Well as things stand at the moment, we certainly have difficult circumstances, so the challenge is the clean living.
The quote originates from Peter Meaden, one of those unusual characters that the postwar boom in the UK produced. At the dawn of Modernism, Meaden was in on the ground floor and was involved in the early days of the scene as it grew from the jazz music and coffee bars of Soho, such as the 2I’s and Bar Italia. He worked in an early form of PR, marketing shows by American jazz and blues musicians who came to be worshipped at this new temple of Modernism.
As the Modernist scene grew and evolved into what became commonly known as Mod, Meaden moved with it, and aligned himself with the new bands who were taking the American R&B sound and putting their own stamp on it in the early ’60s One of these bands were The Who, whom Meaden dazzled with his music industry knowledge, and he marketed them in his own likeness, persuading them to change their name to The High Numbers (numbers was a real buzzword in the early Mod scene), and writing a couple of single releases for them. “I’m The Face” in particular is Meaden’s life in a three-minute song, with its description of his clothing, hair and attitude being a manifesto of sorts for young Mods.
Unfortunately for Meaden though, the band got a better offer from Chris Stamp, brother of the leading UK actor and well known “face” Terence, and Kit Lambert. They bought out Meaden’s interest in the band for £500, changed the bands name back to The Who, and the rest is, well, you know.
Meaden faded from view thereafter, suffering from mental health and prescription drug addiction issues. He died at 37, but his memorable description of Modernism as a style cult lives on. The clean living encompassed clean lines and sharpness when it came to shirts, knitwear and tailoring. From early on in the development of the scene in the late ’50s, there was a strong American influence in terms of both music and fashion. American jazz musicians and some post-demobbed GIs who were still floating around London and elsewhere were an early reference point. The Ivy League Look was being aped in the UK early on in play, buttondown oxford shirts, sta-prest Levi’s and Bass Weejuns all were sought after and indeed drooled over by English modernists.
By the early ’60s English designers like Ben Sherman were appropriating Ivy for their designs, which was particularly helpful for UK Mods for whom Brooks Brothers or J. Press were simply out of reach or not available. Slightly later on, entrepreneurs such as John Simons saw the gap in the market for Ivy League clothing in the UK and opened the Ivy Shop in London. Simons still operates today, providing style-conscious Modernists with the best that Ivy USA has to offer.
When jazz musicians like Miles Davis appeared like Ivy-clad kings either on album covers or in rare European appearances, it simply poured more fuel on the fires of love stoked for Ivy by these European modernists. Bands like the Modern Jazz Quartet dressed to a degree in Ivy staples. Where Jazz musicians went, Mods followed. The connection to Ivy continued through the ’60s and while it went out of fashion for a while in the ’70s as Modernism was superseded by Suedehead and Skinhead culture, by the mid-’80s it was back again. Any casual Internet search of images of The Style Council from ‘83 to ‘89 will show Paul Weller, Mick Talbot and bandmates in Levi’s, Seersucker, Madras, Bass Weejuns, and buttondown oxfords.
Indeed today in 2020, UK Modernists, for whom Paul Weller remains an important figure, still sport elements of the style, albeit with other elements of European fashion layered on top. Weller himself has been spotted in Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers, and Bass in recent years. So, Ivy enthusiasts, thank your jazzers and postwar demobbed GIs for spreading the Gospel over the Atlantic. Now time for some clean living. — CIARAN PEPPARD