Friday, May 29, 2009

The A-Z of casual: part 2


Got a mob? Get a name. The more obscure and lowly the team, the more thought went into the tag of their casual firm, as Peter Hooton explains: “When I was producing The End fanzine we got letters from the Derby-Leicester Alliance*, Wrexham Frontline, English Border Front, Wolves Subway Army, Lincoln Transit Elite… the list goes on.”
* A one-off super-mob put together to tackle Nottingham Forest’s Executive crew.

Ordinary, The
It was only in the 1960s that football supporters started following their teams in other parts of the country. To facilitate this, British Rail put on “football specials”, which would take well-behaved supporters to their ground of choice and whisk them back safely. Sadly, with no time to stop off for drink/scrap and the worst trains BR could find, smart fans soon dispensed with the specials and got on the “ordinary”, where you’d get less bother of the police and more time to peruse local men’s boutiques for pre-Switch “cashless” purchases. A punch in the face was often included in the price of a ticket.

Peter Storm and Patrick
The kings of the cagoule, these brands produced the must-have outerwear for trips away in autumn and spring, as Adidas’ Gary Aspden testifies. “It rains a lot in the north-west of England so you need something to keep you dry. Patrick cagoules came in loads of colours, we used to name ours after flavours of bags of crisps. They were intrinsic to casual fashion.”
See also: “paninari” – the fashionable Italian youths found hanging about outside sandwich (panini) shops in Milan, Rome etc. More inclined to razz about on 4cc mopeds whistling at girls for days on end than their English counterparts.

The first well-dressed lads at the match were deemed to be gay because of the effeminacy of their dress and haircuts. This changed when said effeminates starting using Stanley knives to reassert their masculinity.

If you want to gauge the cultural power of casual, just check out how many iconic and not-so-iconic labels have reissued “classics” in an attempt to cover themselves with casual cool. Adidas Originals trade heavily on their well-earned status, this year reissuing the ST2 coat and Kegler Super trainers – two absolute early ’80s classics. Other brands have also got in on it with Farah producing whole ranges on the back of the popularity of their sta-prest trousers during the 1980s.


While casual is seen as a specific period of time south of border (roughly 1977-1988), in Scotland, the term is still used to denote a violent, smartly-dressed football fan. The first crew to get on it were the Aberdeen, who, after meeting Liverpool in the European Cup of 1980, appropriated the Scouse look. Dons fans also followed sides like Tottenham and Arsenal, enabling shopping trips to London to stock up on designer gear. Later, Aberdeen were joined by Motherwell and Hibs in their fashion endeavours, but the twin giants of Scottish football, Celtic and Rangers remained oblivious to the cult.
See also: Stone Island, without doubt post-casual label of the 1990s, and now undergoing a renaissance.


As well as heralding the era of label-worship, casual also took the tracksuit from the tennis court to the terraces and breakdance mats of urban Britain. Made as luxury items for tennis players in Italy, the likes of Sergio Tacchini’s Dallas* and Cerutti 1881’s velour top were hugely sought after, but even they had to bow to the majesty of the Fila Terrinda, which retailed for a whopping £95 on its 1986 release. Neil Primett from “The Terinda was the most expensive tracksuit back then and was so aspirational. I’ve got 12 originals, which I’ve bought off eBay and they all cost between £400-£1000.”

* The Dallas was worn by John McEnroe in the 1981 “Battle of the Trackies” Wimbledon final, in which he took on a Fila-clad Bjorn Borg. What made Tacchini’s tracksuits so desirable was the instant flare the wearer could have by the facilitation of the zip at the back of trouser.

The youngest football mobs, with individuals usually working as “scouts” for the main firm and reporting on the whereabouts of rival crews. Not actually under five years old.

Very big bags

If Adidas gave us the trainers, then tennis brand Head provided iconic accessory of casual – the huge kit bag. These were no ordinary holdalls, the Head bag offered vast amounts of space for stolen European leisurewear to be crammed into and later sold in pubs. So popular was the bag that mobs of casuals would often turn up at the match carrying them, just because they looked so good. The first manbag.

The ultimate casual haircut, the wedge was actually invented in London in 1974 as a women’s style, but was soon adopted by the capital’s soul boys*. Cut short at the back, with a long, parted fringe that covered one eye, it was taken up by Scouse casuals when David Bowie sported one on the cover of his Low album.
*Flash, mid-’70s soul boys are seen by some as forerunners to casuals in the capital.

Xtra time

After Heysel, the “classic” casual brands fell out of favour. Instead European preppy labels like C-17, Chipie and Ciao became popular – usually coupled with a long-on-top short back and sides. Before the 1990 World Cup in Italy, brands like Duffer of St George and Burro used soccer as the basis for lots of their garments, including the iconic T-shirt. Alongside Gazza’s tears and Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, they were responsible for laying the foundations of the 1990s football boom.


While the cool months of the year were taken care of, clothes-wise, in the summer the only sport that could compete with tennis for clobber was yachting. Deck shoes by the likes of Sebago were especially popular, though the nearest they ever got to sea water was wading through the puddles in the car park outside Stoke City’s Victoria Ground.

Z-list brands
Not everyone could afford/steal the top labels, which meant that it wasn’t long before cheap imitations came out, often sold in markets and bought by mums with the words: “Look, it’s exactly the same as the one you wanted, but it’s £20 cheaper. Anyway, I prefer the shark to that crocodile.” Brands included, Ennesse, Gallini, Le Shark and St Helens’ finest Tacchini rip-offs, Walker. The thought of them makes many a casual shudder even now.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Beautiful proposed posters for the Olympic Games in London

As anyone with eyes knows, the logo for the London Olympics is horrendous – a cross between ‘Lisa Simpson giving a blow job’ (not my description) and the Play School house with a broken upstairs window. When it was unveiled the likes of Seb Coe and Harriet Harman told us we’d learn to love it, but a couple of years on its ‘hey, my nephew does graffiti’ theme just makes me cringe, especially when compared to all the timeless designs that have come before. Thankfully, it’s only the boring Olympics and not something important like the World Cup or Champions League Final or else we’d be really screwed.

Having said that, graphic designer Alan Clark has put together series of posters which he hopes will be used in the run-up the event in three years time. As his semi-abstract works not only look beautiful, but also convey exactly the sports they’re promoting I’d advise him not get his hopes up too high.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Awaydays: out this weekend

If you’ve read Kevin Sampson’s Awaydays book you’ll know just how influential Merseyside’s young dressers were on the rest of the country in the late 1970s. If you haven’t, then it is your solemn duty to drag your (probably unwilling) girlfriend along to the local cinema to see the film version and learn a bit of fashion history. Even if you have no interest in groups of young men hitting each other on the streets of depressing northern towns, only the most garment-illiterate grock could not gain pleasure from the sight of said youths swanning about in Adidas Forest Hills, Lois jeans and Peter Storm cagoules.

“Bliss was it to be alive that dawn, but to be young, with a Stanley in your hand, chasing a load of cavemen from Crewe, well that was very heaven.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gitman: great American shirts

I’m going on holiday to Majorca for a week today, but thanks to the marvels of half-working wi-fi systems in pretentious hotels I’ll still be able to post my nonsense from there. In the meantime – and while I should be concentrating on actually getting my case packed – I just had to put these great shirts from Gitman up. Alright, I didn’t have to, but you know, when the sun’s out and the boat shoes are in the case, thoughts do turn to those Ivy League essentials. If only I was going to Cape Cod.

Tip: h(y)r collective

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Astounding, if utterly depressing, pictures of Kabul

From the brilliant Skyscraper City comes this set of photos of the Afghan capital. The pictures were taken by Gavin Oliver and displayed as part of a series on the world’s most polluted cities. I think these images show that this most accursed of towns has gone beyond being merely ‘polluted’ to basically being hell on earth. Not that you’d know that by looking at the beautiful picture of the city directly below. Despair and ugliness do have a habit of making very good pictures…

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Modernism in London: Highpoint, Highgate

Like Hampstead, its slightly larger twin across the heath, Highgate seems to have been transported from the Cotswolds and dropped into the middle of north London. The village, and it really does feel like one, is made up of georgian villas, rows of elegant Victorian terraces and several modernist blocks, the best of which is Highpoint. As an example of urban(ish) living it really takes some beating.

Highpoint is made up of two blocks (‘1’ built 1933-35, ‘2’ 1936-38), both designed by the architect Berthold Lubetkin, a Russian emigre who arrived in England during 1931. An enthusiastic disciple of Le Corbusier, Lubetkin designed other buildings infused with the French architect’s modernist philosophy, like the Genesta Road terrace in Plumstead and my local doctor’s surgery, the Finsbury Health Centre. Influential these structures may be, but they cannot match the timeless, white-painted simplicity of Highpoint.

Like the Lawn Road flats in Hampstead I wrote about a few weeks ago, Highpoint benefits from a stunning location (the highest point in London, hence the name) and a high percentage of painfully tasteful tenants who pretty much define the “smug metropolitan elite” tag. According to one resident, St Etienne’s Bob Stanley, the block…

comes into its own in summer. Lubetkin based the layout on nearby Kenwood country house, and the building looks most spectacular when seen from the sloping lawns. The swimming pool is always busy on sunny weekends — it’s your chance to meet your neighbour’s Russian cousins you’ve heard so much about — while the tennis courts are used by octogenarians who look so fit you feel ashamed to take them on. Lubetkin was obsessed with blurring indoors and outdoors; each flat is heated from the ceiling to give the impression of the sun beaming down. The sense of community is heightened by the building’s bi-plane layout, which means the flats overlook each other.

However, not everything Lubetkin designed was as elegant and livable as Highpoint. This block in Bethnal Green in the East End looks like the sort of place you’d want to throw yourself off rather than live in.

However, if you do want go and see Highgpoint – and have a run-in with one of the residents for taking pictures without permission – you’ll find it here.