The Penny Chief  | 860mm on the Diagonal, Points South

“He is dressed in a denim shirt and a corduroy waistcoat, a neckerchief tied raffishly at his throat” Grace Coddington’s first impression of David Bailey, 1960.

The predicament: you’re going to a ‘thing’ and it requires smart casual but right now the skin at your neck feels as empty as the Route 6 highway to Utah. A tie would be too formal, a tee shirt too exposed and an unbuttoned shirt too bland.

Enter the incredibly simple style tool you never knew your wardrobe needed. The Penny Chief. And why is your wardrobe so keen on it? Because it makes everything you put on look instantly more stylish with an ease that appears accidental.

The Chief is no ‘look at me’ statement piece, in fact it’s a fashion understatement, but in its own subtle way it will make you appear interesting and very quietly elevate your whole look. And the good news is you don’t have to be David Bailey, Johnny Depp or Ray Winstone to pull it off.

A neckerchief creates balance and like all good layering, slightly adjusts the body’s dimensions making it a strong choice for mid-aged and older men or those who might like to deflect attention, for whatever reason, from other areas.

Not to be confused with a bandana or cravat and without the awkwardness of a scarf worn not for warmth – the dimensions of the Penny Chief are unique, (860mm on the diagonal, points south). Not too bulky on the neck, not to long on the chest and handmade in Merchant & Mills soft woven linen, the Chief will crease naturally to the shape of your body and clothes, expressing an easy style and comfort that only a good heritage piece can bring.

 The neckerchief was the neckwear of the working classes: the blacksmiths, the farmers, the ranchers, the sailors, the cowboys, carpenters and cooks. And like the working men themselves, their neckwear was not simple adornment, but multi-functional…..  worn over your nose and mouth, it was a filter from dust or fumes. In the event of an accident, it could be used as a sling, (or more direly, as a tourniquet.)” 

Mr Thompson in his blog Dress Like a Grown Up

If the occasion requires smart casual possibly with immediate access to an emergency tourniquet, the Penny Chief is a perfect non-showy style solution to the bare throat issue, don’t over think it, Bailey wouldn’t.

Available at this site in reds or blues, price £10.


On a wintry day in London, tired from walking, we took refuge in the cavernous concrete halls of the Barbican where quite by surprise we dropped into a pool of optimism.

The Eames aesthetic continues to influence and reflect the kind of furniture and design we want to see and use and live with every day – nearly 70 years after their first prototypes went into production

The World of Charles and Ray Eames showcases the dynamic design duo’s experimental work on everything from leg splints during WW2 to entire homes and it was a treat to experience some of the infamous classics in the fiberglass flesh.104467786But there’s much more to Ray and Charles Eames than affordable post war furniture. And it was this that inspired me.

 

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Charles and Ray met at design school, got married and spent their lives in collective pursuit of their ideas for the greater good. This pursuit just happened to produce some of the most celebrated design pieces of the century; but fundamentally Charles and Ray shared a love of process and it was this that piqued my renewed admiration.

Their work wasn’t about a beautiful result, it was seeing the beauty in every single stage of production all the way back to the faint buzz and tingle of the initial idea.

They didn’t design to solve problems, they designed to explore aesthetic possibilities while always keeping a firm grip on function and practicality.

“Who ever said that pleasure wasn’t functional?” Charles Eames

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And Charles and Ray knew how to have fun. They even made maths look fun.

It caught my eye that while Charles was photographed high on the rig shooting the picnic stage of the Power of 10, Ray can be seen photographing something completely unrelated out of view behind the back of the van in almost child like distraction.

Maybe I’ll look at taking my eyes OFF the prize more and instead take the time to find the pleasure in the process.

The World of Charles and Ray Eames is at the Barbican until Valentine’s Day

“Take your pleasure seriously.” Charles Eames

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2015 wouldn’t be complete without an arbitrary list of the year’s best songs written as irrefutable fact rather than barely cohesive opinion.

Here’s ours. To make matters even worse not all these tunes were even released this year, some of them we just heard for the first time. And there’s 14 of them which is weird.

Seriously it’s like we’re not even trying any more…

 

Mike Garry & Joe Duddell: St Anthony – An Ode to Anthony H Wilson

Released in August on the 8th anniversary of Tony Wilson’s death, this 9 minute encapsulation of a culture that defined PD’s youth and the man who laid claim to it (to be honest if one man could it would be Mr Wilson) makes us weep with joy and nostalgia each & every time.

Also there’s a remix by God (AKA Andrew Weatherall).

 

Grasscut: Red Kite

 In July we were ready to call Black Rivers’ eponymous debut album of the year. Then Grasscut’s “Everyone Was A Bird” flew in. Huge, sweeping, pastoral tunes with a touch of Kes in the evocative lyrical tributes to the British countryside. We saw Grasscut at the Union Chapel one Saturday in November (Daylight Music is an ongoing series of free gigs at the Chapel. Worth dropping in on) where they also stole gig of the year in a soaring 30 minutes.

 

Everything Everything: The Distant Past

Crams so much fun into 3 minutes 42 seconds it’s like Flight Of The Concords trapped in a washing machine with Hot Chip on a fast spin.

 

Public Service Broadcasting: Gagarin

 To be honest the entire Race For Space album is nerdcore joy so it was a toughy but this one has big, tarty horns and just look at the video.

 

Holly Cooke: Shadow Kissing

Yes yes yes we know this is 4 years old but Holly Cook dominated our Summer more than Uptown Bleedin’ Funk so we’re sharing this.

 

Drenge: We Can Do What We Want:

Drenge. There’s 2 of them. Making all this noise. Like QOTSA, ACDC & The Buzzcocks had an accident in Jeff Goldblum’s teleportation machine. We defy you not to jump up & down like a loon to this.

 

Missy Elliot:  WTF

Ooh ooh Nicki Minaj, Azalea Banks, Iggy Azalea they’re so challenging, risky & inventive. They really push the boundaries of hip hop. They’re just such powerful, independent female role models.

Shit! Missy’s back! Put your arse away and Look busy!

 

Gwenno: Chwyldro (Andrew Weatherall Remix)

 And now, telepathically projecting in from the Welsh Dimension is Gwenno. Comparisons to SFA are inevitable but beyond the Cymru connection Gwenno shares a fantastic knack for crafting dreamy pop tunes laced with psychedelia.

We were hoping to share the Andrew Weatherall mix with you but it’s not on the Youtubes so you’ll have to imagine what it sounds like.

 

 

 

New Order: Plastic

Hooky, honestly, we love you but you need to stop chatting nonsense about New Order being imposters. Plastic is without doubt the best thing the band have produced since Technique and you’re not on it. Shush.

 

 

Black Rivers: The Ship

The Williams’ Brothers (formerly of Doves) collection of mini-epics retains their triumphant tune-smithery but adds a more electronic sound. The whole album is a gem but The Ship is a rolling, mechanical monster.

 

 

Wolf Alice: You’re A Germ

Everyone loves Wolf Alice don’t they? They’re like all the good bits of early 90’s guitar pop rolled into one. “You’re A Germ” finds them in Spikey Sub-Pop mode and is a perfect jumping up & down companion to Drenge.

 

Ibibio Sound Machine: Let’s Dance

Well ok then Ibibio Sound Machine, if you insist. Let’s Dance is so infectious it would give a 3 day old corpse the funk.

We’ve decided to call Ibibio Sound Machine Afrofuturist-electro-funk. What with all the genre inventing it’s like the NME before it turned rubbish round here in’t it?

 


Curated Christmas gift lists for men tend to focus on three things; beer, football & Jeremy Clarkson.

A beer fridge in the shape of a football shirt that quotes Jeremy Clarkson when you open the door? A picture of Jeremy Clarkson wearing a football shirt made of Beer Cans? Beer that tastes of footballs and Jeremy Clarkson? Oh and cufflinks. Seriously, what’s wrong with buttons?

In short the majority of these lists are a bit shit as they assume all men have the same interests. The following list we would like to think is more discerning for the modern man with geeky leanings.

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1: Sunspel, Loop Back Sweatshirt in Black

Black is a deceptive colour. In a cheap black, one can resemble a Fancy Dress Goth. As Father Ted once said ‘Only priest’s socks are truly black, everyone else’s are just very, very, very, very, very dark blue’.

This Sweatshirt from Sunspel is not only a quality essential from the kings of quality essentials, it is also of a black so deep and rich it absorbs light and bends time… possibly.

http://www.sunspel.com/uk/mens/sweats/loopback-sweat-top-4.html

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2: Adidas ‘Stan Smith’ Raf Simons Reboot

While we’re on a monochromatic vibe, Raf Simons takes a bona fide classic and remixes it in a series of colours that could only be described as ‘blimey’. The green ones look a bit like they’ve fallen off a ‘Radioactive Commando Action Man’ but that may be your thing. We like the white ones.

http://www.oki-ni.com/en/shop/footwear/adidas-by-raf-simons-white-stan-smith-sneakers-002638.html

Unbranded Brand Jeans

 

 

 

3: Unbranded Brand, Selvedge, Raw Denim Jeans

Admirers of quality jeans have become the sartorial equivalent of the crate digging Electronica bore. Unless you’ve dropped a grand on a pair 3d printed in space you can jog on.

Unbranded Brand have eschewed the nonsense in favour of high quality, simply styled jeans in just 3 cuts & 2 colours at almost suspiciously reasonable prices. Look after these jeans & they’ll look after you. Not literally. They’re crap in a fist fight and can’t lend you money.

http://www.liquorstoreclothing.com/the-unbranded-brand-m48

 

Subscriptions

There are few pleasures rare as a regular surprise dropping through your letter hole. (*consider rewriting that line)

Subscriptions are the gift that keep giving & remind one of childhood’s weekly arrival of The Beano or 2000ad. Now we’re grownups there are exciting & sophisticated alternatives to comic book violence popping through your postal slit (*consider rewriting this line also)

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4: Subscription To Flying Vinyl

This is what it says on Flying Vinyl’s website.

FLYING VINYL MEMBERS GET A BOX OF EXCLUSIVE VINYL RECORDS FROM THE BEST NEW ALTERNATIVE ARTISTS, EVERY SINGLE MONTH

The font is big because the sentence is important. These people are heroes and should be given a medal. Made of Vinyl.

http://www.flyingvinyl.co.uk

 

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5: Subscription To Geeky Monkey

Why isn’t there a monthly magazine written by nerds compulsively obsessed with Sci-Fi movies, 1980’s Sci-Fi Movies, Not Sci-Fi Movies, video games, 1980’s video games, people who make sci-fi movies & video games, Game Of Thrones, strange books, gadgets and wrestling you ask?

Well there is now you lucky buggers and it’s called Geeky Monkey.

http://www.get-geeky.today

 

 

 

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6: Some Happy Socks from Happy Socks

Socks get a bad rep as a Christmas gift. Happy Socks’ website looks like Mondrean spent too much time hanging out with Trevor Horn but they’re Swedish so get away with it. My first exposure to Happy Socks was during a meeting. I was distracted by the Esher style, abstract stylings of my colleague’s foot attire. You know what kind of sock can bring a high octane meeting about the font weight of an email header to a crashing halt? A Happy Sock.

https://www.happysocks.com/uk/

 

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7: Mo’Wax Urban Archaeology: 21 Years Of Mo’Wax Recordings

James Lavelle started 90’s coolest record label, Mo’ Wax, at 18.

In 96 Mo’ Wax released one of the defining albums of the decade, DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing.

Beyond phenomenal taste in epoch shaking sounds, Lavelle also has a fine eye for design.

Now we wouldn’t say James Lavelle was a precociously talented smart-arse but leafing through the impeccably realised & exhaustive history “Mo’Wax: Urban Archaeology” the thought may cross your mind.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/MoWax-Urban-Archaeology-Years-Recordings/dp/0847842428

 

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8: Drew Struzan: Oeuvre.

Once upon a time movie posters were important. The very first glimpse into a new, cinematic world they were hand painted, epic, thrilling mysterious works of art and almost exclusively the creation of one man. Drew Struzan.

Ouevre brings together the entire collection of Struzan’s work from the iconic Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom & Back To The Future to recent, unused but nevertheless beautiful work for Hell Boy & Cowboys & Aliens.

Having been coaxed out of retirement for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Struzan’s return should bring an end to the tyranny of photoshop abominations such as Fassbender peering out of the stomach of his own shadow on “Xmen First Class” and Paul Rudd leaning on random women.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Drew-Struzan-Oeuvre/dp/0857685570

 

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9: Penny Dreadful Tailored Boxer Shorts

You could do worse than revolutionising your Man’s underwear drawer with some exquisitely tailored, beautifully illustrated boxer shorts in high quality cotton from a bunch of chancers who call themselves Penny Dreadful Menswear. I mean really, the cheek of it!

http://www.houseofdreadful.com/product/lisa-from-behind-in-blue/


My mum didn’t receive the memo saying ‘your daughter will need to bring a leotard to school tomorrow because she will be expected to run around in a large circle with other kids while adults clap their hands and play music’; so in contrast to the pale pink leotards sported by everyone else, I ran in a white vest tucked into my very practical enormous navy pants. That day, aged 4, I decided I would never again be caught on the hop when it came to underwear.

“For admission to the bowling alley, you need underwear. I am responsible for the incident that led to this rule.” 

― Jarod Kintz, 99 Cents For Some Nonsense

It’s well known that the underwear you have on can affect the decisions you make during the day. Generally speaking men benefit from a certain structure and stability downstairs while some women confess to effortlessly dialling their performance up to eleven on days they’re packing a matching set. Comfort is of course key but there are other factors.

In short, underwear matters.

The wrong underwear can make you feel inhibited, disorganised and tired and discomfort restricts our ability to focus. Heavily elasticated waistbands, pinching seams and tightness can have a physical bearing as well as psychological.

Give more than five seconds consideration to your choice of pants in the morning and enjoy the following benefits.

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  1. You’re ready for anything. A romantic liaison, a hilarious prank or an unplanned swim in freezing waters with someone you quite fancy and this kind of spontaneity shows in the way you walk right from the get go.
  1. Should you find yourself stretched out on a hospital gurney having been in an accident you won’t come off lacking.
  1. In addition to sexiness women who match have the added appeal of orderliness – like they know what they’re doing in the sack but also run a profitable pension plan.
  1. Feeling confined in a meeting for hours is exacerbated by wearing overly elasticated pants. These are boxer short days. The same conditions apply to horse riding – (see earlier note on spontaneity).
  1. A visible pant line, apart from being naff, gives an unforgiving scale to your ass. If the jacket’s coming off today, wear shorts.

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“As a general rule it’s a comfort issue, literally and metaphorically. An intimacy issue. It’s a big step, putting on foreign underwear. Like betrayal, or emigration.”  

― Lee Child, A Wanted Man

As a general rule, I’d say it’s a confidence issue and that’s even before anyone actually sees your underwear.

When seen it reveals more than your body, underwear says something about the way you think – Elle Macphereson didn’t call them Intimates for nothing.

The first look at a person’s underwear is a moment to behold and it’s annoyingly easy to give off the wrong vibe. By their choice of pants, men miss a trick in denying themselves and their partners any sort of tease – men’s underwear mostly looks the same and is often heavily branded which further homogenises the overall effect, naturally turning the focus to the body in search of information and do you know who looks good in David Beckham underwear? David Beckham.

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If you’re in a long term relationship you might think you’re off the hook.

But the sight of your beloved in underwear can be a moment of truth, an Instagram like summation of where a person’s at in relationship to their physical self-ie. It’s not about the shape of the body, only a delusional person can’t accept a body changing with age – the pride we take in presenting that body is all up to the individual’s attitude to it and it’s this that tells the story.

Underwear can provide an interesting contrast to how you appear to the world but be warned, underwear never lies, it’s the last layer to come off. Spanx have a good go at lying but once you get to the kit off stage there’s nowhere to hide unless they now market a full body condom.

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“You will treat my underwear with the reverence it deserves. Next time, you will stop and appreciate–hell, you’ll marvel at the miracle of my ass clad in silk.”― Molly Harper, How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf 

I once looked inside my friend Anna’s underwear drawer (this isn’t a euphemism, I was staying over and mentioned I liked her closet). Everything was arranged in rows, all bras and knickers were matching and colour coded for easy picking. What I saw in those folds of lace and silk was row upon row of pride and capability interspersed with towering columns of self esteem. Anna’s underwear wasn’t just telling me about Anna’s personality it was carrying out a Cirque De Soleil like performance of how great she was.

Take pride in your pants and doors might open for you, all kinds of doors even bedroom doors. Easier for women because our underwear is exciting, varied, colourful and attractive – it has structure and sex appeal and you never know what it’s going to look like until BAAM! Whereas men’s underwear often goes unchanged. The brand is found, the brand is worn, the end. I know a man who owns 75 pairs of trainers of the same Brand, do we suppose he wears a varied and exciting array of pants?

“I hid my underwear beneath a parked Peugeot.” 

― Jonathan Ames, The Alcoholic

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Women keep their choice of underwear fresh by regularly visiting the cathedral of smalls that is the lingerie department, where 30 different brands wink at you on arrival in anticipation of your touch. The woman finds a bra that beautifully enhances her form and celebrates by slapping a gorgeous pair of pants on the counter to match. Average spend £44.

Imagine that same lingerie department full of men’s underwear.

Yes, obviously it’s pants, but what do they look like?

They look white. They look tight. They are all in boxes or worse – multi-packs.

They all feature thick waistline elastic some of which has been violated by giant bombastic brand names. And there are possibly up to five brands available if you’re lucky. If you don’t want to wear the same pants as everyone else you’d have more luck in the handkerchief section or tea towels.

What a dis-service. Even the glorious Liberty of London only currently stocks a single brand of men’s underwear which are unceremoniously set out on a tressle table in the basement. No wonder fellas stick to the same brand.

“Life is like underwear, it should be changed twice a day.” 

― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

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Did you know that boxer shorts are often made from cast off pieces of fabric in shirting factories? Cast offs! After-thoughts! Born on the floor! Come on! Our pants are items that affect the way we make decisions, they are keepers of the crown jewels not to mention our brains occasionally.

You deserve some special. You deserve all the benefits of feeling comfortable, sexy and confident.

As someone who peddles underwear (under-wares) I say step away from the crowd and treat your ass to something that really flatters your body and makes you feel good. And another thing, be interesting. We women want interesting, not an ironic picture of a hand grenade on the front of boy pants interesting, but some care taken, some style shown, some individuality for us to consider.

Wearing good underwear may not change your life but it might change your day so treat your package to some decent packaging – like most treats the experience begins with the wrapping.

Tell us your thoughts on men’s underwear and what you’d like to see more of and enjoy a pair of Penny’s on the House until November 1st.

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Your mum started it.

 

The care she took in choosing those super-cute togs when you were a kid made you a satisfying and living projection of her own style. You looked good, she looked good it was win-win on the wardrobe front there for a while – all good in the tiger eared chenille hood. And so it began.

As teens we took up the reins for a good decade but it was only a matter of time before a significant other stepped in to pick up the slack on shirts, socks, underwear and the odd item of clothing that filled you with fear, example a hat. Or if you were anything like David Beckham in the 90s, you simply submitted to pure unadulterated ‘dress me up’ freefall.

For many, clothes shopping is a chore. According to research 1 in 4 men bale on their partners while shopping, the most popular reasons given are being “hungry”, “thirsty” and “wishing they were outside”.

This could explain why over 45% of men have staples bought for them by their partners despite the boom in men’s online fashion sales – it could also explain why underwear multi-packs exist, which despite having a note of Bob The Builder fandom about them, get the job done x3.

So where do you draw the line and how long is too long after the event to mention that you do not like and have in fact never liked patterned shirts?

Whether it’s convenience, power play, mothering or projection above all it’s a kindness and knowing the correct size to buy is truly intimate. You can bet before those stripy socks were popped on the counter the buyer considered ‘he loves a stripy sock, he’ll go mad for these’ or ‘It might be 30 degrees out but he looks really sexy in a roll neck jumper’. Valid. Kind.

A few notes on having staples bought for you.

 

  • If you’re too easy to buy for, it could be you’re in a style rut, fine if it’s working, but don’t be kept there by someone else’s taste.
  • The regular choice of pants can go unchanged for years if you’re not careful – are you sure there isn’t something more comfortable and flattering out there?
  • Be open to trying something new, style is fun.
  • Be grateful yes, but above all honest. If you’ve moved on from the clothes which are coming your way, say so.
  • Repay the kindness.

 

Be warned, the personal semi-reliable service of having your staples chosen, bought and delivered to your bedside can sometimes switch off like a tap. A common time for this to happen is when men enter fatherhood and find themselves playing second fiddle to a new generation of super cute tiger eared chenille hood buying fashion projections. Some wither into Superdry at this point. But others flourish like newly freed flamingoes. They’re the ones to watch.

Men getting into their 40s, 50s and beyond often find new interest in fashion and get back into buying their own gear as they did as teenagers. And this time they’re unafraid of formal tailoring or colour and have the cash to do things properly.  Watch out for them.  They look awesome.

 

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Some older men have the outright panache to combine formal tailoring AND colour and not just the ones in Buena Vista Social Club. When dressed with style and individuality, the confidence and swagger of men who dress well into their later years carries a gravitas young folk can only dream of,  often accompanied with a sense of ‘You chase youth if you wish my friends, I’m all good thanks”.

 

Of course like women, newly liberated fashion buying men looking for inspiration in the fashion press have to get accustomed to navigating their gaze past the cold eyes of the 20 something models, as there is a near complete absence of anyone over 40 years old on the pages. I guess for genuine non-homogenised style inspiration you have to go to Cuba or possibly Margate.

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Recommended sources of style inspiration.

http://www.greyfoxblog.com

http://www.fashionbeans.com

http://www.thesartorialist.com

http://www.nickwooster.com

 

What kind of man lets a woman buy his clothes?

You if you’re lucky. But keep an eye on it and keep your own choices fresh, you never know, you might reach a point when you both enjoy doing shopping together and even at the same time.


 

The basic white tee shirt. You know how to wear one, do you know how to buy one?

 

As an Actors’ Studio graduate Marlon Brando learned to use his body to show his character’s inner turmoil, in A Streetcar Named Desire he uses a white tee shirt to thinly veil not only his ripped physique but also his character’s bestial urges.

James Dean picked up the beat to iconic effect and the white tee became a symbol of the first generation of teenagers to dress differently from their parents.

60 years on and the June edition of GQ features Vince Vaughan in a darker and career re-defining role in the new series of True Detective. Among the denim and the linen he is of course styled wearing a white tee – darkness and deep brooding masculinity duly noted.

Originally issued as regulation underwear for the US Navy in 1913 the white tee shirt has become an enduring source of comfort and easy style for men ever since, an unpretentious wardrobe staple which reveals as much or as little as the man wearing it decides.

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There’s more to the white tee shirt though than looking solid as a rock against denim – the thing about a white tee is it tells a good story. It tells any story you like, the white tee is both unique and everyman, fresh and rugged and above all intimate – perhaps due to its roots as underwear or being one of the first things you might leave at a lover’s apartment.

But whereas some tee shirts stay with you for years and become a part of your life others look done in after a couple of washes – is it all down to price? Not according to David Moore of

Headen & Quarmby in Manchester where our boxer shorts are made “You can buy a big name brand tee shirt and still end up with spirality which is where side seams twist after a couple of washes, it’s down to knits being cut slightly off-grain by manufacturers cutting out too many garments from too little fabric to save money.”

Here’s How to Buy a Tee Shirt You’ll Wear For Years.

Fit 

Close but not tight, there shouldn’t be extra fabric around the body and it should be long enough to layer without bagging out at the bottom.

Feel

You want organic cotton in a high thread count for a perfect ratio of soft to strong, when it feels right, it is right.

Shape Integrity

Some tee shirts are constructed on a circular knitter which can give you those twisted seams post wash. A good tee shirt keeps its shape, simple as that – it’ll soften over time but that’s what you’ll love about it.

Seams

Watch out for over-locked stitching round the seam at the base of the neck. You don’t see Don Draper scratching his neck during a killer presentation. You want the comfort of a double stitched French seam which will lie flat without an itchy edge.

Ethical Credentials 

Tee shirt manufacture is a heavy water consuming and polluting process particularly for the people doing the graft. Instead, buy a tee shirt which is carbon neutral and made by people earning a fair living wage in comfortable working conditions.

The white tee shirt.

Brando made it unpredictable, Dean made it sexy now

Penny Dreadful makes it simple.

The new PD 100% organic cotton tee shirt is now available in soft grey mélange or honest to goodness white, with a not too high not too low v neck to knock some of that stiff US Navy regulation out of the frame.


 


Music has been an integral part of cinema since sound & vision first synched up in 1928’s The Jazz Singer. Although Al Jolson in blackface belting out Mammy is somewhat of an uncomfortable watch now, films with tunes, films about tunes and films about the people who make the tunes have endured as a movie going mainstay.

 

Being lovers of music & movies (but really, who isn’t?) PD thought we’d compile a brief list of films with music at their heart.

 

There are tons to choose from the 1950’s heyday of Technicolor musical block-busters to the Oscar baiting bio-pics. We thought we’d focus on those films where music is the beating heart of a fictional story.

 

In no particular order:

 

1: 24 Hour Party People

 

Admittedly we’re starting with a bit of a cheat. Although based on a true story, by their own admission the filmmakers play fast and loose with the truth (probably because most of those involved don’t actually remember it). Michael Winterbottom’s film is more interested in the legend of Factory Records and the Manchester scene the label gave life to.

 

24 Hour Party People makes our list for the predictably cracking soundtrack, capturing the spirit of a musical legacy if not the facts and being hilarious. Apart from the bit where Ian Curtis hangs himself, which isn’t very funny.

 

 

2: School Of Rock

 

A rare 90 minutes where-in Jack Black’s particular brand of loudmouth irritant actually benefits the story and manages to show some sense of character development.

 

This feel good slice of rock education belongs to the scarily talented kids playing uptight Public School brats who take on a local Battle Of The Bands and learn all sorts of lovely, Hollywood life lessons about acceptance and “sticking it to the man” along the way.

 

It’s a fun movie that Richard Linklater, showing rare family movie director chops, instills with a lot of heart without tipping over into sentimentality.

 

 

3: We Are The Best

 

Lukas Moodyssen has always been a master at using pop music to evoke specific emotions tied to specific moments in time. His bookending of “Together” with Abbas “SOS” conjures up a uniquely effecting sense of euphoric melancholy.

 

In “We Are The Best” he finally puts pop at the centre of the story. Billed as a film for anyone who is was and will be 13 years old, We Are The Best follows 3 just teenage girls who are proud outcasts from their blow-dried, Human League loving peers as they battle adversity (or a distinct lack of talent or instruments) to set themselves up as a punk band.

 

Funny, appropriately anarchic and moving “We Are The Best” succeeds in evoking that bewildering twilight between childhood & adulthood and boasts a cracking Swedish punk soundtrack.

 

 

 

 

 

4: God Help The Girl

 

The closest thing to a traditional musical on this list, Stuart Murdoch’s (Belle & Sebastian) film started off as a side project tribute album to 60’s girl groups.

 

God Help The Girl does come on like a Belle & Sebastian album in pictures and in the direction Murdoch wears his obsession with French New Wave as a slightly too conspicuous badge of honour.

 

Those with a violent allergic reaction to indie-whimsy should steer clear. If you happily acknowledge your own inner dysfunctional geek the tale of young Cassie escaping a psychiatric hospital to go in search of like minded losers to form a band is likely to leave you with a mile wide grin.

 

The songs are fun, Emily browning is gorgeous, we liked it.

 

 

5: Whiplash

 

JK Simmonds is an actor who has made average films watchable simply by virtue of being in them for 5 minutes. That Whiplash finally allowed us to see him let rip in a lead role is enough to applaud the film alone. Music School band leader Fletcher has to be one of the most terrifying, mentor characters committed to film. Psychotic, charismatic, sadistic but somehow you can’t help but admire him.

 

Miles Teller manages to be simultaneously hateful & sympathetic as the burgeoning monster to Simmonds’ explosive Frankenstein.

 

This study of 2 egos colliding messily in search of artistic perfection is so tightly constructed it barely gives the viewer space to breath during its claustrophobic 90 minute runtime.

 

Drummers in film have historically been portrayed as Neanderthal tub-thumpers (who frequently, spontaneously combust if Spinal Tap is to be believed). Whiplash is economically and elegantly shot, much of it in long takes that focus not just on the physicality but the intricacies of Tellers’ drumming, with macro shots from the POV of the kit getting stuck right into the power & precision.

 

 

6: Frank

 

Co-Written by Jon Ronson, Frank started life as a straight biog of cult punk / music-hall hybrid act Frank Sidebottom alter ego of Chris Sievy who wore a balloon like papier mache head on stage while performing cover versions of popular chart tunes in a broad Manchester accent.

 

During script development with Director Lenny Abrahamson, Frank transformed into a trag-comic amalgamation of a number of eccentric musicians driven by the need to just create music for music’s sake and who would go to extreme lengths to find their muse.

 

As well as Sievy’s bizarrely endearing creation, echoes of Captain Beefheart & Daniel Jonson can be seen in Frank as he and his band The Soronprfbs kidnap Domhnall Gleeson’s ambitious but talentless Jon as replacement for a keyboardist who suffers a sudden and slightly damp nervous breakdown.

 

Jon in return introduces Frank, who just wants his music to be heard, to social media and a battle between fame & artistic integrity is joined.

 

Michael Fassbender, with his face hidden under Papier Mache was robbed of numerous acting awards for Frank. The film soars & dives between farcical hilarity and heart wrenching tragedy and does for Music what Birdman tried to do for acting. Why that film scooped the gongs while Frank barely scraped together an audience is baffling.

 

Frank went straight into Penny Dreadful’s Top 10 movies the second the end credits rolled.

 

 

7: This Is Spinal Tap.

 

Apparently This Is Spinal Tap was Liam Gallagher’s favourite movie until someone pointed out that it wasn’t a documentary and the band was fake.

 

“The review for ‘Shark Sandwich’ was merely a two word review which simply read ‘Shit Sandwich’.”

 

“It’s such a fine line between stupid, and uh…”

“Clever.”

“Yeah, and clever.”

 

“ They’re not gonna release the album… because they have decided that the cover is sexist.”

“Well, so what? What’s wrong with bein’ sexy? I mean there’s no…”

“Sex-IST!”

 

“We’re very lucky in the band in that we have two visionaries, David and Nigel, they’re like poets, like Shelley and Byron. They’re two distinct types of visionaries, it’s like fire and ice, basically. I feel my role in the band is to be somewhere in the middle of that, kind of like lukewarm water.”

 

This list is by no means exhaustive. What do you think? What did we miss? Any other recommendations? Give us a shout on Facebook or Google+


Pop Culture history has a habit of being re-written thru the lens of rose tinted, John Lennon glasses. If we were to believe the music press, the 90’s would’ve segued directly from the heady days of Nirvana directly to the Britpop wars with Oasis & Blur dominating the charts single handedly supported by Richard Ashcroft.

 

The truth is rather sobering. There’s no real need to go into great detail about the horrors visited upon the charts by Whigfield and 3 months of Wet Wet Wet at number 1. I’d rather not be blamed for opening up old psychological scars or landed with numerous bills for therapy.

 

Under the white-wash hide a number of bands responsible for some great music throughout the 90’s who barely get a look in.

 

These are, in our humble opinion and in no particular order, the un-sung heroes of the 90’s.

 

1: The World Of Twist.

 

Although formed in the mid-80’s, Sheffield’s “The World Of Twist” didn’t get around to releasing their album Quality Street until 91 at the arse end of Madchester when novelty goons like Northside and CandyFlip were all that was left of the fight and attention began to turn to the US.

 

The album complete doesn’t quite do justice to the World Of Twist vision of Tony Ogden and Gordon King. The 3 singles approved by the band are value enough in themselves though, combining loping grooves and a canny pop sensibility with proggy undertones and willful weirdness. Their cover of The Stone’s “She’s A Rainbow” was one of the last pieces of music to have been produced by the legendary Martin Hannett.

 

 

 

 

2: Jellyfish

 

Another band out of step with the time Jellyfish went for big and sunny when the world was turning introspective & grimy.

 

Released in 1990, Bellybutton is 10 big slabs of summery guitar pop gorgeously rendered with such confidence it sounds like a ready made greatest hits compilation you can never quite play loud enough.

 

I can’t imagine their penchant for dressing like Dr Zeuss characters can have done Jellyfish any favours on the popularity front but it’s a bona fide tragedy they don’t get more props in the history of pop.

 

 

3: Lush

 

Their first EP released in ’89 Lush really came into their own spearheading the indie wall of sound movement sarcastically dubbed Shoegaze in the early 90’s.

 

It’s a simple equation: Loud, jangly guitars and dubby bass lay down a carpet of noise while the vocals of Emma Anderson & Miki Berenyi veer between Elizabeth Frazer graveyard floatiness and spiky, punky sarcasm.

 

Partly a victim of the rampant misogyny present in rock music, Lush are pretty much ignored when bands like Ride are revered. Nothing wrong with Ride, I like them but where as that band had a habit of descending into self indulgence, Lush continued to hone their perfect capsules of pop right up until Lovelife which saw them embrace a punkier sound perfect for cleansing the palette of the cloying 60’s aping Dad-rock excesses of the time.

 

 

4: The Sabres Of Paradise

 

Andrew Weatherall (or as I like to call him, God) has appeared in many mysterious ways over the years. His defining guise was The Sabres Of Paradise. 2nd album proper Haunted Dancehall couldn’t have been more aptly titled, reminiscent of a collection of supernatural EVP recordings from a club owned by Aleistair Crowley and Anton LaVey.

 

From 92 to 96 no self-respecting artist could release a single without a remix by Sabres Of Paradise. Everyone from New Order to Therapy was flung, mercilessly into Lord Weatherall’s spooky dub pit.

 

 

 

 

5: One Dove

 

With Sabres at their peak, Andrew Weatherall began working with Glaswegian trio One Dove on an album that would fuse his dub and techno sounds with expansive, melancholy pop tunes.

 

Dot Alison’s voice & lyrics held a romantic sadness normally associated with the beleaguered heroines of Country & Western (Final single Why Don’t You Take Me features a glorious cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” as the b-side)

 

With origins firmly in the layered, dubby sounds favoured by Leftfield, Underworld & William Orbit’s “Guerilla” label One Dove’s “Morning Dove White” and accompanying remixes by the great and the good of the early 90’s is still a forgotten gem whose influences can be heard echoing throughout the decade in bands like Olive, Kosheen and some of all conquering All Saints’ better songs.

 

 

6: Moloko

Roisin Murphy & Mark Brydon met in a club in the early 90’s where Murphy’s chat up line was “Do You Like My Tight Sweater”.

 

This went on to be the title of their first album & says a lot about the band’s relationship and output. Somewhat off kilter and weirdly sexy, there’s quite a bit of Giorgio Moroder in Do You Like My Tight Sweater and the art pop influence of Laurie Anderson. Roisin is also a big fan of Grace Jones.

 

Moloko had a troubled relationship with critics, being mystifyingly dumped into the “Trip Hop” box which makes absolutely no sense. Their one big hit “Sing It Back” became a poisoned chalice as audience and critics alike seemed to expect Moloko to churn out variations on a theme. The fact that the album version, with it’s glitchy tango rhythm and vibrating Rhodes is far superior to the admittedly fun but empty remix that hit the charts is a prime example of how Moloko were a band who tread their own path whilst others constantly tried to turn them into something less interesting.

 

 

 

7: Super Furry Animals

 

Super Furry Animals, relentlessly experimental yet like many of the bands featured here, still retaining a glorious pop sensibility. Allow me to disappear up my own firmament briefly because my love for this band knows simply no bounds. Super Furries could be seen as the Wes Anderson of British Music. They have over 22 years created, expanded and evolved a sonic world all their own showing love for every feasible musical genre from Americana to Drum N Bass, but somehow still manage to sound like SFA. At the heart of every song, be it a Welsh language folk song or a techno wig-out, there is a harmonic sensibility that equals that of their collective hero, Brian Wilson.

 

Yet despite this and a fanbase as rabidly loyal as myself, Super Furry Animals have never been afforded the credit due for pushing the boundaries of experimentation in accessible pop.

 

 

 

 

8: Orbital

 

Orbital have come to be seen as music for Middle Aged ex-ravers and nerds. Well if the shoe fits etc. It’s too often forgotten that during the 90’s, in the midst of an invasion of novelty Beatles and Kinks pastiches, Orbital brought Acid House to Glastonbury and for the next decade gave dance music an unprecedented sense of musicality and genuine performance that stands up today.

 

From the relentless, apocalyptic party of The Brown Album to the hugely under-rated dance symphonics of Insides Orbital deserve to be remembered for introducing sophistication to dance, rather than being two bald blokes with torches on their heads.

 

 

 9. Elastica

 

So this one I kind of understand. Justine Frischman never came across as the most likeable person in the world and Elastica magpied their sound so brazenly they were sued by both The Stranglers & Wire.

 

Where Dickishness and plagiarism appeared to be a boon for the Gallagher Brothers, it was a stick with which Elastica were mercilessly beaten in the press.

 

There was a knowing air to Elastica’s theft and mutilation of punk and new wave that took them closer to the YBA’s than Brit Pop which was probably ammunition enough to raise the ire of fans of Oasis who saw the mulit-millionaires as Working Class Heroes and Elastica as the enemy.

 

But if you can disconnect yourself from the ludicrous, school yard V-flicking for a minute it’s not just Elastica’s debut album that’s worth a revisit, give 2000’s “The Menace” a spin and you’ll hear where Yeah Yeah Yeah’s took their own schtick from.

 

 

10. Lamb

 

When you’ve created and defined an entire sound with the style and accomplishment achieved by dual Bristol Sound Juggernauts Massive Attack & Portishead, any artist working within the same soundscape is likely to come on as a bit of an also ran.

 

Where-as some bit the bullet and went full winsome, aiming directly at the Cold Feet / Ikea market (Zero7 we’re looking at you) Lamb stuck to their melancholy, off-kilter, guns turning out a succession of uncompromising albums.

 

Even at their most discordant, Lou Rhodes naïve vocals lend Lamb a beauty and emotion that out strips even Beth Gibbons at times.

 

20 years on Lamb continue to be sonic world builders. Re-forming to release Backspace Rewind last year, they’re still a band worth your time.

 

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list and it’s not to say that Britpop produced nothing of note, plenty of good came (much of it via Jarvis Cocker) before it descended into Dad Rock drudgery.  If you feel we’ve been unjust or wholeheartedly agree let’s pick up the subject on Facebook. Hit the big F up-top.

 

Before wrap up the 90’s, honorable mentions go to:

 

Mecury Rev

 

Cornelius

 

Belly

Sugar

 

Spiritualized

 

 


Recently I was asked by close friend Paula Benson to write a piece on the art direction of my favourite movie for her frankly brilliant website FilmAndFurniture.co.uk. Being a total obsessive with Ridley Scott’s masterpiece from 1982 I chose Blade Runner.

Here’s the article but do please visit Paula’s site at the link above. It’s an ever growing treasure chest of interesting stuff.

 

By Matt Cole founder of Penny Dreadful Menswear.

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) paints Los Angeles 2019 as a potent, multifaceted hybrid of cultures. The principal influence reflects the 1980’s assumption that Japan’s driving force in technology would see it become the ruling superpower of the future. Omnipresent billboards depict giant geisha girls popping pills to the baleful soundtrack of Japanese folk song Ogi No Mato. This hint of a society controlled by mood-enhancers is one of the few direct links back to Philip K Dick’s “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep.”

Geisha Girl billboard in Blade Runner. Image courtesy of Ladd Company/The Shaw Brothers/Warner Bros.

At ground level “The Egyptian” Abdul Ben Hassan manufactures Snakes, selling them among replicant ostriches and other exotics in the bustling, bazaar like “Animoid Row” while the Mayan styled Pyramidal buildings of the Tyrell Corporation dominate the skyline, monstrous monuments to the gods of Industry.

The Tyrell Corporation building in Blade Runner. Image courtesy of Ladd Company/The Shaw Brothers/Warner Bros.

The South American influence continues in the blocky Aztec architecture and interior styling of Rick Deckard’s (Harrison Ford) apartment block. The exterior, shot at Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Ennis House” in the Hollywood Hills, is augmented by one of the many extraordinary matte paintings designed by Syd Mead and completed by Matt Yurichich, Rocco Gioffre, and Michele Moen.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Ennis House” in the Hollywood Hills

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House.

Art director David Snyder took Syd Mead’s original “form meets function” hi-tech interior designs and encased them in custom molded replicas of Frank Lloyd Wrights Aztec building blocks creating a multi-textural man-cave perfectly suited to Deckard’s loner personality.

The Ennis-Brown House built by Frank Lloyd Wright was the source for Deckard’s apartment. Syd Mead designed the set interior, and Lawrence Paull took casts of the Ennis-Brown bricks and built the set on stage.

Deckard's apartment

As much as I’m a huge fan of Syd Mead’s industrial sci-fi concept artwork, from Blade Runner to Elysium, it’s the interesting mix of ephemera that Snyder’s team populates Mead’s spaces with that not only authentically depicts the sum contents of a 30 plus divorced male’s life but also injects a sense of personal mystery into an already enigmatic story.

Deckard's apartment

Much has been made of the Art-deco & Art Nouveau influences on the retro-futuristic design of Blade Runner, but it’s true to Ridley Scott’s reputation for perfection in art direction that the vast majority of the early 20th Century pieces in Deckard’s department are genuine. The cost of acquiring Argyle chairs by Charles Rennie MacKintosh and a barely glimpsed Frank Lloyd Wright Coonley Desk probably gave the production manager a small heart attack. Combined with a Panasonic TR-535 pop up TV they build an authentic image of a future heavily influenced by more elegant times long gone.

Rachel sits in an Argyle chair by Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Frank Lloyd Wright Coonley Desk

To achieve maximum Future Noir moodiness Deckard’s apartment features little to no overhead lighting. Instead the surfaces are filled with a myriad of lamps including 3 choice American art-deco examples – a 1940’s Lightolier desk lamp by Gerald Thurston (want!), a strangely kitsch World’s Trade Fair lamp and hovering over the piano where Deckard has his Unicorn reverie is a Dazor Saucer Lamp.

Dazor Saucer Lamp and a Lightolier desk lamp (with thanks to Red Line Vintage)

Dazor Saucer Lamp, a World’s Trade Fair lamp a Lightolier desk lamp.

Deckard's desk lamps

In an age before 3D printing even the future was cobbled together from the present, including the image scanning ESPER Machine, in reality a portable TV with a couple of alarm clocks and what seems to be a Polaroid camera stuck to the side. As a young viewer it was still the coolest piece of tech, lent realism because it seemed second-hand and slightly knackered, screen etched with pen marks.

The image scanning ESPER Machine, in reality a portable TV with a couple of alarm clocks and what seems to be a polaroid camera stuck to the side

Elsewhere the past continues to collide with the contemporary in building a convincing future. The story goes that Scott himself found 2019’s answer to the Lazyboy, a huge leather suite with built-in lighting, in a junk sale having recently been removed from an LA Nightclub that had fallen on hard times.

Deckard's leather suite complete with built in lighting. Story has it, it came from an LA nightclub

Amongst this wealth of amazing stuff expertly and painstakingly thrown together to create the perfect mess of a dysfunctional bachelor pad there are 2 items I’ve come to covet most over my 50 or so viewings of Blade Runner. Both of which are the vessels that transport the fuel of Deckard’s burgeoning alcoholism. The shot glass tainted with blood after Deckard’s violent run in with Leon originally formed part of an elaborate set by the wonderfully named United Metal Goods from the 50’s. In my favourite shot from the film, standing on the apartment balcony, hundreds of stories above the city Rick reflects on cruelly bursting Rachel’s faux-human bubble. For one fleeting moment Deckard leans over as if he might jump. The glass in his hand is a 1974 Arnolfo di Cambio CIBI tumbler. Look at it glowering in that promo image. That’s a serious Whiskey glass surely built with Future-Noir, Replicant Hunting, Killer Cops in mind.

The shot glass tainted with blood after Deckard’s violent run in with Leon originally formed part of an elaborate set by United Metal Goods from the 50’s.

Deckard takes a drink of whiskey from a Arnolofo di Cambio CIBI tumbler

Arnolofo di Cambio CIBI tumbler

It’s more than likely that Snyder and his team had a very tight brief from Ridley Scott according to his overall vision for the style and texture of LA 2019 and all these disparate items came together like a jigsaw puzzle, piece by piece to create a cohesive whole that looked great on camera. But I have a theory. Bear with me.

Deckard’s apartment is crammed full of not just a selection of choice furniture, elegant lamps and shonky old portable TV’s. Rick’s also got a fair few knick-knacks like this carved wooden rhino.

Rick’s also got a fair few knick knacks like this carved wooden rhino.

Now does “One man slaughterhouse” Blade Runner Rick Deckard strike you as the kind of guy who’d spend his weekends browsing through antique fairs and car boot sales looking for wooden Rhinos and art deco dining chairs? Well maybe. Replicants are collectors, empty vessels constantly trying to build an identity. Leon compiles memories in a literal way with his “precious photos”. Rachel also carries a photo of “her mother” as proof that she had one and Deckard’s piano is loaded with seemingly random snaps, some incongruously black and white next to holographic prints. Perhaps despite being oblivious to his Replicant origin Deckard is filling his home with items harboring their own pasts and stories in a subconscious attempt to fabricate a soul?

Or maybe he just rents the pad fully-furnished. Who knows.

Matt Cole
(with much thanks to the true Blade Runner obsessives at PropSummit.com)
Matt is founder of Penny Dreadful Menswear and a card carrying geek.