Growing up in 1980s Berlin, then a city with lots of “cool” but very little elegance, I caused quite a stir when I came to school in my new pink Lacoste shirt. What struck people as curious was not only the color of the shirt, unavailable for boys at the time, but also the color of the crocodile, which was blue. A few years later, a rather camp shop assistant would enquire of me whether my crocodile was drunk.
My school was snobbish enough for Lacoste shirts to be a status symbol, but only those of the ordinary French variety. It took some haughty explanations on my part to make it clear that no I was not sporting a fake, but something way more exclusive than could be bought in Berlin tennis shops: an Izod Lacoste imported from New York. It had been imported by my father, who had bought two pink ones at Brooks Brothers, one for himself in size “patron” and one for me in size “jeune homme,” an interesting attempt by Izod to refrenchify the licensed version, as the original Lacoste sizes were numbered.
The preppy bug had been planted in me quite thoroughly a couple of years earlier when my father had imported that invaluable bit of American pornography known as “The Official Preppy Handbook.” Few preppy originals where available then in Europe, which meant that if I wanted new I was reduced to wearing Timberland docksides instead of Sperry, and Benetton madras shorts rather than Brooks. The second-hand vein was richer and had been around since the early ’70s, with the best being the thrift shop on the main US Army compound in West Berlin. Obviously not all items available there fulfilled preppy standards, but my mother had succeeded in bringing back the odd desirable item, such as a madras jacket, LL Bean buttondown, and I seem to remember even an Arrow shirt, a remnant of an earlier wave of European Americanophilia.
The 1960s, particularly in Paris, had seen a wave of Ivy-philia that had come straight after a vogue for English- inspired tailoring. The minets, a French youth style tribe, who had earlier sported very high-armholed, waisted suits inspired by British hacking jackets, had taken to casual American classics as the ’60s wore on. Seersucker jackets, madras shirts, corduroy Levis, and above all Shetland sweaters were all the rage with Parisian teens. My father (pictured here in a recent photo), had spent a couple of semesters of his medical studies in Toulouse, and worked a few weeks in an Anglomania inspired clothes-shop called Ted Langley. Although he got a discount, a significant portion of his salary went to a bright red, high-buttoning cardigan and a skinny Old Rugbeians tie.
Photographs from the mid to late ’60s show my father in immaculate Ivy fashion when not suited (when he preferred his Italian bespoke jobs). He’d wear a cardigan, buttondown shirt, skinny beige chinos with tiny turn-ups worn over white crew socks with one blue and one red stripe, which in turn were clad in chunky Sebago penny loafers. His Ray-Ban aviators had to be bent out of shape to accommodate prescription lenses, as the teardrop shape was not then available in Germany.
Forward to 1981 when my father took me on a trip around France. We spent much of our time in the City Of Light hanging outside a shop called Stanley Spencer which stocked Alden. What we bought in the end, however, were not Aldens but a pair of oxblood Cole-Haan tassel loafers at Sulka for my dad, and later on in Cannes a more reasonably priced version from a lesser manufacturer for my still growing feet. It took me a trip to an Italian cobbler some months later to get the tassel spread exactly as in the Cole Haans, for it seems most manufacturers, even Alden, arrange the tassels in a limp loop, while a simple sailor’s knot will achieve a proud spread that provides a good counterpoint to the relatively elongated shape of the tassel loafer.
After having lived in London for almost 30 years, a few uncomfortable bespoke suits and quite a few tightly fitted and thornproof tweeds later, I have now returned into the easy folds of my first serious clothes obsession. Ebay and a kindly American aunt have allowed me to amass quite a collection of Ivy classics, from 3/2 sack blazers to alligator belts for an engine-turned buckle, and a pair of the Aldens I desired in Paris back in 1981. — PHILIP MANN