Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The A-Z of casual (Part 1)

Now that Maxim’s print edition has gone to the big media launch-with-free booze in the sky, I thought it was about time I put up my last job for them, a dangerously comprehensive A-Z of what has become known (for better or worse) as “casual”. This, as you’ll be able to tell by the title is Part 1. Excitingly, Part 2 will make an appearance in the next few days. Who’d have thought that the sartorial whims of a few Scouse yobs in the late 1970s would provide me with a way of furthering my narrow view of male fashion 30 years later?


The trainers produced by the German sports shoe firm are perhaps the only constant in the story of this movement. The first shoe to really make it as a terrace staple was the Adidas Samba, a black trainer with a cream-coloured sole. After that, the likes of the Stan Smith, Trimm-Trab (German for “keep fit”), LA Trainer, Jeans (a denim shoe) and Forest Hills all made it to the top of the unofficial Adidas trainer tree. According to Dave Hewitson’s The Liverpool Boys Are In Town, between 1979 and 1981, the city of Liverpool accounted for 30% of all Adidas sales in the UK. Other notable Adidas classics include the ST2 padded anorak, the Ivan Lendl argyle tracksuit top and A15 tracksuit bottoms.
See also: mythical “Adidas Centre” in Paris that Scousers spent days looking for at the 1981 European Cup final. It didn’t actually exist.

Bobble hats
Haeadwear was a big part of casual and none more so than the bobble hat – though the actual bobble itself was often removed, transforming the item into a “ski hat”. Most popular were ones that displayed the wearer’s club on one side with either Celtic or Rangers on the other, depending on his religious persuasion. In the 1988 film The Firm, young West Ham fan Yusef is angrily castigated by another member of the crew for wearing a half-West Ham/half-Celtic bobble hat. “What have we got to do wiv Celtic?”


Though London took to the scene a couple of years after Scousers and Mancunians, by 1980 every team in the capital had a firm of well-dressed “chaps”. Londoners displayed a fondness for pastel colours and Bond St brands like Burberry, Gucci and Aquascutum, as well as the labels more associated with the scene such as Fila, Sergio Tacchini and Lacoste. They also wore an awful lot of gold “tom”*.
*tom = tomfoolery = jewellery

Deerstalkers et al
Country casual met football casual with the approximation of the hunting look by fans in the early 1980s. If it wasn’t Barbour waxed coats then it was geography teacher-style tweed jackets, leather patches and all. Some even went the whole hog, buying fearsome-looking dogs (“rotties” and “staffs” usually) to go hunting for rats with. The deerstalker hat sealed the look of refined menace.


The meeting point for London clubs leaving town and north-westerners arriving for matches in the capital, midday on Saturdays was not a place for the faint-hearted. Awaydays writer Kevin Sampson: “It was scary. You’d think it’d be like something out of Green Street when we alighted, but all I remember is people being really quiet, wondering when it was going to kick off. Apart from mobs of Cockneys looking for you, there’d be ‘spotters’ from places like Stoke and Coventry waiting around to see what we were wearing.”


One of the unintended consequences of this explosion of creativity was the growth in fanzines that charted the everyday experiences of casuals and the world they lived. Most notable were Liverpool’s The End and London’s super-smart Boys Own. These fanzines were the inspiration for the sort of men’s magazine we’ve spent the last two decades reading.


If football was the game that the casuals watched, tennis was the sport that dictated how they dressed. Nothing signified tennis’s association with the European super-rich than the gold stripes on the ultra-lightweight Adidas Forest Hills and the kangaroo skin Diadora Borg Elite trainers.


Seminal ITV documentary from 1985 on West Ham’s legendary ICF, which showed a group of mulleted Irons fans wandering around London looking for bother with rival firms – notably Chelsea and Man Utd. Most memorable for an interview with a casual in a Lacoste cardigan, in which he said: “You go other people’s grounds, you run ’em, it’s just enjoyment all the time. You’ve gone to their manor, done what you’ve wanted to do and they won’t do it you lot when they come down here.”

England games became unofficial AGMs for the country’s nutters following trouble at the 1980 European Championships in Italy. While the London teams would usually drop their differences to fight Johnny Foreigner, both Man Utd and Liverpool fans were more interested in screwing Alpine jewellers than teaming up with “Ingerlund”. Followers of both clubs are now largely absent from the England fan base.

JD Sports
A shop that was built on the slavish enthusiasm of young lads to the latest sportswear, JD is now the leading trainer retailer in the country, while their Size? shops are place to go for rare, reissued footwear. Gary Aspden, Adidas: “Starting out with one shop in Bury in the early ’80s, the people behind JD Sports understood casual culture – arguably this was the whole foundation of their business. JD revolutionised the UK sportswear industry by being the first to understand, recognise and embrace its lifestyle appeal. They now have over 400 stores in the UK.”

Kickers and Kios

While trainers were the staple of the scally, some shoes made it as matchday attire. Most popular were those made by Kickers and Kios, who produced ungainly European numbers with thick soles and rounded toes. Worn with cagoules and slim-fit jeans they enabled a group of casuals on the prowl to look like a bunch of French exchange students. Until they started lobbing chairs through the windows of pubs, that is.

Liverpool in Europe

It’s been said before, but Liverpool’s domination of the continent was responsible for more luxury brands coming to the UK than the opening of the Trafford Centre. They may have come from the cold, wet banks of the Mersey, but their appropriation of the look of Europe’s super-rich opened up England to velcro trainers (the Adidas Tom Okker Comfort), up-market tennis-wear (“Australian” brand trackies) and dodgy Italian zip-up roll-necks (Kappa). There are shopkeepers in places like Switzerland and Bavaria who still rue the day they decided to display their rare Adidas trainers in pairs.

Mancs and Scousers

Up until the mid-’60s there was never a great deal of trouble between Merseyside and Manchester. By the late 1970s the games between Liverpool* and Man Utd resembled a particularly bloody war zone. There’s also been controversy over who started the whole casual thing, with Mancunians saying that casual was just a continuation of their home-grown “Perry boys” style of the mid-’70s. Needless to say, this is dismissed by Liverpudlians.
* On these occasions it was common for Liverpool and Everton scallies to team up against the common enemy

Monday, April 27, 2009

Moscow at night – pictures that make the Russian capital look like the most beautiful city on earth

The word ‘amazing’ is used a little too liberally these days, usually by people who work in cushy jobs in the media with far too much time on their hands. You know the drill…

Media person 1: “Yeah, on Saturday night I went to some ’80s-themed fancy dress party in Notting Hill.
Media person 2: “Really? Any good?”
Media person 1: “What do you think? Not only did I get like, properly wasted on MDMA and coke, but I did it dressed as Mr T.”
Media person 2: “Amazing.”

See? Now I‘m as guilty as the next London fop of hyping what are essentially mundane experiences to give my existence a veneer of cool, but in the case of the night-time pictures of Moscow I found on English Russia, for once ‘amazing’ is a suitable adjective. Taken by the talented and evidently vertigo-proof photographer Chistroprudov Dimitri these long-exposure shots are some of the best urban landscapes I’ve ever seen. And remember, this is Moscow he’s capturing here, transforming it from scruffy post-communist corrupt-opolis to magical nocturnal city with one press of a button. It makes you almost want to live there.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pastel terraces in Kentish Town

My wi-fi is off today, which means I’m writing this on my laptop in a coffee shop in Islington. If that doesn’t make me a sickening media cliché then I don’t know what does. Oh yeah, the laptop is a Mac too. Anyway… Kentish Town is a most underrated area of north London, boasting, as it does, a surfeit of posh food shops, tanning salons and a lovely independent book store that I can never be bothered to go in. It also has a disused Tube station, South Kentish Town, which has been colonised by that beacon of upwardly mobile urban existence, Cash Converters.

As attractive as these places are, the best thing about KT are the rows and rows of pastel-coloured terraces you’ll find either end of the high street. I especially love Kelly Street, home to Mario’s Café, the neighbourhood caff immortalised in the song of the same name on St Etienne’s So Tough album.

Looking about as perfect as an urban street can, every house glows – especially at this time of year – with a gentle warmth that makes you feel immediately envious of the people who live there. They no doubt have the same worries and complaints about their environs as the rest of us, but in my mind life in Kelly Street is one long round of afternoon cocktails, ironic Tupperware parties and discussions about second division footballers of the 1970s. And all the women look like Saint Et’s Sarah Cracknell at her absolute peak circa 1991…

While Kelly Street wears the north London pastel terrace crown with studied aplomb, to the north of Kentish Town Road the grid of roads around Leverton Street (below) give it a good run for its money. The properties aren’t quite as immaculate, but on a late April evening with the sun making its descent over nearby Hampstead Heath you could be forgiven you’ve stumbled upon the perfect Mediterranean bolthole. If it wasn’t for all the alkies by the station that is.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Five essential rules for wearing trainers

1) Watch those huge bows. If you’ve just spent a hundred quid on a pair of wheels nothing makes them look like they fell off the back of the Matalan lorry better than some unsightly bows flapping about all over the place. Cut your laces or tuck the knot behind your tongue. Much nicer.

2) Right trouser, right trainer. The flatter the sole, the wider your strides should be. A nice chunky pair of Adidas Grand Slam look great with a narrow jean, but get lost under flares. If you’re wearing Converse Chuck Taylor, think straight-legged jeans or even better, a pair of shorts and no socks for that townie/Ivy League crossover. Coupling them with drainpipes will make you look like Pete Doherty. Not good when you’re 47.

3) Don’t tie your laces too tight. Not only will you end up with your shoes curling upwards at the front, but the gap between either side of the tongue will be too narrow. A bit of width here is a good thing – even if it means you trainers feel half a size too big.

4) Designer trainers are mostly a waste of money, as anyone who’s seen Gucci’s range will tell you. If you don’t want to invest in some lovely Pointer models (above), buy a pair of Adidas Stockholm, Rom or Spezial and spend the leftovers on a new jacket from Garbstore or Oi Polloi.

5) Wearing faded jeans with black trainers will make you look as though you’ve just come out of prison or the army. Wear white ones instead, but keep them clean or you’ll get mistaken for a student. Never good, especially if you are a student.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Three great Japanese jackets that are better investments than spending your cash on drugs or weekend breaks in the Cotswolds with people you don’t really like

Japanese clothing seems to a be a distillation of everything I like about men’s clobber. There’s bits of preppy, a touch of olde English and the smart lines of Italian tailoring, all merged with that uniquely Japanese attention to detail. Best of all are their jackets-in-the-shape-of-suit-jackets-which-aren’t-suit-jackets – you know, the three-button numbers that look great with dark, selvedge denim and boxfresh Converse. Unsurprisingly, sites like Oki-Ni and Oi Polloi are the best places to get them, but even cheapskate chic specialists Uniqlo do a splendid model, which retails for less (1p less in truth) than 20 quid.

First up is this deconstructed* cotton jacket, the result of a collaboration between Monocle magazine and the Italian/Japanese/American label Woolrich Woolen Mills. It costs £370. Buy it – or at least lust after it – here.

Tip: HYR Collective

I’ve wanted this effort from Haversack for about six weeks and each time I see it, like some over-indulged spoilt child screaming for a Buzz Lightyear doll in Toys ’R’ Us, I know that its purchase will make me happy forever. But, as my mum used to say, “I want, doesn’t get.” Unless, of course, you’re Donald Trump. £450 from Oki-Ni.

Gratifyingly for us clothing nerds, a new premium denim/tailoring brand seems to appear from the land of the rising sun on an almost daily basis, prompting desperate phone calls to stockists from hopefuls trying to get that signature item. Kato is one such label. Sold in the UK by Oi Polloi and Oki-Ni, its range of shirts and jackets tick all the chambray/selvedge boxes and will inspire such envy from your mates you may have to leave the country for a few weeks. The beautiful cotton jacket above, which retails for like, loads (OK, £350), shows you just what I’m talking about. Buy it from Oi Polloi here.

* The use of ‘deconstructed’ here does not make me instantly despicable

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hillsborough: A personal account

Twenty years ago, 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives at a football match in Sheffield. Despite the fact I was on the same terrace as those who died, I was fortunate enough to come home unscathed.

Years later, in the summer of 2003 I was asked by Four Four Two to write about my experiences of the tragedy. It was probably the most personal bit of journalism I’ve done. Today, the magazine, with my permission, has put the article on its website to coincide with the anniversary of the tragedy. For those that are interested, the piece is here.

For a full explanation of why Liverpool fans still want justice, visit the Hillsborough Justice Campaign’s website.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Seven new instant smears about the Tories*

*Includes one Liberal smear for the sake of fairness

Labour has proved once more that if you’re planning to destroy people’s political careers through unsubstantiated smears it’s best not lay out your plans in an email. However, as making up untruths about your rivals is an integral part of politics, each party should, from now on, be forced to appoint an independent ‘Smearmaster’ to write libels about MPs on the opposite benches. With no real link to the party, the Smearmaster would be free to lie at will without damaging the reputation of his or her paymasters. I am therefore putting myself up as the Labour candidate for this position. Here are a few of my very own smears, which can be rented out by the hour.

David Cameron has terrible eye/hand co-ordination and was always picked last in cricket at Eton

Every prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate has to excel at folk dancing and tapestry-making

George Osborne runs like a girl, and actually prefers skipping

At Boris Johnson’s stag party, several of the guests left early to go home and make scale models of catwalk fashion shows

Norman Tebbit has a subscription for The Lady magazine. He has yet to complete its crossword

Nick Clegg calls Vince Cable “Mummy” in private

Guido Fawkes has a tattoo of a dolphin on his ankle

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Bloke and Coke on Twitter!

As if.

However, it seems that more and more people are jumping on the ba… sorry, immersing themselves in this unique form of communication, which means that if this site is to retain its cool I’m going to have get “tweeting”. Obviously, this involves writing about sickening banalities every ten minutes – something that seems far too much like hard work for me. Instead, I’m going to pen a few of my own ready-made “tweets”, which can be referenced should any B&C readers feel the need to see how I’m feeling on like, a minute-by-minute basis. Here goes:

In Starbucks. Thinking about World War II. Skinny latte and the SS? Where’s Chris Evans?

There seems to be warm, glowing, round thing in the sky. What could it be? AIDS?

Ben Stiller has just walked into the Groucho. Oliver Stone yet to appear. George Roper?

Waiting for a package. Sadly, not of expensive clothes, but conkers and hazelnuts. George W. Bush: is this YOUR fault?

The iPhone App Store has just started selling biscuits. Next: weddings and dog food? Or instant 9/11?

My girlfriend is a washing machine. Yours isn’t. Coincidence? Digg that, Blair!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Modernism in London: Lawn Road Flats, Hampstead

One of the advantages of not having a full-time job* is the fact that you have plenty of time to meander about the city, taking pictures of places you can’t afford to live in. For some reason I’ve always loved modernism – this may come from growing up near Skelmersdale and Kirkby – and I can’t think of a better example of this architectural philosophy than the Lawn Road Flats in the leafy London village of Hampstead.

Built between 1932 and 1934 by the Canadian architectural practice Isokon for ’20s yuppies and their Bakelite telephones, the flats were described by one resident, the novelist Agatha Christie, as looking “like an ocean liner”. I don’t know about that – I certainly couldn’t find any retired hairdressers spending their pensions – but it does have a classic elegance undimmed by time. The building’s principal architect Wells Coates explained it thus:

“My scheme provides a place which every actor in this drama can call his own place, and further than that my idea of property does not go. This is the room where I sleep, this is where I work, and this is where I eat. This is the roof garden where everyone can turn out...This is the garden where everyone goes. It’s like a park.”

Over the years, the flats started to deteriorate, but in 2001 the block underwent a restoration, and it looks fantastic. However, much as I love the modernism the Lawn Road development represents, so many crimes were done in this movement’s name during the 1950s and ’60s that it will always be associated with asbestos-filled tower blocks, Soviet-style town halls and the destruction of some of our greatest city centres (see Birmingham). The problem is that on a rainy island like ours, the steel that reinforces the concrete in even the best buildings soon starts to rust, the once-pristine cladding goes grey and smackheads become magically attracted to the convenience of communal living/stealing. Maybe that’s why Le Corbusier’s vision of “a machine for living” works better in the Mediterranean. Unless, sadly, it’s Naples.

*Disadvantages include the constant dread of not being able to pay your mortgage/rent, waving goodbye to meals out, talking to yourself and listening to too much Radio 4. And despair – though this only happens when you find yourself planning your day around the making of a cup of tea

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Maxim closes
I don’t normally blog about serious things, largely because a) I’d rather make sneering jokes about posh boys slumming it in Hoxton and b) see ‘a’. But today, it seems like the men’s magazine market was dealt a fatal blow with the news that Maxim magazine is no more. And for me, that’s something I think I should mark.

Magazines have always closed, in fact it’s the one thing you could always rely on them to do. But in the past, when a title was shut down there was always a new one to take its place. So Pretentious Architect would be replaced by Stunningly Trendy London Apartment Monthly and so on and so on.

Not any more.

Mags are falling like Cristiano Ronaldo after a crunching tackle in front of the cameras at Old Trafford. And it’s men’s publications that are the ones doing the rolling around the pitch in agony.

The first – and perhaps, best – British men’s mag of the modern era was the style-with-substance Arena, which launched in 1986. After that, in 1994, came Loaded, a publication based on the philosophy that you could love good music, great journalism and football at the same time – as anyone who’d read soccer fanzines during the ’80s would have been able to tell you. Sensing a cash cow, EMAP re-branded For Him Monthly as FHM, and a slew of other titles like Front, ICE and Maxim all appeared. The zeitgeist was truly being tapped into.

I’ve worked in this sector for years, editing ICE up until its closure in 2007, and more recently as Contributing Editor on the now-defunct Arena – and Maxim’s demise really does feel like the end of an era. An era that started in the late 1970s with football fans dressing in designer gear to go to the match, exploded with acid house and delivered the beery good times of the 1990s. That particular part of social history – clothes, clubs and all, is now over.

None of the men’s magazines that are left sit in that uniquely cheeky British middle ground that the original Loaded made its own. Instead you have the safe-but-professional GQ, the beautifully designed Esquire – and Loaded, FHM, ZOO and Nuts, all left wondering how they’re going to keep hold of the readers that have deserted them for the internet.

In the days before Arena heralded the men’s mag era, British males bought publications that reflected their passions, be it carp fishing, caravan touring or wearing camouflage sun-hats and storing high-grade weaponry in caves in north Wales. The demise of Maxim and Arena signals a move away from the general interest men’s magazine and back to this older model. The fishing and bird-watching titles, like cockroaches in a nuclear war will be here long after Nuts has unveiled its last girl-next-door. While some – and I’m thinking of the Guardian readers who left sneering remarks about Maxim’s end on the paper’s website – will take delight in another lad’s mag going to the wall, others will see that we are close to losing something very special here. A sector of publishing that really reflected the humour and ideals of the sharp, young British male, a million miles away from the privileged, safe world of so much journalism.

As writers we’ve all relished working in an industry which is, as Julie Burchill once said, a doss – and for some there is the creeping realisation that the party may really be over. Up until recently we’d never had it so good. And some of us – journalists and readers alike – may never have it that good again. A shame.