The marketing of Mod
Sunday 09 March 1997
No, this is the real thing. Mod has seethed below the surface of mainstream culture for the past few months, like a shark in shallow water. Now, the movement is set to burst through with a savage vengeance, as the mass market grasps Modism and starts to sell it to me and you.
Take a look around if you don't believe me. Paul Smith is bringing out a range of tonic suits; magazines outside the underground feature Piaggio scooters; the new range of soul acts - from Nuphonic to the Ballistic Brothers - hail from a pure Northern Soul heritage; just about every street magazine, from G-Spot to Herb Garden has fashion shoots straight from Mod culture; Clarks shoes are launching a mod range for the spring; Dr Martens are jumping on the re-release of Quadrophenia; Ben Sherman are preparing a parka range for autumn '97... Do I need to go on?
"I've always seen myself as a Mod," says Rankin, publisher and creative director of the terrifyingly hip style mag Dazed And Confused. "I'm really influenced by the photographers of the period, David Bailey and the like. But I think this is a more genuine Modism that we're talking about now, rather than someone posing with a target symbol. Mod is as much about the culture of British creativity, about a way of life, as it is about a Small Faces record. You are going to see it in half of the fashion advertising over the next few months. But you'd expect that, as London swings again."
First among the fash/Mod image pushers is Ben Sherman, purveyor of the mighty button-down shirt and a true Mod God. Its new advertising campaign plays on its Mod tradition, featuring pitched battles on the beach between Mods and rockers under the catchline, "As worn at the Battle of Hastings, 1966", and a proud, black skinhead staring at the camera under the catchline, "A man should be judged on the colour of his shirt."
"A lot of style leaders and first- time fashion buyers have been coming to Ben Sherman over the past 18 months, and this campaign gave us the chance to underline the brand's heritage," says Gary Woodward, the art director on the ads from advertising agency Grey London. "We needed to keep the look edgy, rough and credible, so we haven't used any models, only real people. Ben Sherman is a cult brand with real purpose and the time is right to remind people of that."
According to Alistair Deakin, lecturer in cultural history at Westminster University, Mod has an obvious role in the Nineties. "The first Modernists were inspired by Italian styling, R&B music, existentialism, the birth of London as a cool, club-culture city after the war, and the hard-working, family centred Fifties," he says. "It was about welcoming the new consumer culture. So, the way the Nineties now follows the careerist Eighties fits in perfectly with the Mod tradition. It also fits in with London's new role as cultural exporter and the new, active consumer capitalism."
If you want to know what it's really all about, get down to Happiness Stan's at Smithfields in Farringdon, London EC1, run by Michael Blow and the PPQ collective. Indeed, Percy, a Northern Soul DJ from PPQ, stars in the latest ad campaign to break from Clarks shoes, coming to a magazine page near you this spring.
Happiness Stan's takes the multi-racial eclecticism of the original Modernists - the self-educating, working-class creatives who started the whole damn thing - and mashes it all in with post-house, bored-with-ecstasy London. That's why it makes sense to have a drum and bass room in the same club as a Northern Soul room. Drum and bass is about as Mod as you can get.
Visit the club next Saturday and you'll see what I mean. But if you can't spot the obscure Small Faces B-side in the club's name, you'd better do a little bit of revision first.
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