Rarely has an item of clothing become so representative of a brand, or so ingrained in the culture of its home nation, as the Fred Perry polo shirt. This simple garment began life as a piece of revolutionary sportswear and has evolved over its 65 years to become an undeniable symbol of British style.
Born the son of a cotton spinner in Stockport in north-west England, Fred Perry became world table tennis champion in 1928 at the age of just 19. He then switched to lawn tennis, and went on to become Britain's most successful male player, winning Wimbledon three times and becoming one of the world’s most famous sportsmen in the process.
Style on the court
It wasn’t just Perry’s sporting achievements that caught the world’s attention, but also his personal style. Considered one of the most elegant men of the era, Perry is quoted as saying, ‘I was generally regarded as the best dressed player of my time. I’m a great believer in trying to look the part.’ Perry’s dress sense has left as strong a legacy as that of his sporting achievements, and his trademark polo shirts remain one of the most prominent staples of the British wardrobe.
Creating an icon
The polo shirt that would come to be the Fred Perry brand’s signature was launched in 1952. It was an immediate success in the sporting world and beyond, and in the decades that followed it was adopted by members of Britain’s most important subcultures. These tribes were heavily linked to music, and as their stars and fans embraced the Fred Perry polo wholeheartedly, the shirt became a mainstay of the British music scene. The shirt was worn by mods and punks during the 60s, found fans in the second wave of British ska music in the 80s, dressed the Brit-pop fanatics of the 90s and still held its place in the soul and R & B-infused pop scene of the first decade of the 21st century. The brand’s laurel-wreath logo became one of the most instantly recognisable in British fashion.
Today the brand bearing the sportsman’s name is one of the biggest in the UK, and produces numerous collections each season. For spring/summer 2017 the brand’s Authentic collection celebrates the classic Fred Perry designs that made the brand famous, giving key pieces a modern reinterpretation. The monochrome chequerboard motif, made famous by the brand’s popularity during the 60s and 70s within the ska music scene, is reinterpreted in the brand’s refined womenswear pieces.
This season’s Reissues collection uses the brand’s archives as a starting point, refreshing some of the brand’s very first designs, including the M2, M12 and M3 Fred Perry shirts. The M3 is arguably the most famous of the original designs, being the first one-colour Fred Perry shirt. Designed and worn by the man himself, it is a piece of British fashion history that perfectly fuses sporting functionality and wearability thanks to its classic, simple, streamlined silhouette and fit. To this day the M3 shirt is still made in Leicester in the East Midlands region of England.
This season also sees two exciting designer collaborations for the brand. The first is with British knitwear designer Bella Freud. Highlights of the range include sweaters emblazoned with the word ‘Lovers’ in Freud’s signature handwriting. Freud has brought her strong aesthetic to the brand through the use of leopard print, wide collars, embroidered gold stars and a laurel-wreath logo realised in the colours of the Jamaican flag. Jamaican reggae, she explains, was a great influence while she was working on the collection.
A collaboration with Belgian designer Raf Simons, the newly appointed creative director of Calvin Klein, completes an exciting season for Fred Perry. Simons’ range marries two worlds of inspiration: the British heritage that runs through everything Fred Perry, and the European modernism that has become one of the designer’s signatures. Featuring a bold yet minimal palette of red, black and white, the collection is built around the classic Fred Perry shirt. It includes touches of denim on the collar, cuffs and yoke of the piqué shirts, and the inclusion of a special washed-denim and jersey pocket placed just above the iconic laurel-wreath logo. Together these elements add a new and distinctive edge to a core Fred Perry design.
With its ability to celebrate its rich heritage while remaining modern, and its unending affinity with youth cultures and beyond, it’s no wonder Fred Perry remains one of the UK’s leading brands. It’s amazing to think that the British style and cultural landscape has been changed for good by a young tennis champion from Stockport who simply wanted to ‘look the part’.