I sometimes hear people complain about the direction Ben Sherman took in the last decade. "It's too commercial." "The quality is lacking." "It steered away from it's Mod roots." "It's made in China." "My uncle wears a Ben Sherman." Although some of those complaints might be legitimate, I have to confess that I still love Ben Sherman. That doesn't mean I will buy every piece of a collection but every once in a while, I'll will put my hands on a shirt or a pair of slacks that I must add to my wardrobe.
Photo of Ben Sherman's original factory building
taken in 2009 while on a trip to Brighton
I like the fact that I can walk into the Bay store in downtown Montreal and choose something off the rack. And if I wait a few months, I can buy it at half price at Winners (our name for TK Maxx). Buying a Ben Sherman in a store in Montreal a few years ago was simply unheard of.
2010 spring collection from the Bay in downtown Montreal
And I don't miss the days before the Internet when I had to order my gear from the Merc catalogue. Every time I would cross my fingers and hope that the shirt would fit and the color was right. I would usually send out an order form with a postal money order (in £) and wait a month for the clothes to arrive. I wouldn't phone in my order for two simple reasons. One, I didn't have a credit card. Two, I tried once and I didn't understand a word the Merc employee was saying in his thick cockney accent. I must remind you that although I write this blog in English, French remains my first language.
Merc catalog - winter 1998
Merc Catalog autumn-winter 1999-2000
Merc Catalog autumn-winter 2000-1001
The selection was also pretty scarce. It was limited to 2 pages in the catalogue. You had your basic gingham shirt in 3 colors: blue, red and black. They also offered the classic polos in a few different colors. To some of you from across the pond, your common Ben Sherman gingham shirt might not be anything to brag about but back in the day, I was one of the rare ones to own such a shirt. Besides, none of the people I went to college with had a clue about this Ben character. So considering the limited availability of the garment, if you had one, you stood out.
My Ben Sherman collection has grown considerably since then. I have just recently given my two first Ben Sherman's away to a couple of friends. It's not because I didn't like them anymore. Let's just say that my physique has changed a little since I was 16. One thing hasn't changed. The shirts still look great, a true testament to the brand.
My closet has now opened its doors to trousers, shoes, jackets, ties and even underwear. Lately, my favorite product has to be the watches. As a true watch fanatic, it's only fitting that a few of them find their way in my collection.
So here's to you Ben. I tip my pork pie hat and raise my martini glass in your honor. You've given me years of quality, smart clothes and you've helped me look my best. For this I thank you. So it's a pleasure for me to officially induct you in the Parka Avenue Mod Hall of Fame.