Paul Weller: Modfather

31 May

Paul Weller at the Sound Academy, Toronto, May 21, 2012

Paul Weller started life fronting the wildly influential new wave group, The Jam (1976 – 1982), then moved in to a smoother soulful/ jazzy/R&B sound with the Style Council (1983 – 1989). He heavily influenced the guitar-based Britpop movement of the 1990s and since that time has been a successful solo artist. I was lucky enough to see his show last week.

Not only do I dig his music, I appreciate Paul’s sense of style – he is one of the best-dressed musicians on the planet. Never ostentatious, trendy, or outlandish, his style is simple, distinctively British, and always well done.

In a recommended Observer interview, Paul explains his style beginnings: “I come from a time when every kid dressed up. Everybody. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be able to hang out. It was very tribal. There’s nice things in that. It’s culture, it’s roots for me. Maybe I just never grew up, mate.”

Paul’s dad was a Teddy Boy in the 50s so early on, his perception of style would be influenced by what I think is of the coolest looks of the 20th century. Teddy Boys were a cohesive group of teenage boys in Brylcreemed quiffs, stove pipe trousers, skinny ties, and Edwardian-style coats with velvet collars.  These kids grew up during strictly-rationed WWII, but now they earned their own money and spent it on clothes and rockabilly records. Teds made it okay for young men to express himself through his clothes, and this attitude set the stage for future styles in Britain, namely the “Mods” or Modernists, of which Paul Weller says, “I’m still a mod, I’ll always be a mod, you can bury me a mod.”

Though the mods have dubious beginnings, I like the sound of Shari Benstock and Suzanne Ferris’ explanation in On Fashion: “[At the] core of the British mod rebellion was a blatant fetishising of the American consumer culture” that had “eroded the moral fiber of England.” In this act, the mods “mocked the class system that had gotten their fathers nowhere”, and created a “rebellion based on consuming pleasures.”

The mods were obsessed with clothing and style and wore skinny, tailor-made Italian suits with short jackets (dubbed “bum freezers”), button-down shirts, Chelsea boots or “winklepicker” long-toed shoes, and military parkas to keep everything clean as they drove their Lambretta scooters, and popped speed while listening to the Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones, and Small Faces, leaning into blue-eyed soul and R&B sounds.

In the late 60s and early 70s, “we were all post-skinheads – suedeheads… too young to be proper skinheads.” Weller explains, “The main strand that forged it together was that American-college look, the Brooks Brothers look: the cardigans and sleeveless jumpers and the buttoned-down shirts and the Sta-Prest trousers. That was the common ground. It was a way for people who haven’t got much to make a show.”

Style

One source calls Mods “ice-cold, up-to-the-second hipsters”, so trying to make a show on a modest savings was difficult for a young style-conscious teenage boy from Woking, Surrey, a small city 25 miles from London.

I had to really save for my first Ben Sherman. We used to buy Brutus shirts, which were much cheaper – second best. But Ben Shermans were the sought-after item. The first one I ever got was a lemon-yellow one. I must have been 12, 13, and it was a bit too big for me. But being a kid I didn’t realise you could take it back to the shop. I wore it till it fitted me.

He says that shirt meant everything to him and speaks at length about his love of Ben Sherman shirts, how the line’s aesthetic strikes him, the colours, and their “statement of intent”. That really sums up Paul’s style – beautiful clothes worn with intent; for him, style is “like a code in my life, a religion”.

The skinny mohair or shark skin mod suits of the 60s worn by the soul artists Weller listened to were adopted by The Jam in the 70s, their signature black suit-white outfits echoed the black and white colour contrast that dominated the new wave period. It was during this time when Weller began to discover the pleasures of bespoke suits.

When the Jam disbanded and Paul began the Style Council, his look changed radically but he doesn’t have a lot of good things to say about the period. “The Eighties were a pretty rough time. There are too many [fashion faux pas to] mention. I used to think I came out of the Eighties unscathed but no one did… I don’t know if anyone had a decent haircut then… we all had stupid haircuts of varying nature. Mutant quiffs and angular cuts!”

Weller adds interest to his toned down stage gear with an interesting shoe.

It was during the Britpop movement that Weller earned the name “Modfather” – his Jam and solo work were hugely influential to the biggest names of the period: Blur, Lush, and Oasis. Through his work with Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis, Paul and Liam recognized their mutual love of clothing. Now, Paul is guest-designing for Liam’s clothing line, Pretty Green, an excellent line of Mod-influenced gear for men (that happens to be the name of a Jam song).

“I’ve been into clothes as long as I can remember. It’s great with this thing with Pretty Green – I can do my designs but I don’t have the headaches of manufacturing.”

Paul’s suits are late 60s – early 70s-inspired three-piece suits. “I wouldn’t want to be involved in anything that I wouldn’t wear myself,” says Weller in a UK GQ interview. “It’s been a dream really – I brought reference pictures, graphics, sketches, vintage things I’ve collected over the years and stuff from my own wardrobe.”

In his wardrobe, you would find five double-breasted pinstripe suits because as he says, “you can’t really go too far wrong with a pinstripe”. He stresses that a jacket fit well in the shoulders and to buy suits according to your body shape. For Weller, it’s the details that count – he’s always wearing an interesting pair of shoes and a silk stuffed into his breast pocket. All that while rocking an iconic textured Mod haircut.

Hair

Paul Weller’s haircuts, like his clothes, have always stood out. He has been wearing variations of the mod haircut for years. I asked Dubliner, Aaron O’Brian, stylist at Kearns & Co. in Toronto about Paul’s specific and distinctive cut.

“Mod haircuts involve texturizing and slicing the hair to give it a feathered look with lots of movement,” Aaron says, “there are lots of variations on the mod cut, for men and women, as long as they have the confidence to go with this funky style.”

Regina stylist, Levi Carleton, adds “no Weller haircut is without this great shattered end texture that screams a sort of high-end perfected distress.”

Aaron mentions that Paul’s cut has “always been on trend but there are many variations now like textured mod styles with swooping fringes (bangs). Variations of Paul’s mod cut can be seen throughout the years on other UK bands like  Oasis, The Verve, even fashion icon David Beckam sported a variation of mod,  and we will continue to see this style for many more years to come.”

The mod style paved the way to many different hair and fashion styles. “The mod basically gave people the freedom to express themselves and experiment with fashion,” Aaron says.

Video

Some of my favorite Paul Weller videos spotlighting his style:

That’s Entertainment is a classy early video (1981) featuring The Jam in tailored mod gear.

Beat Surrender, The Jam’s last single. Paul sticks to the stovepipe mod-style trousers and simple sweater – check bass player, Bruce Foxton’s skinny sand-coloured suit.

Wake Up The Nation (2010) from Paul’s solo career features his cool, simple, and distinctive tastes – a tailored jacket and neck scarf for a bit of punchy interest.

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3 Responses to “Paul Weller: Modfather”

  1. Tim Barton October 15, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    Paul has been a constant in my life without knowing it. I am among countless fans who wish to claim the man for my own–a musical visionary and certainly one very special reason why I wish I were a proper Mod. And, if not for Weller, I would not have discovered the great joy of the Small Faces, early Who, the whole Immediate Records label and just the wildly cool style he embraces. He’s a handsome cat, too. Next Thursday. Nagoya. I am there!

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