J. Simons: Natural Shoulder Still Spoken Here

The wide, wooden floorboards are creaking beneath your feet. You hear the saxophones and stand-up basses — so characteristic of Golden Age jazz — just audible over the bustle of conversation from a few guys in the corner; today’s topic is the latest cricket match, but it could just as easily be the newest café on the block or, more pertinent to our surroundings, the pros and cons of the beefroll version of leather penny loafers. Those are the regulars. There’s wool everywhere, and in many forms: stacks of Shetland sweaters, hand-tailored sport coats, neatly pressed trousers, raglan-sleeve overcoats. Closing the door behind you to shut out the rest of Marylebone, you have officially entered the world of John Simons. 

This was the scene I encountered when I first walked into the London retailer in 2018. And indeed I frequently encountered the same scene upon countless visits back. The last time I was in the shop — January of 2020 — it was par for the course. But then, who could have known that, in less than two months’ time, the world would be facing a situation that not only affected each and every one of us, but changed the very fabric of life as we knew it?

John Simons (the man) is credited to be the first person to put American Ivy Style into a British context, laying the groundwork in the early 1960’s for a style that would later become known as Mod. His love of all things Ivy rubbed off on the London youths who would line up outside his shop to be outfitted in the latest button-down collar Oxford shirt or herringbone-tweed sport coat. By the end of that decade, he was the go-to man for the Mods who had practically taken over the English capital. By the 1980’s, he was outfitting New Wave royalty such as Kevin Rowland of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Suggs of Madness, and Paul Weller of The Jam and The Style Council (and with whom Simons currently collaborates on a line of sweaters). In recent years, the brand John Simons (currently managed by John’s son, Paul Simons) has had a huge resurgence in popularity, thanks to the internet, from all over the globe. Open in different locations and under various names, there has continuously been a John Simons shop in London since 1963.

In the nine months since the Covid-19 pandemic really started taking its toll, John Simons, like many other businesses, has not been immune to its wake of mayhem. Just before 2020 at long last came to an end, I was able to catch up with son Paul to see how the team has managed to steer the business to the path of least-possible-harm. — TREVOR JONES

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IS: How has the business been faring through the pandemic?

PS: As for many businesses it has been a difficult time. When the first lockdown was introduced, we were forced to close our store on March 22nd, which meant that we went from taking the majority of our business in-store, to being entirely dependent on online trading.

IS: And how did you respond to this new landscape you were forced to face? 

PS: It was somewhat disorientating. We had not yet been provided with clear guidelines from the government as to what support we could expect, and there was a general air of uncertainty. Essentially, our response was to increase our online offerings and our social media presence. We then began recycling and repurposing old garments from our archives such as our madras shirts, which, with the help of a local tailor, we were able to use to create new face masks and narrow ties, and which are unique to John Simons Apparel.  

IS: Things in London seemed to be going pretty well over the summer. What did things look like for you then?

PS: This summer was an optimistic period in London. Restrictions began to be lifted and, once it was safe to re-open, our business returned in a manner that was comparable to the pre-pandemic climate.

IS: Unfortunately, that period of optimism has since ended. What has the latest shutdown in the UK meant for you guys?

PS: It has certainly been a disruption but at the same time, our online business has grown and this has coincided with the launch of several new products, including our new Made in London overcoats, Harringtons, and Golfer jackets. 

IS: What have been your biggest sellers throughout the whole situation?

PS: In terms of quantity, it has most definitely been our Madras face masks. However, our new line of overcoats has done extremely well this year and have proven to be a favorite with customers, both old and new alike. This is quite intuitive, as the one-piece raglan construction means that it suits a variety of different body shapes and sizes, and works as a unisex item also. 

IS: More than just business, the shop acts as a makeshift salon for the regulars to pop in: a community connected by clothes. How have you managed maintaining that community throughout all this?

PS: Through social media! The laid-back and cozy atmosphere of the shop can never truly be replicated in the digital-sphere, but we try to remain open, approachable and engaging in any way that we can through our social media platforms. 

IS: What has John’s role been at the shop through all this?

PS: Predominantly background support. John has been shielding during the lockdown period, but is always on hand to impart his sage advice and history and knowledge of the products. His contributions remain invaluable and pertinent to this day. 

IS: Has there been anything else newsworthy lately? 

PS: Yes, we have been extremely excited about our new Mingus Golfer Jacket! The Mingus combines the detailing of our classic Golfer Jacket with the seamless one-piece raglan sleeve of our overcoats. It has been another best seller of late. 

13 Comments on "J. Simons: Natural Shoulder Still Spoken Here"

  1. George T. Snoothound | January 26, 2021 at 3:51 pm |

    Natural shoulder….. The lingua franca of my childhood as a lowly prep and as an undergraduate ! Wonderful to see it still spoken fluently even if it is in England My ancestors may have made tea in Boston Harbor to make sure those Brits were sent back where they came from by I’ll be darned if I wouldn’t pick up a few beautiful natural shoulder garments from Mr. Simons if I could.. Thanks for the write-up !!

    Sincerely,
    George

  2. George T. Snoothound | January 26, 2021 at 3:52 pm |

    P.S. that should read…. BUT I’ll be darned! They persist in making these computer keyboards so damn small !!

    Sincerely,
    George

  3. One of the best things about John Simons is the quality of the customer service. In these days of online shopping and faceless multinational brands John Simons stands head and shoulders above the crowd.
    There have been countless times when they have managed to get me items in my size either made or sourced.When you pop into their Chiltern Street store there is never and pressures to buy or attitude just guys who are knowledgable and passionate about what they sell.

  4. Good interview and it’s a pleasure to know that the shop is still doing well in such challenging times.

    However the comments about the 1960s mod scene are almost entirely erroneous.

  5. Incidentally the best loafers I have ever owned are a pair of JS/Rancourt pennies from a few years ago.

  6. Do people actually debate over beef roll versus no beef roll Penny loafers? Which is more preppy?

  7. Bernard Jennings | January 27, 2021 at 4:52 am |

    Growing up in West London in the 50s and 60s we were desperate to dress like the hundreds of off duty USAF personnel from the big bases in Ruislip. The opening of the J Simons shop in Richmond was an answer to our prayers and a visit to the shop was a regular expensive Saturday pilgrimage. At the same time, the US guys were discovering Carnaby Street and were embracing the swinging sixties. They were trying to get away with longer hair in the forces when we were getting flat top crew cuts in Ruislip barbers. We ended up looking more American than them!

  8. Like Yuca, I also bought the JS/Rancourt penny loafers. Mine are the burgundy calfs and were a bargain in the sale a few years ago. Paraboot’s pennies are worth considering if you can find them

    My favourite penny loafers are Crockett & Jones’s Bostons. I also have Shipton & Heneage’s Wiltons and Anglo Italian’s Bradbournes. They are also made by C&J but on the classic 72 archive last.

  9. Otis Brewster Hogbottom III | January 31, 2021 at 3:59 pm |

    Does the Ivy Shop in Richmond still exist? Where is Simons’ store now? (I suppose I could search online, but what fun is that?)

  10. Edward William Aisthorpe | February 8, 2021 at 9:12 am |

    Otis, I think it’s in Marlyebone. Great pub nearby but the name escapes me.

  11. Edward William Aisthorpe | February 8, 2021 at 9:13 am |

    *Marylebone

  12. Marshall Baird | February 14, 2021 at 5:20 am |

    Bernard Jennings’ comment above is one of the most interesting things I’ve read here in a long time,CC.

  13. Matthew Blackwood | July 5, 2021 at 1:49 pm |

    Been using John Simons for thirty years; my most recent purchase was the brilliant Paul Weller sweater. What stood out most though was the exemplary customer service. I also remember visiting the old shop on Russell St on a Saturday afternoon many years ago and having to wake John up from a quick power nap…

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