In praise of the most XLNT Demob

For our money, Demob doesn’t receive enough acknowledgment for its considerable and enduring contribution to British style.

//Exterior, 47 Beak Street, Soho, London, 1983. Photo: Rex Features//

We’re proud there is a shout to this combination boutique, fashion label and design/music collective in Chapter 26 of THE LOOK.

//Full-page ad, The Face 24, April 1982//

Following the discovery in an old trunk of some fab pieces bought there – blimey! – at least a quarter of a century ago, it seems apposite to celebrate the creative hub founded by Chris Brick in 1981.

Collecting a group of like-minded fashion players (including fellow son of Merthyr Chris Sullivan), Brick assumed occupancy of the former fishmonger’s at 46 Beak Street in London’s Soho, retaining the wonderful tiled interior and many of the fixtures.

In May 1981 Demob had been part of the British “Blitz invasion” of New York along with Sullivan, Jon Baker of Axiom, journalist Robert Elms, photographer Graham Smith, the members of Spandau Ballet and others, including then-Demob designers Sade Adu and Sarah Lubell. Read about that at David Johnson’s Shapers Of the 80s.

//Debut 5: Pages 46-47. Thanks to Dalston Oxfam Shop//

//Debut 5: Pages 48-49. Thanks to Dalston Oxfam Shop//

Back in the UK Demob clothes were regularly featured in fashion and style mags, with the spreads above modelled by Susie Bick in the short-lived 12sq in Debut, which included a free vinyl compilation.

//”Prison shirt”, 1984//

Also selling through such venues as Chelsea’s Great Gear Market, and later “Disco Dave”’s  King’s Road shop Review, Demob pulled off the feat of transforming the 40s aesthetic suggested by the name into a glamorous offer, with fabulously-tailored garments in drilled cotton, denim, tweeds and other utilitarian and sometimes unusual fabrics.

From the get-go music played a powerful part of the Demob mix; their legendary warehouse parties gave breaks to such club pioneers as Noel Watson.

Arguably the most prominent designer associated with Demob was Willie Brown, who had made his name at the fashion-forward Modern Classics in Shoreditch’s Rivington Street.

//71 Rivington Street, London EC2, 1980. Photo: Derek Ridgers//

Within a few years Brown had established his own Old Town imprint with a satellite store also in Beak Street. This introduced the XLNT quadrant logo and the excellence of the designs lead to  widespread rag trade plagiarism, particularly the heavily stitched “Soul Bay” anoraks with black and white checkered detailing.

Demob also spawned Demop, the hairdressers which occupied a space on the other side of Beak street at the top of St James’ Street. Among the employees here was another person who would go on to make his name in global street fashion (and also featured in THE LOOK), Fraser Cooke.

//Left: ABC’s Mark White in “Soul Bay” anorak//

The yoked prison shirt you see here is made from exactly the same fabric as that provided to guests of Her Majesty at that time.

Once, driving away from my flat in Brixton Hill in the mid-80s a couple of likely geezers in the next car spotted me wearing it and, assuming I had just left the gates behind me, asked what I’d been inside for.

Demob had more than enough brushes with the law itself and was eventually closed after the hell-raising and parties became too much for the neighbouring businesses and local Old Bill.

Brick and his wife Judy went on to found NY stores Smylon Nylon and The Centre For The Dull, where he circulated his much-sought after Smylonnylon mixtapes. Check out where he’s at these days with his online music video presence Brickchannel.

The spirit of Demob’s uniquely crafted take on British clothing design has resided for some years at Will (as he has has been known for a while) Brown and Marie Willey’s great Old Town Clothing.

From their Norfolk base they produce  50 individually-made garments each week in such natural fabrics as cotton twill, tweed, drill, serge and denim. For superb clothing that will last 25 years and beyond – like those pieces which re-entered my life recently – THE LOOK can’t recommend Old Town Clothing highly enough.

XLNT! The spirit of Demob lives on.

John Coulthart said,

May 27, 2010 @ 10:19 pm

Those Demob labels (and the Face ad) were all Neville Brody designs. I haven’t checked but I think he may have designed the XLNT logo as well.

rockpopfashion said,

May 28, 2010 @ 7:19 am

Makes sense John – thanks and give me a shout back if you get confirmation.
The XLNT logo came from a factory around the corner from where I’m sitting now in Clapham Old Town (now a Virgin Active or somesuch).
I wonder whether he did the Review logo as well (very similar style – have a jumper and I’ve been meaning to scan the logo).

John Coulthart said,

May 31, 2010 @ 2:07 am

The XLNT logo isn’t in the first Brody book along with the other Demob stuff so the jury is still out on that one.

rockpopfashion said,

June 2, 2010 @ 3:12 pm

Well WBOT and it’s XLNT marque were much later (84/5) so I figure not.
I’ve got a great pic coming of WB at Modern Classics so will add the Review logo to that.

Patrick said,

February 7, 2011 @ 7:09 pm

Still got my black XLNT Soul bay checkered anorak..Wonder if there are many others still around now..

rockpopfashion said,

February 8, 2011 @ 7:14 pm

Well there were enough of them at the time – fancy sending us a photo of it?

Salv said,

April 4, 2011 @ 6:18 pm

I too have still got my XLNT checked anorak, although it doesn’t have a Soul Bay patch and I’d never heard them called that before. Paul Weller wore one in the video for Shout To The Top so they’re still popular with Mods, and there are still cheap copies being sold now, but for some reason they’re known as James jackets – e.g. http://tinyurl.com/3wr57ea An original was on eBay last month but the seller wanted $249 for it!

I’ve also still got a shirt that I bought in Modern Classics with stick figures of footballers hand drawn on it with the words F.C. El Classico, and my wife has a dress from there, which she always referred to as her nurses dress. Somewhere in the loft is a Willie Brown collarless green felt donkey jacket with a yellow leather yoke, that I bought at Axion where WB sold a few bits between Modern Classics closing and Demob opening.

The other great menswear designer at Demob was Robin Archer and I’ve still got one of his jackets, in a stiff cotton canvas. It’s a little like a despatch riders jacket, double-breasted, belted, with a high collar and a button and tab to fasten it up to the throat.

Ben Cowell said,

June 15, 2011 @ 12:32 am

Bloody ‘ell! This blog takes me back to places I’ve forgotten had existed. Knew Chris when he started, so only got the SP of what was going on 2nd hand, as was focused on Dice Design with my partner/wife Sarah Crewe. Have fond memories of the shop in the early days, thought that was prior to ‘81? Looks like we also supplied Disco Dave. Good times then, it all seemed so exciting on reflection. Did I read that Trevor was re-launching Lloyd Johnson’s La Rocka? Time will come when there wont be anything left to ‘do a come back’? Then we’ll need to see some fresh blood!

rockpopfashion said,

June 15, 2011 @ 7:07 am

Let’s hope so Ben. Trevor did rework La Rocka! a couple of years back. See here: http://rockpopfashion.com/blog/?p=76

Chris brick the sheeplan said,

January 20, 2012 @ 1:26 pm

This blog seems to be ahead of itself. I like that very much. I too think Demob didn’t get the credit it should have got…but there again, how could it have in a world such as this? What could one expect when one doesn’t know what to expect?

rockpopfashion said,

January 24, 2012 @ 10:24 am

Good to hear from you Chris + glad you liked the post. You can expect respect from me always.

Soul boy said,

September 22, 2012 @ 5:58 pm

If any one has a checkered jacket size L I may be up for buying it . I had a burgundy one. Never had the soul bay wording on it if I recall . I also used to have a pair of really baggy trousers circa 86/87 . They were all the rage at the 100 Club soul all nighter .

Kev Ranyard said,

September 30, 2012 @ 4:33 pm

Have great memories of Demob still got a lot of the stuff I bought there looks great still,but doesn’t fit up for selling them on to keep the Demob faith. All are medium

Jay Lewis said,

November 10, 2012 @ 7:16 am

I’m remembering Brick & Co , when we scouring the east end for stock circa 1976 , good times , remember Chris when we got all that 40’s original suits , coats, shirts etc from Cloth Hall ?

Patrick said,

December 9, 2012 @ 6:04 pm

Love the comments following on about the Soul Bay checker jackets..
Remember when i bought mine in 1985. Wanted a red one the same as Wellers but not in stock, so i settled for a black one with yellow/black checks..Since seen an old pic of Nick Heyward wearing the same one as i have..
Remember other colours available were purple, white and a camo one too..

Daren said,

February 22, 2013 @ 9:00 pm

Kev..
Have you still got the clobber for sale ? I must have been 15 when I first shopped there – my older brother took me to Beak Street and I was hooked, I still think its the coolest shop there has ever been !!
Daren

Grant and Kim said,

February 26, 2013 @ 7:42 pm

Yes I still own a soul bay, chequered jacket in white, my brother in law had a black version. My wife had the brown cardigan plus white blouse with black and white spotted collar,(and another with colours in reverse), we have plenty of photos of us wearing them. Probably on our way to the Wag club. Great to see photo of the old shop front. I worked in Beak Street myself during the 1980’s.

shaun regan said,

May 19, 2013 @ 8:36 pm

I loved Demob, completely different to anything around at that time, My friend and i bought so much from there at one point.
The baggy full legged carpenter jean were a fave of mine and they did some great shirts.
I also had some oxford bag shape trousers in two different checks and they had a cinch buckle at the back..some of my favourite trousers ever.
Yes that shop did not get its due, totally unique!

[...] and the charismatic Chris Brick who, I must confess, I’d only ever known as the man behind Demob and the eccentrically brilliant Family Of God album he made when we were both living in New York. [...]

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