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John Wilson is an esteemed freelance journalist and broadcaster, who has built a career out of documenting the arts and cultural affairs within Britain for over thirty years. Perhaps best known for his work on BBC Radio Four’s “This Cultural Life” and the “Mastertapes” series, John has worked across a plethora of different shows, series, and subjects since the early 1990s, which is concurrent with when he first began shopping at John Simons. He seems to uphold the tradition of individuals within the creative medias who are enamoured with the Ivy League look. We sat down with him to discuss his career to date, the impact of football and music on his early style, and the importance of a crisp white oxford button down shirt.
1. Can you remember the first piece of clothing you purchased with your first pay check? What was it and where was this purchase made?
Growing up just outside London, my teens were shaped by the twin forces of football and music, and more specifically, Arsenal and The Jam. My ‘look’ at that time, along with that of nearly all my schoolmates, was the ubiquitous Ben Sherman button-down, Fred Perry polo (black or red) and black Sta-Prest trousers that lay waiting in Carnaby Street boutiques at the end of our Saturday morning 134 smoky top-deck bus ride from Potters Bar. But that would have been pocket money spending. My first pay packet, stuffed with notes – I think around £70, big money! – came in August 1980, the first of three consecutive summer labouring jobs on a Lincolnshire farm, proper work, dawn til dusk. So what did I spend it on? No idea, but I like to think it might have been the Pringle sweater, Farah slacks and burgundy slip-ons – the soul boy/football casual look I was aiming for – in this photo of me and Paul Weller. We’re backstage at The Style Council’s show at the Paris Theatre, London on Paul’s 25th birthday. It was the first time I had met him. I remember we talked knitwear as I also had the grey jumper with red and black hoops he was wearing that night. I think it was from Topshop!
2. When was your first visit to the shop and what were your first impressions?
It would have been in the early 90s, introduced to J. Simons in Russell Street by my friend Matt Hall who told me ‘you’re gonna love this place”. We were working together on a show called The Mix, a two-hour Monday night magazine show of music and features on BBC Radio 5, the precursor to Five Live. I was a reporter and occasional presenter, Matt was producer and music guru, playlisting hip hop, soul and what was soon to become known as Britpop. In between interviews and features about politics and culture, bands like Galliano and Stereo MCs played live. We hosted the first Blur session. Weller previewed tracks from his unreleased debut album. That show was a launchpad for so many radio careers – Jo Whiley, Richard Coles, Mark Kermode, Stuart Maconie and many more did their first radio gigs on The Mix.
3. What item of clothing could you not live without?
A crisp, white, well-fitted button-down shirt is a wardrobe essential. The current John Simons Ivy Oxford one is perfect. But I’m going to nominate a vintage jersey from 1971, an item that has been worn only once, and not by me. On my 50th birthday my dad, former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson, gave me the shirt he wore in the ’71 FA Cup Final when they won ‘the Double’. It’s a piece of history, and I’m very proud to be the current keeper of the keeper’s shirt.
4. What is your number one style tip for the readers at home?
I wouldn’t dare offer style advice to such well-dressed readers. But ‘clean and neat’ are the basic rules I suppose. If I’m wearing shirt and shoes (rather than, say sweatshirt, jeans and Converse Chuck 70s), they will be ironed and polished before I leave the house. I’m amazed at the number of men walking around with scuffed and shrivelled brogues.
5. Do you have a sartorial hero?
Steve McQueen, another choice inherited from my dad. Because of his job as a BBC sports presenter in the 1970s, he had a video recorder way before anyone I knew. Which meant he could not only watch football all day, he could have his favourite film, The Thomas Crown Affair, on regular repeat. McQueen is effortlessly cool as Crown and Bullitt. Filming a BBC documentary about a Boston art heist in 2019, I made a pilgrimage to Thomas Crown’s mansion in the beautiful cobbled backstreets of Beacon Hill, where he played chess and other games with Faye Dunaway’s Vicky. I wore my blue Baracuta G9, sand chinos, brown suede chukka boots in honour of McQueen.
6. If you could choose to attend a concert from any artist, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you wear?
Although I saw The Jam many times, I always regret not having seen The Clash, so it could be one of the gigs on the London Calling tour. It could easily be the Miles Davis quintet of the late 50s, with Coltrane and Bill Evans, maybe at the Village Vanguard? Or how about Berlin 1924 for the premiere of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, with the nearly completely-deaf composer conducting his own work, being unaware of the huge roar of applause and cheers from the audience behind him at the end. The 1913 Paris premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring would be another contender, just to see if it really did provoke a riot.
But if it had to be just one, it would 30th January 1969 and I would be on the roof of 3 Savile Row watching The Beatles. Wearing a lime green Henley t-shirt under a Tommy Nutter double-breasted suit. Last November I was in a cinema for a preview screening of the Get Back rooftop footage, just a few seats along from Paul McCartney. At a drinks do after I told him it was one of the most wonderful things I’d ever seen. “Yeah, we weren’t bad, were we?” Macca replied, sipping a margarita, cool as.
7. 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?
There’s a variation on the old ‘good face for radio’ gag that applies to clothes, as radio presenters are notoriously shabby dressers. Although listeners can’t see what I’m wearing, I’ve always taken some pride in looking sharp in a radio studio. I think it shows respect to guests too. Some episodes of my Radio 4 series This Cultural Life are filmed for BBC4 television, so it’s been nice to show off recent John Simons purchases on screen, especially the blue cotton jacket.
Interview by Sean O’Byrne
Photography: Alex natt
Steve McQueen photo courtesy of Reel Art Press
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