Modern Art, Soft Shoulders and the Bebop Revolution: A Chat with John Simons

March 2021 | Written by Nicholas Sarnella

At John Simons, we understand Ivy League clothing to belong to a wider cultural phenomenon; Modernism. Within the superstructure that is Modernism there exists a trifecta of influence which still shapes the way in which we curate our store today: The Natural Shoulder Ivy League style, Mid Century Jazz as well as Modern Art and Design. But what of this latter aspect? In what ways does the work of George Nelson relate to a pair of Longwing Brogues? We sat down with John Simons himself to find out.

1. What was your first exposure to Modernist art?

I came to Art really through record covers, I was extremely interested in the Bebop revolution in America in the post-war years. I would always find myself in record stores looking at the covers. They were very often done by interesting modern artists, which reflected the music. As a fourteen and fifteen-year-old that drew me to it. To me the Bebop revolution made the Punk revolution look like right wing conservatives! So far out man… I can’t even tell you. I supported the punks when they came out because you have got to say your piece, but they had nothing on the Bebop revolution. That is what lead me to be interested in art and then a little while later I had gone to [Central] St. Martins doing my distributive trades course, so I was kind of immersed in art and gradually got more and more interested in it. At the time I didn’t really know a lot about it, but I just liked that certain style of illustration.

2. What was the first piece of Art that you purchased?

That is a good question, it was a probably an object rather than an Art piece. I first bought objects that were influenced by Art. At the time I did not really buy any Art, I would pick up little things, little carvings and what not. You see, a lot of the modern objects were influenced by Art, such as Cubism. In all candour I could not say what the first piece I bought was.

3. In your opinion, what is the link that connects Art, Modern Jazz and Ivy League clothing? Moreover, would you say this link influences your own work?

Well, I think I iterated it a little earlier, for me it really stems from the LP covers of time, with musicians such as The Modern Jazz Quartet. In the 1950’s all of the Jazz musicians were wearing Ivy League Clothing and their record covers would be adorned with Modern Art. This may not be the case for everyone, but in my opinion the three studies, music, clothing and art are almost one and the same. That’s always been the case for me, and it still is today. Whilst I have never considered myself any great artist these aspects that we have been discussing are what inspires my work: Jazz, Ivy League Clothing and Modernist Art.

4. Have you always been artistically inclined or is this a sensibility that you cultivated over time?

I certainly did not come from an artistic background, no. The only pictures we had in my house were the Radio times! It happened for me at around fifteen years of age whilst I was an assistant window dresser [at Cecil Gee’s on Charing Cross Road] and there you have to use art whether you know it is art or not. You have to consider balance, abstraction and composition. You use all those factors and much more when you are dressing a window! By the age of sixteen I was at St Martins as well and that was when it all really happened.

5. Finally, to turn our attention to furniture, which designers have inspired you over the years?

I have always loved the work of Alvar Aalto, the Finnish Designer and Architect. His furniture was inspired in its form by the lakes in Finland. I also admired the work of George Nelson, the American Designer of the 1950’s. At a young age, I was drawn to many of the furniture designers of the 1940’s and 1950’s and I still am! Some of those pieces are incredibly expensive now. Only the richest amongst us can hope to buy them as they are just so valuable and sought after. I have always managed to pick up bits and pieces over the years. I always enjoyed looking at furniture and if a piece is really exciting, I have never seen much difference between looking at furniture or looking at Sculpture or Paintings.

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