The dumbing-down of mod and modernist styles to sledgehammer out the original refined mindset into little more than Vespas, Weller and Fred Perry is a disgrace. To skim over the surface defeats the intent of the ‘movement’, with its ultimate attention-to-detail – a perplexing mass of US, Italian and British elements, side or back vent suit decisions, specific hem measurements, and oddball evolution from coffee sipping, Marcello Mastroianni-admiring, Grant Green LP buying and Camus-browsing, to amphetamines and the ultimate embrace of handpicked musical and narcotic elements of Soho’s gay scene. A cliquey evasive, slippery assemblage, dodging pigeonholes, and subtly rebuilding whenever anyone thought they’d cottoned on.
I’ve often pondered as to whether contemporary fixations with sports footwear, and latterly, all things Ivy League offer something of a mod rebirth, but I suspect the majority speed-reading the fashion glossies and/or RSS reading their way through the hype sites without delving and truly understanding would fall into the surface level majority that the modernists would frown upon.
There’s those who would appreciate the cut or status of a quality shirt, maybe memorise the prestige of a name, then there’s the sort of characters who’d fixate over Fiat-boss Gianni Agnelli for his tactically ruffled elegance (and ability to wear a watch over his sleeve with aplomb) or Miles’s open-necked look on the ‘Milestones’ cover. That’s what separates the men from the boys.
It’d be interesting to read what subcultural analyst and friend of the bored cultural studies student via his still-essential ‘Subculture: The Meaning of Style’, Dick Hebdige, the man who had me throwing the word ‘semiotic’ into conversations left right and centre, and broke down the meanings bestowed upon garments and haircuts by mods, would make of the current try-hard mentality.
I do have a lot of time for several obvious mod staples, including the fishtail parka. A part of this season’s Nom de Guerre collection (notably in navy) with a fine zip-away detail, it was originally adopted at affordable surplus level, (in Olive Drab, Shade 107) to become part of a strange blend of surplus basics alongside premium tailoring. Noone seems to have a concrete explanation of the fishtail parka’s popularity amongst mods – the easiest assumption is that it’s a scooter-friendly shape, with it’s length, and built as it was for optional layering, it can sit over a suit without the sartorial devastation of excessive padding and lining.
It was also readily available and cheap, with two versions falling into the mod-era, the M-51 released in 1951 for the Korean war, and the lighter M-65 edition, which seemed to be set for the 1965 escalation of the Vietnam war. Originally made to be tied-down and detached to make for versatile military use, there was also a two-piece arm-pocketed 1948 M-48 variation of which the three-piece (via removable hood as well as lining) M-51 was a cheaper version to save on escalating costs. Still, keeping wolf fur on the hood is hardly a frugal move by today’s standards.
There’s a lot of fakes about, and for those hunting for the real deal, the leading collector and dealer is Kane at www.fishtailparkas.com- a UK-based home operation sourcing the M51 in decent condition, and supplying M65s at a fair price. He can get the M48 variation if your pockets are deep enough (probably not the fibreglass lined prototype, but if you’ve got the funds, it’s worth asking) and the site is a phenomenal resource for parka-fans. He knows his Conmar zippers and Scovill poppers too, plus they offer a hood re-furring service.
The site offers a wealth of historical information that could only be the work of an obsessive, and harking back to the Nom de Guerre number, the accompanying blog, dispells the lingering myth regarding the existence of a military-issue blue M-51. God only knows what the expert would make of that high-end effort.