolling Stones free Hyde Park gig two years later.

“We did attract the young executives,” says Simons “but we also got loads of kids visiting us. Obviously, I didn’t know they would become skinheads, but it shows you how influential our shop was”.

Cecil Gee

Unhip-as-you-like now, this Lithuanian was one of the first to import clothing from Europe, brightening the drab world of British menswear. Since the war, a jealous Britain had rejected the casual but colourful American look, feeling that the States had unfairly grabbed all the credit for winning the Second World War.

Cecil Gee’s shops changed that. In his main outlet on Shaftesbury Avenue, he hung pictures of jazz musicians on the wall and installed a Gaggia machine, setting the scene for boutiques.

John Stephens

A Glaswegian who started his business in Beak Street in the late 1950s, just as the first Mods arrived in London.

Through their early patronage, Stephens (pictured at the top of this page) dramatically expanded his operation, eventually owning some 22 shops, four of them on Carnaby Street.

His major innovation was to use young hipsters as staff and fill his shops with bright clothes, striking décor and loud pop music to replicate the teenage world.

Austins

Started just after World War II by Lou Austin, a former sax player, and situated on Shaftesbury Avenue, this was one of the first shops to sell all-American clothing in London. Now closed, the shop’s success in the 60s was such that Lou could afford to live full-time at The Savoy.

Footnote

The other major London tailors of the day included Sam Arkus in the West End, Lou Rose in the East End and Bilgorri of Bishopsgate – an emporium which a 14-year old Mod called Marc Bolan once described to Town magazine as “a haddocky kind of place”

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