Most of us look back at the clothes we wore as kids with either a bit of regret, or downright shame. I know I’m glad there aren’t many photos of me floating about in an Adidas tracksuit, or my very first whilstle, an atrocious BHS job, complete with an orange lining. Agree or disagree it’s fucking unlikely you would have dressed as well as David Rosen did when he was a nipper. Fuck me, a 15 year old David probably dressed better than most of the people held up as ‘style icons’ today. It’s because of this that I was happy to get out of bed at an unsocial hour, get on a train from Brighton, pay a fine (thanks John) and stroll up to David’s Saville row office.
David’s day job is a property developer, an estate agent. Not the most stylish of professions you might think. You might get a picture of a chubby fellow with wet look gel, wearing a whistle from Next with legs far too long and a cheap pair of shoes from Primark. You couldn’t be further from the truth. David isn’t your normal property developer banging out tasteless modern flats. He’s had a love of architecture since an early age, which informs his work. “I grew up opposite this big art deco block of flats and used to see it every day. Then as a small child I went to the London Zoo and saw the penguin hall, which is an amazing structure. These things just stayed with me”. As an adult David got into the property business and saw an opening to carve out a niche for himself, only working with special buildings. “As I went into work I could see that no one was interested in architecture although everyone was dealing with buildings. People viewed it as a product, just like shirts on a shelf in a department store”. David set about transforming London’s finest empty buildings into usable spaces.
David is as particular about the clothes he wears as he is about the buildings he works on. The first thing he did when we got to his office was check out what we were wearing. We came to talk about the Suedehead look, the style of David’s youth. The Suedehead look is very similar to a Skinhead look but with some subtle differences. David explains “Simply the difference between a skin and a suede: think of Charlie George when he came straight out of the north bank and ran onto the pitch, he had a number #3 all over, an outgrown skinhead.” Whilst this style found a home on the streets of London, David knows where the style originated from “It was an American haircut, a crew cut, we just took it and made it street, London. The inspiration is everything American, all the shoes we’re wearing, desert boots, tasseled loafers and brogues they’re all American”.
The switch from the Bovver boy skinhead look to the smarter Suedehead style came as a reaction to the younger lot “running around in braces, bovver boots jeans high up. If you were a year older, you didn’t want to look like that, you’d moved on”. It was no good looking like some sort of thug “you weren’t going to pull the birds if you looked like a little neo fascist, you just weren’t going to do it, you had to go softer. It was always about pulling the birds.” Some things never change.
Now you’ve got a picture of David as fully formed Suedehead, looking the business round London town but we should take a couple of small steps back and find out how he got started on this route. “When I was about 8–10 in the early sixties I had an older cousin who was a first generation mod, that was my first exposure in that 64-66 period. My cousin Eddie was my hero, he was 7-8 years older than me. First time I’d ever seen anyone wear a black leather sports jacket, black brogues and a PVC coat with corduroy collar”. David was bowled over by how sharp his cousin looked and started a lifetime’s addiction to looking right.
David paints a picture of 60’s London being an inspiring time to grow up. “You couldn’t avoid clothes, it was mod city growing up in Maida Vale”. The streets were full of young geezers in tailored suits and David wasn’t going to be left behind. He started off getting knock off versions of brand names in Millets, substituting an expensive Baracuta jacket for a cheaper Skyjump. “As I got older I discovered the mecca, the Ivy Shop in Richmond. From the Ivy Shop the penny dropped I didn’t have to go all the way over to Richmond, I could go five stops on the Bakerloo line from Maida Vale and to the Squire shop on brewer street, the Quincy shop and the Stanley Adams shop. On a Saturday the Chelsea boys would go over to the Ivy Shop in Richmond and then on to the shed. The north London boys would go to the Squire shop on Brewer Street then be on the shelf or the north bank.”
The thing that shines through about David Rosen is his genuine passion for clothes. He’s such a fascinating character and eager to talk and share his knowledge about the classic English Suedehead style and its subtle differences that mean it often gets overlooked. We’re not the first visitors who have set foot in David’s office to discuss style. Mark Baxter was told he should speak to him when writing his book on ‘The Fashion of Football’. When he arrived David asked, “I know you don’t I? I used to see you around. You always had these really nice Londsdale bags with you.’ This was around 6 years prior to them meeting, when David had noticed Mark walking through the West End carrying bags of stock to his shop. This says something about both the incredible eye for detail that David has and also the immaculate dress sense of Mark Baxter.
“Underpinning everything was the music. At the very core of my existence would have been what my sister and brother in law were listening to. Then for me, 1962 sitting in a classroom with a ruler playing love me do, then getting boshed on the back of my head because I wasn’t concentrating.”
David has kept all his original clothing from the 60s and early 70s. He was kind enough to invite LAW to document his remarkable collection and in particular the Suedehead period. This is what you call the real deal, here you will find things that you just can’t find.