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Percival Menswear: A True Modernist Aesthetic

Saturday, 6 June 2020

In Conversation with Mark Baxter...

MOU: So Bax, since we last spoke, what projects have you been working on?

B: As ever David, I've always got something to do and nothing's really changed, despite this plaque we find ourselves in. Just before Lockdown, I picked up my latest book from the printers. It is a book of ephemera related to Tubby Hayes, my jazz hero. In it are pieces from Tubby's private life which give a flavour of the man OFF stage, so birth certificates, scrap books, passports, letters and postcards, awards and clothing etc, etc. It was a limited edition book for the collectors. Not a great time to launch a book really, but it is now sold out, so that went well. Tubby Hayes Life Behind the Tenor

What else? Myself and Lee Cogswell finished our first short film drama for our film company Mono Media Films which is called 'The Little Giant.' That has gone down really well. We have entered it into a few short film festivals, so pushing into a different genre for us with that. One day we hope to make a full length feature film and whether it is this story or another one, is yet to be known, but it is something we both want to do. The Little Giant

And, me and Lee have also delivered our next documentary, which is on The Style Council for Sky Arts. A bit of a dream come true that one for me, as I was a massive fan of that band and they introduced me to so many areas to explore. Fascinating group that on so many levels. Pleased to say filming went really well. Can't say a lot more yet, but it will be on your telly's in the Autumn of this year.

MOU: What writing have you been penning recently? (blogs, books etc)

B: I have just finished my first children's book, which I have written with my wife, the lovely Lou. I have also illustrated that, as I used to paint a bit as a kid, but haven't done that too much lately, so nice to pick up the brushes again. I have been toying with a kids book idea for a few years but other things got in the way. Then sadly my old Mum got ill as I started it in Autumn 2019 and then I found I was adapting the book as a tribute to her. She died just as I was finishing it so I will dedicate it to her. I will sell that one myself and any money I make will go to a Dementia charity.

As well as that I continue to write Blog pieces for the guys at Art Gallery Clothing, which is always fun to do and they are good people to work for.

I have just started a new social history book on the area of Walworth, with Darren Lock. This is the fourth one we've done on that 'manor' and that is due out in Spring 2021.

Also out around then will, hopefully, be a book called 'Scorcha! Skins, Suedes and Style from the Streets 1967-1973 which I have worked on with Paul 'Smiler' Anderson. That has been a lovely project, and all the work has now been delivered,  but sadly the Covid-19 problems has now delayed the publication til next year. There has been a boxset released on Trojan records based on the book, which contains ten vinyl singles selected by Smiler and me, which was a joy to do. Scorcha! Skins, Suedes and Style from the Streets

MOU: I've really enjoyed the 'Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances Fellowship' pictures, (I may get involved myself!) How did this come about?

B: Ha! It was the idea of Simon Parr, who runs Heritage Brands Inc. I met Simon years back when he worked at Baracuta and we have worked together ever since really. Basically, he just loves dressing up and he does it very well. He was fed up of everyone dressing down during the lockdown, so suggested to me, Darron C, Marley and the master tailor Mark Powell to dress up and have a giggle each Friday on Facebook. We now have 30 or so people joining us in the dressing up box, and of course you're more than welcome to join in!

MOU: When we meet it's usually in Bar Italia (the place to be!) have you missed going there and the hustle and bustle of Soho during this lockdown period?

B: Well that area is just my hub really. When I'm there, I run into all sorts of people I know and 'things' normally just happen. I've been going to the Bar Italia since the mid 80s as a punter and from 2009 I have run some social media and PR for the Polledri family who run the place. I use it as my 'club' and therefore have all my meetings there, whether  socially or if there is business to be done. Thinking back my book career started there by meeting Paolo and PW for a coffee way back when 20 years ago, and me and Lee drew up the idea for Mono Media Films there too in 2013. So much has come out of that special place. Oh, and the coffee ain't bad either. So, I'm badly missing all the people connected with it, and that for me is a lot of people. I just hope and pray they come back and go at it again.

MOU: What clothing brands are you digging at the moment?

B: Despite being of a certain age (and size) I'm still very choosy on the garms. My favourite place is John Simons at 46 Chiltern Street. There is always something in there and their own brand appears a lot in my wardrobe. Quality clobber!

MOU: What tracks are on your playlist currently?

B: In the Lockdown, Ive gone for the classics, which to me is mid to late 50s jazz. Miles Davis Thelonius Monk, Bill Evans to name but three. It just soothes my head.

MOU: What is your go-to look? (everyday wears)

B: Well, cos we indoors at present it is mainly clothes I can wear when gardening, which I have got into massively in the last few years. Again, it is really good for me mentally, as I'm usually busy, so taking time out there is good to slow 'me' down. When Im indoors writing, like I am now for you, I am sporting suede Birkenstocks, Madras shorts from Brooks Brothers and vest from Marks and Spencer.

If I was on my toes in the West End, today though,  I would go with a 'slack jacket' from J.Keydge, dark green chinos from Spoke, a BD Baggies, light blue candy stripe shirt, no socks and a pair of soft leather Rancourt penny loafers. Pocket square from Nicholson and Walcot, and 70s vintage watch left to me by my Dad, as the all important details.

MOU: Do you feel the Modernist look has developed over time? How do you think it has?

B: Good question. Trouble is what do you mean by Modernist? When I say that word I see in my minds eye, Chet Baker in full Ivy League in the 1950s, and to be honest, I'm pretty much dressing like that now. Of course, that wasn't always the way and not the way everyone sees it. It is of course open to conjecture.  If we call it 'Mod' for a few sentences, then like everyone else of my peer group, I went the Fred Perry/ Ben Sherman/ Levis/ Clarks Desert Boot route at first and then confused it all by adding in elements of football Casuals, 60s Skinheads, Suedeheads, Ivy League and then into Bespoke tailoring.
As for moving on into now, yeah I see stuff I like and can trace the path to it from my view on Mod/Modernist. Sadly though, it has got very 'leisurewear' heavy on the youth I see in general, and I was never from that in my day, though we loved sportswear like Fila. To my mind the Casual days had elements of style built in, but now it is all about feeling comfy sitting in the bookies all day or whatever.

Obviously, there are stylish youth out there , so it has moved on, and more power to them. Just do what you do for you and when you are ready, move it forward. I see too many looking old plums judging and pigeon holing the young uns on social media, which I find frankly embarrassing. Leave them to it. My mantra would ...keep it clean & sharp and that'll do for me.

MOU: Are you missing your bi-weekly trips down The Den?

B: Oh yeah, thats been terrible. Going down there was like a fortnightly therapy session, shouting my head off and laughing with my mates. You can't beat going to a live game can you? It is more than just the football, it is the day out. Missing all that badly.

MOU: What has been your lockdown tipple?

B: The vino rouge old mate. Not a big fan of drinking indoors, but I allow myself a few glasses over the weekend. I shall raise one to you this Friday. Many thanks for the invitation to do this and I'm delighted to see you have kept it all going mate. More power to you!



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In loving memory of Denise Pottinger