Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Memoirs of an original Mod from the sixties

Meet Mike Anderson. Someone who was there at the birth of it all. He has seen it, lived it and continues to perpetuate the ideals of the Mod way of life. I first got in contact with Mike through his Facebook page The Detroit Locker where he sells quality vintage Mod wear that anybody would be proud to strut around in.

The first piece I got a hold of was this stunning beagle collar Ben Sherman shirt with a pattern that you just won't find on the racks today. The old twisted label is something you don't come across on a regular basis. I knew right away that he had great taste.

Next was this seemingly standard looking 60s tie. The reason why I had to have it was that it's a vintage James Bond 007 article. The James Bond signature on the inside silk liner is the "killer" detail that brings it over the top. Nobody will ever see it but I'm sure it will give me the confidence to face any benevolent evil genius that will cross my path.

When I first approached Mike about sharing his story, he told me: "Many of my own experiences and memories don't match up to the "accepted" history of what Mod was like". That is when I knew I had to convince him to take a seat in my time machine. He graciously accepted.

Mike in 1966
The floor is all yours M. Anderson.

I was born in 1949 so I was at the younger end of the "original" Mods who were two or three years older than me. At school, many of my classmates were fashion conscious and we counted ourselves as "Mods" even though we were too young to ride scooters. Small matters like the width of the trouser hem were important and you'd get your Mum to taper and narrow them according to what the latest fashion would dictate.

We lived in a small market town 30 miles South of London and in rural areas the Rockers always outnumbered the Mods. It was the norm to align yourself to one youth cult or the other, even if you were only a nominal member. When Ringo Starr was asked which he was, he famously answered that he was a Mocker! I recall at school the greasier elements indulged in some internal wrangling about whether the Rolling Stones or the Pretty Things were the grungier group.

The Mods preferred Georgie Fame and American R&B. I began to take an interest in fashion when I was probably about 13 or 14. My first Mod item was a tab collar shirt. I was on holiday with my Aunt Cathie who was a head teacher and very indulgent to my brother and I. Seeing the shirt in a shop window in Yeovil, I only had to say that I liked it and I was taken in by Aunt Cathie to buy it. The shirt was blue with a round giraffe collar. I think it had two tabs and ever since I've had a thing about that style which to me is more Mod than the button down.

Mike and his aunt in Brighton.
Aunt Cathie's Vespa
Later that same holiday I bought a blue cuff link / tie slide set in Weymouth which I still have. Contrary to popular belief, not all Mods were flush with cash and living in a small town. The latest styles were not always available even if you had the money. Sometimes we would "make do and mend". When the Dr. Kildare shirts became popular (as worn by the Dave Clark Five) I had an old white polo neck sweater and I turned the collar inside out, inserted some cardboard in the collar and sewed two buttons on the neck.

A young Mike
My brother Patrick is three years older and had a Vespa Sportique. When the college sweater look was in, Mum cut out a letter "P" and sewed it to a plain tee shirt. At school we used to be sent off on cross country runs and often would go down to a mate's house to listen to Georgie Fame or other Mod favourites on his Dansette. He also lived next to a girls' private school which was another good reason to skive off, not forgetting to splash some mud on our legs before getting back to school.

A stylish Mike in Paris in 1966
I bought my parka from an army surplus store in Redhill in Surrey, went over with my older brother Patrick on the back of his Vespa Sportique. Just a cheap second hand garment then but I expect it would be worth quite a bit now!

Stuart Pope was the first in our School to get a scooter, a Lambretta LD, and was the envy of us all when he rode it up to the school gates and parked it on the road outside. Stuart had customised his ride with a big mudflap behind the rear wheel made from a rubber mat on which he painted "Stu" in white. I left School in '65 to go to Technical College in Crawley, a large "new" town built post war to house London overspill and a definite Mod stronghold.

My first scooter was an Lambretta LD with an electric starter which I'm told is very rare. Best of all was my last one, a Lambretta TV 175 Series 2 which had chrome side panels and had just that little bit more pace than the Li. Mind you I was pleased when I passed my car driving test and didn't have to suffer the cold and rain.

This is my wife Barbara. We started going out when I was a Mod. Another good reason to remember the 60's fondly.


I want to thank Mike for giving us a seat in his time machine. After reading his account, I can understand why he cherishes his memories of this by-gone era. Make sure to check out Mike's Facebook page, The Detroit Locker.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Are Mods Violent? Myth or Reality?

Now that the celebrations around the 50 years of Mod are over, let me ask you this question. Is Mod a violent subculture? Events were popping up all around the UK to commemorate this milestone and they would coincide with the clashes between the Mods and Rockers that took place on the beaches of Brighton, Margate and Clacton half a century ago. Is this what we want to pay tribute to? We want to pay homage to a bunch of hooligans that beat each other to a pulp and found pleasure in destroying property?

Of course I wasn't even born when those events happened. I wasn't even born on the same continent. I did exchange with a few Mods of the era and like in any movement, the accounts vary. I interviewed an original Mod a while back and he was so incoherent that I decided not to publish the interview. He did relate to me that he was on Brighton's shores during the confrontations. I got a sense that he was proud of it.

In this short 4 minute interview from the BBC, a Mod recalls being in Brighton when the violence erupted. He has a very nuanced view of it. I urge you to listen to it.

Mods in Hastings. Photo by the BBC

I've had conversations with original Mods that saw these young agitators as anything but Mod. What true Modernist in their right mind would risk damaging their clothes in a fight? They were above that. Many of them would rather be at a live venue in London than be seen on the beaches during a Bank holiday. When I asked my favorite Continentalist Gill Evans of ModTogs  what her thoughts were on the subject, here's what she had to say:

"Suits were a lot of money and were prized possessions. All Mods really looked after their clothes they wouldn't have gone into the sea in them. The thing is that back in the '60s there wasn't the media coverage that there is today, I remember there was a mention of the fighting on TV and a couple of photos in the newspaper.
There was Alex's Pie Stand in Birmingham where we would go after going dancing and there would be Mods and Rockers there but not any fighting. I had friends who were Rockers that I had known for many years but we didn't become enemies because of our clothes."

Mods in Hastings. Photo by the BBC
I'm with Gill. I always thought that Mods were synonymous with class, not fists. I'm not much of a brawler myself, even as a teenager. That doesn't mean that as a Mod from the Revival, I didn't face danger on a few occasions. I recall of few times when Skinheads chased me down the street wanting the Fred Perry on my back or the boots on my feet but I always managed to stay out of trouble. To this day, I've never been in a fight aside from the few years of Taekwondo classes I took a lifetime ago. The only battle I want to engage in, is a DJ battle.

When I asked Mike Anderson from The Detroit Locker about his views on the matter, he had this to say:
"As the riots in seaside resorts like Brighton and Hastings did happen in '64, it can't be denied that there was a violent element among the Mods. However at the time, the media exaggerated the scale of the violence and then Quadrophenia carved it in tablets of stone so that the myth became reality.
Much was a self fulfilling prophecy, so when the media said there would be trouble, loads of teenagers turned up more as spectators than to get involved. I don't think there was any real animosity between most Mods and Rockers. I worked with a guy who loaned me a BSA when my LI was off the road. We'd stand around together with the Rockers and exchange banter. Locally, the violence was centred on a small group in their late teens and early twenties who drove cars and would start fights on any pretext. That's how they got their kicks. My Mod friends and I steered well clear. I can still remember the atmosphere of menace and fear when they turned up at a dance.
The riots of '64 are worth noting as part of the history of teenage cult but should be taken in context and not define Mod. This weekend I turn 65 and achieve OAP status, but it's the clothes, music, scooters and a feeling of youthful optimism that are the reasons I look back with great fondness to the days of my youth."
It's true, I've enjoyed the riot scenes in Quadrophenia a lot more times than I would like to admit. I have a feeling that if I had been there in 1964, I would have been the guy pulling his girlfriend in a secluded back alley instead of breaking a deck chair on a Rocker's head. For a short history lesson about the legendary clashes, these sock puppets will tell you all that you need to know.

Luckily, things seem to have calmed down since my teen years. Mods and Skinheads can be seen together without major incidents. In fact, they seem to have more things in common than reasons to annihilate each other. An example of this is the proliferation of joint Mod and Skinhead related Facebook groups.

Mods & Skinheads sharing a pint. Photo by Amélie Trash.
Mods & Skinheads united
Rockers & Mods also organize riding events together. They happen all over the world and a sense of camaraderie is the norm. This photo was taken at a Mods vs Rockers ride last summer. I was the DJ at the night that followed. Nobody was arrested and no ambulance was called.

This very pose of my mate Richard and I made the local daily newspaper the next day.

On a trip to Brighton in 2009, everything seemed peaceful and tranquil. I managed to come back unscathed and in one piece.

I passed by these Rockers and they seemed friendly.
Law enforcement was ready for any signs of disturbance.
The only screams heard during my visit came from this area of the Brighton Pier.
The only aggressive behaviour I encountered was from these guys. Angry Birds, the real game.

While I was working on this expose, I asked my friend and host of the We Are The Mods podcast Warren Peace if he had any thoughts on the subject. Since he's not the type of guy to shy away from a potentially hot topic, he raised some interesting points. In his own words:
"These days however it's a little different in that sadly, the 'pebbles' being thrown are libelous, bullying commentaries and rhetoric via the social media 'beaches' of 2014 by a bunch of mid-life's with less mental agility than those teens of the 60's and who frankly, should have better things to do with their lives like kids, mortgages, low carb/low sodium sugar-reduced diets, botox and retirement plans. Has the elegance and beauty of modernism really degenerated beyond the clean, functional lines, timeless style and music into a bunch of 40+ 'should know betters' dragging good old fashioned debate into the gutter where it decomposes into hateful, vicious slander? Has the soul of soul been lanced leaving only empty black shells to reenact a Lord of the Flies type of nasty, barely literate online feeding-frenzy? I believe it has."
Warren brings up a compelling argument. How is it that we have become our own worst enemies? The reason I was always proud to call myself a Mod was because it gave me a sense of being a gentleman. Isn't that what a suit represents? Class, sophistication, good taste, pride, no matter what social class you are from. When you don that tie, you're indistinguishable from the upper class. Shouldn't our behaviour reflect that? Let me take a stand, right here, on this day. Mods are refined agents of cool that have better things to do in life than use violence, verbal or otherwise. I'm an eternal optimist. So, who's with me?

So what would have been an appropriate date to memorialize this benchmark? Here's my suggestion for next time. I think that Mod's Diamond jubilee should be on November 5th 2040 to celebrate 75 years since the release of My Generation by The Who. Strike that, by 1965 some say that Mod was already dead. Let me hear you, Mods of the world. Do you have a new anniversary date we could look forward to?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Italian Knit - When Mod Goes Casual

When the suit and tie stays in the closet, the knit comes out. I couldn't think of another piece of clothing that can make a statement without being too formal. It can be worn with a simple pair of jeans, some smart Sta-Prest's or classy dress trousers. Your imagination is your only limit. It's versatile to say the least.

The Small Faces looking at knitwear on Carnaby Street. Photo by Tony Gale

The title of this post says "Italian Knit" but in reality, this fully buttoned shirt is as much an American thing as a continental European design. Since the 60s, it has adorned Jazz and Soul musicians, Ivy Leagers and Mods alike.

Stevie Wonder's trombone player sure knows how to jazz up an outfit.

The choice of colours and the variety of stripes and patterns is what makes it so appealing. I could include all types of knits and fabrics in this post but I'll focus on a certain look. Yes, a 3 or 4 button shirt could be considered a Mod knit, like this perfect example worn by Steve Marriott, but I'll put the accent on the collared cardigan type knitwear like the one above.

In the last 10 years, we have seen the resurgence of these bold and vibrant examples. You want to be a true modernist and only wear something new? You will be well served. Retailers like Gabicci,  David WattsArt Gallery, Jump The Gun offer a range of knitwear that will suit your fancy.

Eric, on the right, is wearing a soft Merino knit from Art Gallery

Shops like Mendoza also sell some high quality knitwear but you can expect to pay a premium. You may have to pay more but you can be assured that you won't show up at a Sunday afternoon scooter ride with someone wearing the same cardigan as you. They have a very limited run of each of their designs.

Quality is synonymous with Mendoza.

The new player on the scene is Connection Knitwear and Accessories. Run by my mate Daniele, I  have very high hopes for his future collections. As soon as I saw this one, I bought it before they ran out. Take it from me, this is well made.

When I asked Daniele to describe his knits, this is what he had to say: "The inspiration is clearly derived from 1950s and 1960s Italian knitwear. We wanted not only to reproduce a style we've always been fond of, but give it our personal touch, adding a twist via the color schemes, the quality of materials and the care of details. The same attention to quality and style will guide us in the development of the next collections."

Eric's bold choice of socks makes the colours of his Connection knit pop even more.

It's no secret, I love vintage clothes. This applies to knitwear too. 

Scan from the King-Size catalog - Summer '65

The only true way to have something unique that nobody else has, is to go down the second-hand route. For this, you need a lot of patience, a discerning eye and luck.

I don't mind paying the same price for a vintage piece as I would for a new one, as long as it's deadstock or in a pristine condition. Be selective and you will be rewarded in the long run.

I found this one on the net in an unworn condition. It was worth every penny. Make sure you know your measurements well before making a purchase. These vintage knits were customarily  shorter compared to the contemporary versions.

Etsy, eBay and Facebook are some the best places to find vintage knits online. Watch the Cloth Moth is one of my favorite places to go on Facebook. Brands like Campus and Towncraft by JC Penneys were popular brands in the 60s. You might want to use these words in your searches.

A nice example of a vintage Towncraft.

Parka Avenue's tip of the day: A lot of these knits are also popular with Rockabillies. Don't be afraid and use it as a tag for your searches on eBay and Etsy. I won't tell anyone.

Long sleeves, short sleeves, heavy wool, Merino, acrylic ; you'll find a version of these Mod essentials for every season.

When a Mod goes casual, it doesn't mean he pays any less attention to his appearance. He will put as much thought and effort in his choice of shirt, accessories, shoes, all the way down to his socks, whether he wears these types of knits or not. That's just what a Mod is.

I want to thank the very talented and professional photographer Simon Laroche for most of the photos seen in this post. Not only did he manage to make us look decent (not an easy task!) but he was a pleasure to work with. You can see more of his work in the post I wrote about spending the day with 6 beautiful pin-up models. You can get in touch with him through his Facebook page here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mod For Sale

Yes, Mod culture has reached that level again when it's part of the collective consciousness. When advertisers start showing Mods to sell you stuff, you know that the scene is emerging from the shadows of the subculture underworld. Not too long ago, social media went ablaze when a commercial from a UK based insurance company started circulating, depicting a Mod couple. The Mod Male blog wrote a great post about it.

The debate was on. Do we want Mod exposed to the masses? Some make compelling arguments that we shouldn't. Many believe that once advertisers put their hands on a movement, it is doomed to suffer a slow death. I can see why some people feel that way.

At each of the movement's reincarnations, Mod imagery has been used to boost profits. It doesn't take a PHD in Wellerism to understand why. Mod = cool and cool sells. The concept is not new. Since the mid-sixties, when Swinging London took over the world, Mod became a commodity. That's when some of the die-hard Mods simply jumped ship. It had lost its appeal and the cool factor had evaporated. I think that's a valid point.

Non-smoking ad campaign seen in many youth magazines in the 60s.
Things in the 21st century haven't changed much, now that Mod has resurfaced. Clothing, beauty products and fashion accessories are obvious products to be branded with the Mod seal.

The 2013 Mad For Mod campaign for Banana Republic
Avon perfume

This brings me to Parka Avenue's foray into the advertising world. Yes, I have sold my Soul to the corporate gods! Before you crucify me in the town square, let me put you in context. I was asked, a few months back, to be part of an ad campaign for the new MasterCard World credit card. Six different individuals would be depicted, one each week, surrounded by their favorite things. I was going to be the first.

I wasn't chosen because I was going to play a part in a commercial. I am not an actor. In fact, if they wanted to chose a generic model to portray a Mod, they would have chosen a much better looking guy than this old mug. I was picked because they wanted "me". And what they found fascinating is that I am a Mod. What I liked about the concept is that it was to be presented more as a newspaper article / interview than an ad. The title (translated from the French) reads: Patrick Foisy - A real modern "Mod".

Subscribers to the online version of Montreal's daily newspaper La Presse, would also get additional content, like a video of me touring my loft and have access to a list of my favorite addresses in the city. 

I was very protective of my image. I made it very clear that they had to take me as I am. I didn't want it to turn into a corporation's vision of what Mod is. Fortunately, I was surrounded by an extremely professional team. The client, Banque Nationale, was also very supportive. The whole experience was entirely positive. In fact, when you have a team of sixteen talented individuals tending to you, it's hard the keep your ego in check. I felt like a Rock star!

When they said that I was going to work with a stylist, I was hesitant at first. A Mod doesn't need a stylist! A Mod IS a stylist! Do they really think that they're going to tell ME how to dress? They can introduce him to me but it would just be a waste of time and money. Once I got over myself, I met with Jay. What a great team we made! To be honest, I was looking forward to have a different perspective on my wardrobe.

He came out with very pertinent suggestions and I ended up being very grateful he was there. The connection was natural. We are both passionate about clothes. He also made me the best compliment I could hope for: "Pat, you're one of the rare ones I don't need to go shop for. You have everything and you know exactly what you want.You make my job real easy." We finally settled for my Gibson stripped boating blazer, a 60s pin-through club collar shirt with subtle blue stripes and French cuffs, a marine vintage knitted tie, red and blue paisley silk handkerchief, flannel grey trousers and black Loake chelsea boots.

Next was make-up. The make-up artist was also very sweet and wasn't looking to transform me into something I am not. She had been involved in the Burlesque / Rockabilly scene herself so she was already schooled on what Mod was.

No black eye-liner for me.
So there I stood, in the middle of my favorite things. They packed half of my loft into a van but they obviously had to make a selection. My '65 Lambretta TV175 series 3 was going to be centre stage. Everything else had a portable theme to it. Everything you need for the Mod on the go: portable bar, portable turntable, hand held AM radios and plenty of 45s. They even asked if we could use my vintage parking meter to pair it up with the scooter.

Three series of shots were taken. The first was of me casually sitting on my Lammy with my elbow resting on my helmet. The second was the one picked for the ad and the last one was, in my mind, a real contender. I was at the helm of my scooter with an industrial fan blowing in my face. I looked like I was doing 150 km/h! They even had fishing wire going through my tie with a production assistant waving it around at the end of a pole. 

The team discussing the final shot.
I was very happy with the final result. You might not approve of the way the Mod movement is being exposed to the masses but I have absolutely no regrets. You might even think that my choice of wardrobe or the objects represented are not indicative of what a Mod is. Frankly, I don't care. And let's be honest, Mods are relentless consumers. We like the finer things in life. I figured that if a Mod was going to be exhibited in an ad, I would rather it would be from a  real dedicated Mod that lives and breathes it everyday. And that's exactly what you have in front of you. You'll have to give me "credit" for that.