Our Man in L.A.

May 2021 | Written by Nicholas Sarnella

L.A. realtor, Peter Kinnaird, has been a loyal John Simons customer for over thirty years. More so than the majority of our customers, Peter is a proponent of a very period-correct take on the Boom years Ivy League look. Drawn to the style through a love of Mid Century Americana, Cinema and Music, Peter understands the style to be a versatile mode of dress, rather than a constrictive set of rules. We sat down with Peter to discuss why he continues to shop at John Simons despite being situated in the home of Ivy, America, the enduring appeal of Steve McQueen’s style and his recollections of our old Russell Street store.

Peter Kinnaird 1

For the readers at home can you please give us a brief overview of your career to date?

I am basically an estate agent. I work with residential properties, from single family homes right up to multi-unit properties. I also own a number of apartments which I rent out. There are two aspects of my business, there is the sales aspect and the management side of things. I have been working in property since around 2006. Prior to that I was in the music business. I moved to LA in the late 1980’s and went to the University of Southern California Film school. Rather than working in Film, I was completely put off the industry and started working in music instead. I got a job working in the William Morris mail room once I was out of university and I worked my way up. First, I became someone’s assistant and then became a music agent and it is one of these things where I had a certain vision of becoming a Hollywood agent and thinking, right, this is it my life will be set! But then reality set in and I found it to be quite hollow and it was a case of right, what’s next? I then got a job at Mercury records doing A&R, which stands for artists and repertoire. I did that for a number of years. Artists on the label included Morrissey, The Cardigans and a number of acts who were probably bigger in the USA than elsewhere. Then the whole music industry changed and almost the entirety of Mercury Records West Coast team was let go. Rather than carry on working in music, I thought to myself, I’ll get a license to do property sales, just to tide myself over until the next gig comes around, and here we are fifteen years later.

My dad and his father, back in Belfast, worked in property and I swore to myself I would never do the same thing but such is life! I had built some contacts through my previous career and I was very fortunate in that someone I knew socially, had asked me to sell their house before I had even completed my realtor training. So, I guess you could say I had a pretty good leg up!

When was your first visit to the shop?

I visited the store in the late 1980’s. I was going to Reading University and I had bought a pair of Bass Weejuns from a store called the Natural Shoe Store, which had a branch in Covent Garden at the time. I stumbled across J. Simons in Russell Street and I remember there being a bewildering selection of Weejuns. I would not have purchased anything else from the store at the time. Sometime later, while in LA I was searching high and low for a pair of Paraboots. This probably would have been 1989 or ’90. I remembering buying Paraboot Chambord in Marron from a store named American rag. I wore those Paraboot to death and years later I was searching for a replacement pair and came across a very primitive John Simons website for the old Covent Garden shop. There was a picture of a pair of Paraboot Avignon, which ironically the shop didn’t stock. I remember calling up and John informed me that they sold Chambord and Michaels and I bought them both. Both pairs are still in regular circulation. This would have been twenty or so years ago. I have had them re-soled obviously, but they are in great condition otherwise.

Peter Kinnaird 3

Do you remember what your first impressions of the store were?

There is something about the window display which I think is totally incomparable. I distinctly remember in the window at Covent Garden there was a pale blue Harrington, by a company called Bramble, which I believe was a subsidiary of Grenfell, and that really caught my eye. I recall short sleeve madras style shirts by a company called Haggar, Bills Khakis in the window and so on. I remember walking in and both Jeff Garret, who is sadly no longer with us, and John, introduced themselves and were immediately warm and welcoming. There was just a vibe in the air which I felt was very compelling, and as cliché as this may sound, I felt instantly at home. I bought a few pieces and came back the next day. I remember that I was standing outside just a little way down the street from the shop, wearing the same blue Harrington that had been in the window just the other day and John came up behind me and said something to the effect of “Oh, that jacket looks good!”

One thing that has always stood out, whether it is the old store, or the new shop, is that you can take an almost pedestrian item, put it in a John Simons window and somehow it becomes something magical and much more important. A classic example of this would be be a pair of Dickies trousers. Over here, you can source them pretty much everywhere and you are likely to see guys doing manual labour in them. There is nothing really fancy about them. But I remember in the current shop, years ago, seeing a pair in the window with a ticket that read “Ivy League Work Trousers” and it suddenly transformed them into something much more special.

Has there been a particular item which has stood out over the years?

That would probably be either the Mingus jacket or the Overcoat. Both are comfortable and extremely stylish. The A-line cut, coupled with the raglan shoulder is great for me. When I first tried on one of the overcoats I was a little worried that it was flaring out too much at the bottom, but that is kind of the beauty of it. I also love the cut of the current Ivy jackets and in my opinion they are far superior to the J. Keydge jackets they were modelled on. I don’t know what it is, but the shoulder is much more flattering for me.

How did you get into the Ivy League style?

I have always had a fascination with 1950’s America. When I was a kid, I remember my mum would constantly be playing Elvis records, which I loved. Everything from the music to the album covers was amazing to me. I began collecting bits and pieces of Elvis memorabilia and eventually got heavily into 1950’s Rockabilly music, which then lead to punk and so on. But there’s something about the 1950’s aesthetic that has always appealed to me. I think for this reason, Ivy League clothing and its connection to Jazz really stood out, and for want of a better word, the retro aspect of Ivy really appealed to me. The concept of a contemporary Ivy League, American, or Trad style of clothing is of no interest to me, even though a select number of items produced under this umbrella might be. In the late 1980’s I wore a lot of Ralph Lauren style Ivy gear, in the 90’s I suppose I was much more rock and roll in my style, as well as wearing a bit of Duffer of St George and some 1950’s/60’s Italian knits. I think there is a logical route or progression to Ivy style there, and I found that as I got older, looking back at the heyday of the Ivy League look, from the late 1950’s to the early 60’s, that the style started becoming much more appealing to me. I find Ivy particularly appealing as a means to retain some individuality in one’s 40’s and 50’s, without looking like someone clinging to a youth cult that they are too old for.

Peter Kinnaird 4
Peter Kinnaird 2

As you are aware much of what we produce under the John Simons Apparel line, as well as the other brands we stock, harkens back to classic mid-century American style. Why is it, that despite being situated in the USA yourself, you continue to shop with John Simons?

I think the shop is completely unique in that it takes Traditional American clothing, puts it through the lens of the 1950’s Jazz era and presents it back to the world in a way which is entirely unique and does not feel anachronistic. Also the breadth of stock, having French workwear items, for example Paraboot, and placing them alongside a sack jacket. Paraboot is a good example, as although I am sure they were never worn in Mid Century America, something about their appearance conjures up that era for me. One of the most appealing aspects of the store is that it is not just a shop that sells sports coats and suits, or button down shirts and loafers, rather, it sells a variety of clothing which all works together under a certain framework or aesthetic. I remember there was a window display from a few years back that had a Diniz and Cruz suit with a tie, very conservative in styling, and next to it was a TCB denim chore jacket. The juxtaposition of the formal, with what is essentially a work jacket was fantastic. It encompasses a broad appeal but it all compliments one another.

Do you feel that the own brand line being produced in London is an important factor?

I do, actually. In this day and age it is incredibly important. From an ethical standpoint, I think sustainability is incredibly pertinent and I don’t think anyone should ever be on the wrong side of that argument. People perceive Made in London goods as a higher quality item and I think in most respects this is true!

What is your number one style tip for the readers at home?

Don’t wear your trousers too long. Nothing worse than excess folds of trouser fabric around the ankle…unless of course you’re on the toilet!

What item of clothing could you not live without?

Probably the F.O.B. Bedford cords. F.O.B. Factory is an interesting brand because everything they make is of such high quality. I am wearing the chinos right now, which I think are superb.

Do you have a style icon?

It is so predictable, but I have to go with 1960’s Steve McQueen. If I had to pick a specific film I would probably go with Bullitt. Definitely not 1970’s Steve McQueen with the double denim and shaggy hair.

Finally, if you could choose to attend a concert from any artist, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you wear?

It would be The Clash in 1981 and I would probably wear a pair of Paraboot Michaels, Levis redline selvedge jeans or a pair of F.O.B 147 jeans, a natural coloured Harrington and a GRP polo.

Photography: Whitney Kinnaird

Interview: Sean O’Byrne

Peter is photographed wearing a number of items from our new Spring/Summer range.

“Shop the Look” below to browse the collection. 

  • Share