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Paul Ferguson is a loyal customer to the John Simons store who has shopped with us for over six years, having uncovered the shop in his pursuit for a classic Oxford cotton button down. With a background in IT, Paul is a man of eclectic pursuits and interests, serving as compère for ‘Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet’, a nostalgia-fuelled pop-up disco founded by partner Nikki, which specialises in all things 1970s and 80s. Moreover, Paul notably volunteers as a stylist for ‘Suited & Booted’, a charity located in central London which aims to get vulnerable, homeless, or low-income men, interview-ready and able to begin the next chapter of their lives in style. We sat down with Paul to discuss his love for quality headwear, the stylistic traditions handed down to him by his father, and his penchant for crepe-soled, suede footwear.
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?
I cannot remember my first purchase as it was a long time ago, but I do remember my first significant experience related to clothing; I started my working life as an apprentice Engineering Technician at Austin Rover in my hometown, Birmingham, in the 1980’s. During that time, I was one of the lucky members of staff chosen to work on the Austin Rover stand at the British Motor Show at the National Exhibition Centre. In preparation for the event, I was sent to get an outfit from a shop called J. Hepworth & Son. I expected to pick out some off the peg items and be out in ten minutes, but to my surprise I was measured up and provided with a made to measure blazer, light grey ‘Farah’ style slacks, a white shirt, and a silver company tie. That experience opened my eyes to the power of a well-fitted, nicely made ensemble, and I wore that outfit to work every day until it eventually fell apart.
2. When was your first visit to the shop and what were your first impressions?
I would guess it was around six years ago. I had stumbled across John Simons online when I was looking for a striped Oxford shirt. At the time, collars were getting smaller, and I just wanted a good quality classic button down at a reasonable price. I ordered one and was delighted with it. I became determined to get to the shop as soon as I could. One day, a few weeks later, I was due to attend a business meeting in Marylebone, so I got to the area early so I could visit the shop. When I arrived, I stood outside for almost thirty minutes admiring the window display! I was captivated by the clothes, both vintage and modern, the artefacts and posters on display, as well as the Blue Note records soundtrack in the background when I finally decided to step inside. There and then, I knew I would be walking away with something!
3. What item of clothing could you not live without?
I cannot imagine my life without a hat, I have so many! I mostly wear baker boy or newsboy caps; wool and tweed when it is cold, or cotton and linen when it is warm. I know a few people that never wear hats as they do not think that hats suit them, but I firmly believe there is a hat out there for everyone.
4. What is your number one style tip for the readers at home?
Embrace vintage. I know a lot of people that will not wear pre-loved clothing and I think they are missing out. As the compère at HSDY, I have found some fantastic 1970s St Michael and Italian-made dagger-collar polo shirts, an awesome safari shirt, some sta-press slacks, as well as a pair of Northampton-made spectator shoes by Sanders, which I wear to the events.
I would also recommend investing in a pair of well made, timeless shoes, and taking the time to care for them. Your feet will thank you and they will last a long time. I bought a pair of black Crockett & Jones brogues for a new job seventeen years ago and they are still going strong today. I am also a big fan of Paraboot and I have both the Michael and Avignon models. For the more casual end, and especially in the summer, you cannot beat a suede shoe with a crepe sole; I used to wear Clark’s Wallabees, but I am now wearing the Padmore & Barnes version. I am a fan of the Sanders Playboy chukka too.
5. Do you have a sartorial hero?
It has always been Sidney Poitier. As a kid, he was the first Black man I saw as a lead and hero in film. He overcame a lot of prejudices to get where he did and that resonated with me due to some of the experiences my father had encountered. I re-watched some of his films after he sadly passed away last year, and whether it was Virgil Tibbs in In the Heat of the Night, or Mark Thackery in To Sir, With Love, or Dr John Prentice in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, he always looked immaculate, and came across as reassuring and dignified even when under pressure. My Dad was also a very sharp young man in the 1960s and 70s. He worked in the tool room at Austin Rover and wore overalls or a two-piece work jacket/trouser combo, a Donkey Jacket and sturdy steel toe boots in the week. I remember I was very much looking forward to getting my own Donkey Jacket when I started there so I could copy his style, but they stopped issuing them before I joined. I love work jackets now, and that was definitely influenced by him. Like many Caribbean families, we had our Sunday best for things like church and weddings, and he would look amazing when he donned his only suit.
6. If you could choose to attend a concert from any artist, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you wear?
There are so many, but I would have loved to have seen Jimmy Smith back in the 1960s somewhere in town. His Hammond Organ stuff would have had me foot tapping or even stood up dancing! I would of course, also be checking out his knitted top or hat! I imagine I would have made the trip to original Ivy Shop in Richmond to find something to wear to the gig a few days in advance.
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?
My day job calls for ‘Smart Casual’ or ‘Business Casual,’ which sees members of staff wear everything from suits with open collar shirts, to old company branded t-shirts with battered jeans and trainers. I just go with what I like, which is a mix of workwear and Ivy-related style. As a stylist for Suited & Booted, however, I do think more about what I wear whether it is smart or casual. I think it is important to try to make an effort for our clients. I normally wear an unstructured jacket, button down shirt, chinos and my Padmore & Barnes. One day, when I asked one of our clients what they wanted, he said “I want to dress like you!”
Foreword: Nicholas Sarnella
Photography: Alex Natt
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