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David Rosen is a London native and lifelong customer of John Simons’ stores. Originally hailing from Maida Vale, he has built an illustrious career working as a commercial real estate agent. Amongst his most notable works, David was involved in the purchase of the former Thomas Goode department store for Hauser and Wirth, the original Beatles Apple building, and most recently the new Saatchi Yates Gallery in St James. David’s story is inextricably tied to that of London, his career being very much a manifestation of his lifelong obsession with modernist style, a through line which can be traced back to his earliest visits to the original Ivy Shop in Richmond. We sat down with David to discuss his recollections as a young Suedehead obsessed with American style, his love of London, as well as the influence of the The Beatles and Rolling Stones during his formative years.
1. Can you remember the first significant piece of clothing you purchased? What was it and where was was it bought?
There were two things. The first was a pair of Levi’s from Millets in Kilburn. It was the only place to get them, it was just fantastic. The next purchase was my Hi-Top Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers. This would have been around 1969 or ‘70 and the purchase was made from Bartlett’s in Pratt Street, Camden town. What you have you to understand is, Millets was the place to get Levi’s at the time, and similarly Bartlett’s were the first place, at least on that side of London, to get Converse Hi Tops.
However, the thing that really kick started my love of clothing would have been the pilgrimage to the Ivy Shop in Richmond. My oldest mate, Tony Cowan, was another young Suedehead type. Because he was from Putney, Tony knew about the Ivy shop. Meanwhile, I was from Maida Vale and didn’t realise there was the Squire Shop just five stops along on the Bakerloo line! So, I went to the Ivy Shop with Tony one Saturday morning and found out about the Squire shop in Brewer Street within a matter of weeks. Once I found out that I no longer needed to make that journey across London, I would simply go from Maida Vale to Piccadilly and head down Brewer Street. But, it all started with that trip to the Ivy Shop in Richmond, much in the same way that for the generations prior it would have been Austin’s on Shaftsbury Avenue. I have always understood that Austin’s, with its imported American wares, was the closest thing you would have got to Brooks Brothers in London at the time.
2. How did you get into the Suedehead look?
It was simply the look of the day, you were either a Hippie or a Skinhead/Suedehead, and there was no way I was going to be anything but the latter what with the American influence that I grew up with at the time, whether it was 77 Sunset Strip or Man From Uncle, these were the types of images you were seeing on TV at the time in the mid to late 1960s. It’s also worth remembering the perceived glamour inherent to America at the time, to quote Keith Richards, “London was Black and White. New York was technicolour”. After that, the influence of older cousins and the Blue Note Jazz album covers all played a part. The other massive thing was that the Rolling Stones and The Beatles were still in their own right, Mod-ish at the time. Shortly after that, you get The Who and The Small Faces who represented West London and East London respectively, and they stamped and reinforced the mod look for the younger generation. I was a fan of all of it. Even Bob Dylan had an amazing look, post him going electric. They were all in their own way evoking a modernist look. Whilst they were not as sharp as Miles Davis or Coltrane, they had their uniform: Sports coat, black polo neck etc. No one looked hippy-ish.
3. When was your first visit to the shop and what were your first impressions?
It would have been my first visit to the Ivy Shop and I was just blown away. I just could not believe the stuff that I was seeing. The thing that really cemented everything though was going to the Squire Shop in Brewer Street, looking in the window and seeing the big round table with all the shoes laid out. Everything was there: the Smoothes, the Gibsons, the Wingtips, all with socks neatly folded in each pair, and then visiting the basement and seeing everyone trying on pairs of shoes with all the boxes laid out, it was just amazing. I still have several pairs of shoes from that period. In particular, I have a pair of fringe and tassel loafers (pictured below from an article in Law magazine), as well as an amazing pair of cordovan-coloured smoothes from that period. I have had everyone from the V&A to Japanese fashionistas approach me for these original shoes, no chance!
4. Have you had any other formative shopping experiences over the years?
I first visited Brooks Brothers in the late 1970s. I don’t know what came first, but I must have visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim, Brooks Brothers Madison Avenue, and the Museum of Modern Art to see Picasso’s Guernica, all on the same day!
5. What item of clothing could you not live without?
The original Bass Weejun loafers, Levi’s and a white or navy blue t-shirt. In particular, the brand Goodwear which John Simons carries. That is the best white t-shirt I have ever owned. Forget all these other American and European brands, that is the one! I’d definitely add a Harrington jacket and one of the excellent McRostie belts you carry. For me, even with all the clobber I have owned over the years, it is these items that I could not do without.
6. What is your number one style tip for the readers at home?
Think Mod. Think John Simons.
7. Do you have a sartorial hero?
Yes! Johnny Simons! It has got to be, he is the godfather after all. I first met him in the late 1970s, on Chalk Farm road. This would have been just before the Russel Street store. I remember he came out of somewhere and I went right up to him and said to him, “You’re John Simons!” For me this was an important moment, it was like meeting Keith Richards or John Lennon. He was this mythical figure. I remember he simply gave me an aloof response, something along the lines of, “Am I? If you say so!”
Russel Street was so important for the next generation of John Simons customers. I was there the minute it opened and in fact I still have a cool teal green Harrington from there, which John gifted me in exchange for helping him sell his wares when understaffed one day. In the early days of Russel Street, it was John, Ken and Jeff, all of whom were eccentric cult figures in their own right. You would not even need to bother John at the time because both Ken and Jeff were great sources of entertainment and super knowledgeable.
I think what is great about the current Chiltern Street store is that you have retained the original spirit. The fact you are making these great pieces in London reminds me of the energy John had at the old stores, and whilst you have moved it along slightly in a very clever, subtle way, the spirit remains. If I didn’t already have the classic Brooks Brothers Herringbone 346 jacket, gifted to me by John, I must admit that I would be forced to buy one of your current Herringbone sack jackets, as it is so perfectly on the button in terms of detailing.
8. If you could choose to attend a concert from any artist, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you wear?
It has got to be The Beatles at Shae stadium. I would wear a black polo neck, black sports coat, black pair of Levi’s and a pair of black leather Beatle boots. Slightly Dylan-esque when he went electric. I think it is one of the great forgotten Mod looks, but people who know still get it. He looked fantastic, whether it was that massive houndstooth jacket, or the black polo neck, sports coat and jeans ensemble.
Also, any John Coltrane or Miles Davis gig, you know the look!
9. Do you feel that your profession has impacted your style? Or do you feel as if your sense of style has impacted your choice of profession?
It has made no odds really. In the world of commercial Real Estate, I am somewhat on my own, apart from my best mate Simon Silver and a nice bloke called Joe Fuller! However, I am always attracted to the modernist form of architecture, and this has influenced the types of buildings I get involved with. Despite this, because my world is that of London, I tend to look at any type of building, from any different era whatever it might be, and assess it for its unique nature. The four most important things for me in my line of work are: volume, light, character and tube station.
Photography: Ewen Spencer
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