...the shirt sets the tone for what follows. Get the shirt right and everything else is easy. That’s the No 1 rude-boy rule. Rude boys, skinheads, mods, casuals, soulboys, the lads and lasses who are the heart and soul of Britain’s vibrant youth culture know instantly when a brand sells out and are quick to cut it loose. They also know when a brand is the real deal and will chase “classic” clobber over the globe and pay any price.
Exhibit A is the Brutus Trimfit, button-down, short-sleeve Stewart tartan shirt. “It’s the must-have shirt for any self-respecting man,” says Mario Warner, who owns Modfather clothing in Camden, where the shirt was the best-selling item this summer. “I got my first one in 1971 and it was my pride and joy.”
After production of the shirts halted in the early 1980s, Trimfit shirts were difficult to find. The only way to get hold of one was on eBay or through various Facebook groups, where the teens who wore them in the Seventies shared the desire to reclaim a slice of their youth.
Eavesdropping on this cyber conversation was Jonathan Freedman, whose father Keith and uncle Alan had originally set up Brutus clothing back in 1966. “It was Brutus denim not the shirts that were the big thing back in the Sixties and Seventies,” Keith Freedman recalls. But after giving Levi’s and Wrangler a run for their money, the Freedman brothers cashed in their chips and moved into the property market. Jonathan uncovered his father’s former fashion life when he stumbled upon old adverts for Brutus clothing in the attic. He spent the next few months trying to discover if people still remembered or cared about the brand and was taken aback by the love afforded to the Trimfit shirt.
In 2010, Jonathan set about relaunching the brand in a carefully considered way. He returned to the original production factory in China; there was to be no mass production just careful attention to the original detail. Slowly, he expanded the chequered palette from three to 20, selling to outlets that really knew the mod/ska market. Shops like Modfather, Hip in Leeds and Jump the Gun in Brighton took the early orders, and the shirts flew off the rails.
Jonathan could have stopped at the Brutus shirts, but he caught the fashion fever and is soon to launch Brutus Gold denim and Brutus suits, and is teaming up the Trimfit range with Dr Martens and Trojan Records.
And how do the rude boys feel now that their fashion secret is out in the open? “They’re just hoping it doesn’t go the way of other mod and ska brands,” Mario says. “And they’re happy they can now pick up a classic shirt for £50 instead of £200!”