Same shirt, different way: The Fred Perry polo gets a new lease of life at 60
The Fred Perry polo is 60 but rather than being retired, it's being given a new lease of life by some of its best-known fans, says Rebecca Gonsalves
The Fred Perry polo shirt – in white cotton piqué, crested with a laurel wreath and tipped at the collar with twin bands of colour – has been a style staple since it launched 60 years ago.
One of fashion's most instantly recognisable pieces, it has now been given a creative update by 60 "fans" – stars of fashion, music and sport – who have an affinity or connection with the brand.
Participants – such as musicians Damon Albarn and The Specials, photographers Inez & Vinoodh, and designers Sister by Sibling, Christopher Raeburn and Raf Simons – were all sent a reproduction of the 1952 original shirt and asked to personalise it. The results will be displayed in London's Dover Street Market later this month, in an installation by set designer Andy Hillman. The installation will then travel to the Tokyo branch of the store and its Chinese offshoot IT Beijing Market before the pieces are auctioned in aid of the Amy Winehouse Foundation.
"The Specials' 2 Tone mod image and Fred Perry have been closely linked since we started playing ska back in 1979," says Horace Panter, the bassist of The Specials, who found a second career in art. "A Specials concert is like a Fred Perry convention: it's part of the uniform." Panter drew a collar with red and blue tipping on his blank-canvas T-shirt. "I really like the subtle features of the shirt, especially the thin coloured lines around the collar. They seem like a code, a kind of hip semaphore. The red [ and white] and blue one seems to be the most popular, for obvious reasons. I like to think I've painted an iconic representation… of an icon."
Someone else who has past ties with Fred Perry is Danish designer Peter Jensen, who previously worked on collections for the Blank Canvas line. "It was great fun and a huge success," he says of that work. "It was, I'm not just saying that – we won the Wallpaper* award for best collaboration for the first men's collection we did. I always love it when you hear of companies that have stayed in business for more than a page in i-D. So for me, 60 years of Fred Perry stands for longevity of commitment."
Fred Perry has long been an integral part of so many subcultures and this context was the inspiration behind Sister by Sibling's customisation: "Fred Perry is the Rolls-Royce of polo shirts with a history and respectability you just wouldn't want to mess with," said the trio behind the punk knitwear brand. "Sibling and Sister tend to have a starting point with youth tribes, kids and young adults who have incredibly strong, stylish uniforms. Fred Perry is as much a part of the punk scene as the ska- and skinhead – all of which we reference as they are very much about our own teenage years.
"It was customised just after our spring/summer '13 catwalk presentation so we decided to mix that in. The giant pompon coat became the skirt of the polo shirt: paper raffia strips trapped within knit. Then, in true Sibling manner, we thought, 'Why stop there?' and added it to the cuffs."
Some customisations are more complex than others – birthday messages are scrawled by some, embroidered by others, laurel wreaths feature heavily – such as jeweller Duffy's gold version – while Christopher Raeburn has turned his shirt into a four-legged friend: "It's great to be able to use creativity to support the initiative. I've got an amazing amount of respect for Fred Perry – it's a true British classic."
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