50 years on from the first Ben Sherman button down, we look back over the history of an i-Conic brand with its current Creative Director Mark Maidment, and flick through the anniversary publication from Josh Sims.
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The Swinging Sixties and its disregard for regularity saw the birth of Ben Sherman in 1963. Arthur Benjamin Sugarman designed the Ben Sherman button down, creating a look that would change the face of Britain. Hailing from Brighton, with The Beatles ringing in his ears, Ben created a fashion label that epitomised the lifestyle of the time. The sexual revolution, Skinheads, Mods and Rockers occupied the nation, and many of them adopted the button down as part of their staple wardrobe. Today, the shirt remains unchanged, but enriched through its history.
To mark their 50th anniversary Ben Sherman unveiled 50 Years Of British Style Culture, a celebratory publication from Josh Sims, the author of Men’s Style and contributor to The Times, The Independent and Esquire. The book, starting from the mid fifties with the influence of Teddy Boys, journeys through five decades of fashion, music and politics noting British menswear from the first real movements that saw the youth take their lead from cultural cues. Preceding the images of famous faces is archival imagery, offering a rare insight into the timeline of the brand. The foreword is penned by Mark Maidment, Creative Director of Ben Sherman for 10 years and counting. i-D caught up with Mark to chat music, Mods and why Paul Weller wore it best.
What is your first memory of Ben Sherman? Who did you see it on? How did they wear it? It was a defining moment. It was the school disco, it was 1979, I was 9 years old and One Step Beyond had just been released and it changed my life. It was the first time I had got the feeling that life was going to be really exciting and that music and fashion were going to play such a big part in my life and life in general. I went to the school disco and saw older lads wear these button down check shirts, with waffle cardigans, narrow cropped sta-press trousers, white socks and chunky loafers. I literally lay in bed that night and could not stop thinking about the clothes and the music. I remember having this grin on my face. I did a paper round and 10 weeks later, got on a train to London and bought my first Ben Sherman from a little store on Beak street. Happy days.
What is it about the brand’s identity that makes it so British? It’s a strange one because the button down shirt of course is an American preppy invention. Ben Sherman put his own unique twist on it, especially through colour and fabrication… but I think it’s really its adoption by so many important British style cultures and music movements that has given Ben Sherman its strong British identity.
Music has played a huge part in Ben Sherman’s heritage, which band/ musician do you think wore it best? That’s a really tough question! That’s like trying to pick your favourite child. If I have to choose, I’ll say Paul Weller, he’s just so into clothes, it really is in his blood, he’s uncompromising where others have given up or drifted away. When we did a shirt with Paul a few years ago, it really was an incredible experience, his passion for clothing and his incredible attention to detail on that project was something I really admired.
Do you listen to music when designing? If so, what do you listen to? I actually don’t, I love music but when I am designing or creatively thinking I actually need silence. When I do listen to music, it will be anything from Bob Dylan or Weller to Plan B or Emilie Sandé.
Ben Sherman was part of the Mod uniform, do you think subcultures, particularly in a style context, still exist? If not, will they exist again? I think it’s impossible for subcultures to exist in the same way as they have in the past. With the speed of communication, the web etc, I think it’s just very difficult for anything to germinate over time, things are just so fast now. Style cultures like mod, or two tone or even casuals took time to progress and develop, you had to be at the right place at the right time (like a disco in 1979), and things spread slowly. Of course there are very exciting style cultures happening today but they just develop so quickly and can move on so quickly that it’s hard to pin point when they started and when they stopped. And it’s for this reason that the big ones like mod, or rockers or teddy boys are becoming so admired because probably nothing like it will ever happen again in that way.
Who’s your i-Con? Actually it’s not a person, it’s a way of being. Icons for me, are people who stand out, push the boundaries of creativity and thought and bring newness to this ever changing world. Although Marlon Brando, and Richard Burton also spring to mind.
What do you envisage for the future of Ben Sherman? Another 50 years. In my time at Ben Sherman I have realised that the name and the brand evoke so much nostalgia, debate, discussion, passion. We want to continue to do things that evoke the same reactions for many decades to come.
Text: James Hutchins
Images: Courtesy of Ben Sherman