Saturday, 3 October 2009

Brand profile: Ben Sherman

Brighton. Carnaby Street. Jazz. Mods. Punks. The Ben Sherman story is, as you would expect, a perfect mix of all of these.

The company was founded in 1963 by Arthur Bernard Sugarman (1925-1987). Born in Brighton, he emigrated to the United States in 1946, via Canada, and changed his nationality to American. He married the daughter of a Californian clothes producer and later returned to Brighton, where he bought a shirt factory.

Sugarman had realised that early 1960s London-based modern jazz fans were eagerly buying the Oxford-cloth U.S. button-down shirt brands sported by visiting U.S. jazz artists like Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson. At the time, these were only available from official importers who had in effect, cornered this growing market.

Sugarman, decided to produce a version of these shirts, along with a collection of the colourful resort-wear vacation clothes that were growing in popularity, in both the post-war US, and Mediterranean Europe. The mods responded immediately, especially as Sugarman was using higher-quality materials and stitching-detail than the imported shirts. The Ben Sherman Originals label was created.

By 1965, the company had opened a small office on the upper floors of a shabby office-block in a London back-street, at 9 Carnaby St., which acted as the showroom for their shirt and beachwear collections. During that time, black R&B and soul artists were beginning to regularly visit the UK for nationwide tours. The male fans of this new music genre, in turn, created further demand for the Ben Sherman shirt. This, initially, was a clean-cut UK street-style, that the mainstream fashion world and media later adopted, and remodelled. In 1967 Ben Sherman opens the first Brighton store.

The shirt was adopted by the skinhead subculture in the early 1970s, and later again by the mod revivalists of around 1979. In the early 1980s the shirt becomes part of the uniform of the Ska generation, and again in the 1990s for the BritPop scene. The Ben Sherman brand is now one of the largest and popular men's casual wear brands in the UK.

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