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.