Continuing to focus on the current British theme to this series of articles, I thought it would be good to consider another of the nations clothing icons. With its strong links to music and popular culture, Ben Sherman is undoubtedly a brand with great heritage and purpose; it became an important part of the image for many 20th century youth movements and has remained a constant feature of stores nationwide. However, it would also be fair to say that it doesn’t represent a first choice of brand for many people; Fred Perry, Ralph Lauren or any number of high street shops take precedent – but should this be the case?
Personally I think, no. The purpose of these articles is to highlight the history and story of a company; to understand and appreciate the brand itself just as much as the clothes it produces. To show a disregard of this, could mean you miss out on some truly stylish and high quality items. So, to win over any doubters, let’s get cracking.
Founded in 1963 by a Brighton man – Arthur Benjamin Sugarman (1925-87), later Ben Sherman – the brand was a reaction to the growing popularity of American style Oxford cloth and button down shirts emerging within the burgeoning modern jazz scene, worn by musical icons of the time such as Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. Unfortunately these stylised shirts were only available via import from the United States through a few select companies and so the market was cornered. Sugarman however was undeterred; he wanted to produce something better, using higher quality material, finer styling and superior construction.
That same year they released their first line of button down shirts. As if by fate, this occurred at the same time as the mod movement reached its peak, and as with Fred Perry before it, the Ben Sherman label became a key part of the image. The timing of this event was unquestionably a major part of the future success the brand was to achieve, but strong links to youth movements and the music scene were to become a recurring theme throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s as the logo formed an integral part of the image within so many groups. Their position in this new fashionable age was cemented yet further when in 1964 they opened their first store and showroom on London’s Carnaby Street and a second in Brighton’s Dukes lane in 1967.
During the late 1970s the Punk movement surfaced and true to form Ben Sherman was a defining feature of the group. The group had a particular interest in the button down shirts, which, when paired with the ubiquitous Dr Martens, Levi’s and braces created the quintessential look – whilst continuing to maintain those all important musical connections. As the youths moved on however it became clear that the Mods had not completely disappeared and with the release of The Who’s Quadrophenia album in 1979 and the subsequent mod revival the brand came full circle, returning to its roots with artists like Paul Weller becoming powerful brand ambassadors. These ambassadors were so synonymous with the brands image that in 2007 Mr Weller was even asked to design his own limited edition checked shirt. It would also be reasonable to argue that this very strong link to the Mod movement is also what led the brand to incorporate the infamous mod target icon into many of their lines.
Ska then appeared on the scene and as with punk and the mods before it the group adopted the brand as an essential part of their clothing; think a mix of Mod inspired tailoring and sharpness mixed with Punk style rebellion – one only has to think of Madness and The Specials for examples. This was then followed in the 90s by the huge Brit Pop explosion with big bands such as Blur and Oasis all catapulting Ben Sherman right back into the public eye and with the more recent re-launch of kids and womenswear lines Ben Sherman has become a true lifestyle brand with proper international clout and sporting serious heritage.
Collaborations have been relatively scarce, with the production of a limited edition house check shirt, created in a association with the Japanese designer Junya Watanabe and work with Team GB as an official sponsor of the Olympic Squad in 2004. However, the most notable developments have come in recent times. First with the introduction of the new plectrum logo in 2008, firmly establishing that all important musical heritage and secondly (and perhaps best of all), the 2010 open of the Ben Sherman tailoring house at Number 39 Savile Row, offering quintessential Mod styling with made to measure perfection. Undoubtedly a British brand, worthy of our unrestricted support.
The only question to ask now is – where is my student loan? I fancy a trip to Savile Row.
A line that focuses on the staples of a properly British wardrobe, offering classic and timeless items that will always been on trend. Drawing inspiration from traditional cuts reworked with modern detailing.
For a brand with so much history and presence it seems a shame that it does not appear more regularly in our wardrobes. Hopefully, after reading this article you now have a better understanding of where it has come from and subsequently why you should be proud to wear any Ben Sherman products. They have certainly made a mark on the British fashion business, particularly with their new Savile Row adventure, so why not let it make a mark on your style.
Let me know in the comments below and keep on suggesting brands for future articles.
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