The heritage brands of John Simons: Vetra, Dehen, FOB and more

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Last week, I wrote something of an homage to John Simons, the retailer that did so much to bring the Ivy League Look to the UK - and in the process, changed it into something more British and working class. 

John championed heritage brands long before it was trendy. He brought makers like Bass and Paraboot to the UK for the first time, and has continued to add new makers consistently over the years - not just American, but French, British and Japanese. 

The shop remains a lovely place to browse, particularly as you always feel you’re likely to turn up something new if you just spend a little more time there, rifling through an upper rack or a lower shelf. 

I also love the fact that the fitting room is just the back room. It gives you something to look at while you’re taking your trousers off. 

For such a small space, there’s a lot going on in John Simons. It can be hard to take it all in - despite the pleasant hand-written notes and ever-friendly staff, such as Sean. 

So here are some of my favourite pieces to watch out for. Much of it is Autumn/Winter, but often the recommendation is for the brand as much as the particular piece. 

The first is knitwear. The shop is the only stockist of Laurence J Smith knits in London, an old Scottish maker that hand-frames all its pieces. Hand framing is a slower, more manual knitting process than large modern looms, and produces an effect more similar to hand knitting. 

Also in the knitted category is Italian brand GRP, which does chunky, traditional pieces with old details like long collars, as well as knitted blousons. The navy blouson was something I recommended in our seasonal Top 10 piece.

Two great American outerwear brands that John Simons stocks are Dehen and Golden Bear. The latter is the best known for classic US varsity jackets, but of the two I prefer Dehen

Made in Portland, Oregon, Dehen tends to use heavier melton wools for its jackets, and better leathers. It also does a fantastic waxed deck jacket.

Under the direction of John’s son, Paul, the shop has also started doing more of its own brand clothing, usually made in the UK. 

The most popular among these is their raglan-sleeved coats, which are made in a wide variety of tweeds (below), and cut to finish above the knee. 

Readers won’t be surprised to know I’d prefer a longer cut, but they can be made to order, and they are a nice Spring/Autumn weight if you do like something shorter. 

FOB is a Japanese mill and brand, which uses its weaving capacity to produce unusual materials. The cut of their trousers is a little too slim for me, but the bedford cord they use is great, particularly the cream. 

They’re also good value for a Japanese brand, at £159. Something that could be said for most of the John Simons range. 

And there are Pendleton board shirts, typical of the West Coast Ivy look in the 1960s and often worn over T-shirts or swimwear in the evenings. That overshirt style is of course very popular again now, as guys look for something more casual than a jacket. 

The tailoring in the shop is all in a general Ivy style: soft or unstructured, natural shoulder, straight cut. Usually with a three-button front and patch pockets. 

Most of it is under the John Simons label now, but there are a few pieces left by the Japanese Ivy brand ‘Boston Tailor’. Paul recalls the founder coming in one day and introducing himself, and then a few weeks later sending several unexpected jackets in the post. “They were beautifully made though,” he recalls, “and have been quite popular.”

The John Simons tailoring is made in London, like the overcoats, and is completely unstructured. That’s one piece I’m holding below, in brown herringbone wool. If you like the straight cut, it’s a nice soft-jacket option to wear with jeans, chinos and so on. 

Another nice piece under the John Simons brand is the new ‘Mingus’ jacket (shown below). 

Paul and Sean were actually throwing around names for this style (the models are usually named after jazz musicians) while I was there, and I suggested Mingus. It seemed funny at the time, but actually it seems to work quite well. 

The style is a mash-up of the short golfer jacket (think Harrington) the shop sells, and their raglan-shouldered coats. So it’s waist length, but with the raglan shoulder and a nice wool lining. 

French brand Vetra is best known for its blue workwear jackets, but they do a lot more, including jackets in a more tailored style (curved fronts rather than straight; lower lapel) and trousers. 

The piece you can see below (top left) is their classic jacket, but in a green knitted wool, which adds an extra level of malleability, moving it closer to a sweater-jacket. 

There are lots of other good brands, including BD Baggies shirts, L’Impermeabile coats, Schiesser underwear and some Harry Stedman dead stock. But those listed above are the ones I think will interest PS readers the most. 

As mentioned on our previous article, the John Simons website is relaunching soon. It’s needed a little love for a while. I'll add a link here, and put a story on Instagram, when it has done so.

That previous article does a better job of explaining the Simons style, and its relevance today. I also recommend the film on John, ‘A Modernist’, written by Jason Jules, if you want some first-hand stories.

Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt

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Mohammed

Hello Simon,

What’s your verdict on the B.D Baggies shirts? Their make and quality in particular.
Something you’d wear yourself and recommend to others?

Paul Boileau

Interesting article, thanks. The Mingus jacket looks like the old Arnys forestiere jacket sans throat latch and breast pocket. I love my forestiere but the Mingus looks a good alternative. I dread to think what the Berluti version now costs if they still sell it!

Anonymous

Rural? It was made for La Corbusier!

Paul Boileau

Yes, the forestiere was based on a rural jacket. It’s all in the name 😉

Karol

The pale brown/beige jacket colours looks fun, but there is one issue. It looks good with denim for a casual look, fine with gray flannels for a sharper one. But with chinos, it looks really dated to me. The all beige/pale brown might have been all the rage during the golden age of Ivy, but nowadays, it really stands out. Perhaps it’s just me, but for chinos to work (we’re talking beige or khaki), they need to be balanced out by a jacket in a dark, muted colour – navy, black, dark brown like the one you posted about recently, maybe charcoal. A few days ago, an interview was posted on Put This On. Bruce Boyer talked a lot about the whole “timeless” thing, but I can’t quite agree. True, his clothes look good. And I don’t think anyone could look and his old photos and new photos and say “Well, you fashion sense used to be (preemptively censored)”. But it is instantly clear that he lives in that age, no matter how many years passed since the Ivy look was forgotten. Whether it’s a bad or a good thing, I can’t say. But not what I would say timeless. Tangent over. On a second thought, perhaps I should’ve posted it somewhere else?

Karol

And that’s for tans and khakis. Cream is a whole different beast. It looks good with pretty much anything, but as soon as it’s in, anonymity goes right out. There is just no way not to draw attention in cream trousers, jeans even. So good to keep a pair in a back of a closet, not necessarily good to rely on them on a day to day basics. Unless that’s what you like..
By the way, what you wrote above…. That’s why you’re one of the few menswear writers who are really worth reading. Most would either say “it was in the 30’s, so it must be the best that it’s ever been!” or just go into full denial about times changing at all.

Parker

I’m surprised about your positive perception of the place. The quality of their offerings has always struck me as distincly average and the style borders on comcial if worn outside larger a metropolis. A bit of a contrast comaped to the likes you usually present here.

Still, their passion in keeping the place live and running is something I admire. It’s probably one of the last stores that isn’t a variant of the many ghastly shops selling the same variation of Italian stuff that differs just by the producer. It’s also not their fault that decent quality RTW at competetive prices is becoming increasingly hard to come by.

Parker

Indeed, I think items with details such as raglan sleeves or pieces like their parka or the Mingus jacket draw far more attention than a well-tailored suit. In my experience people who aren’t interested in clothing, the majority basically, are more likeley to notice unusual details or items than an extremely smart outfit. John Simons offer exactly that, slightly unusual and colourful items.

You’re right about the quality, it’s difficult to find a middle way these days and there are enough high-priced stores as is. It’s just that the peices I’ve handeled were lacking in detail and the same thing goes for knitwear by Alan Paine or peieces by Vetra in general.

Sam

I suppose the slightly “surprising” aspect is that you’ve said in your shoe reviews previously that you just wouldn’t buy shoes at the level of Crockett & Jones any more – not in a bad way, just that your general interest level now sits with better made (and pricier) options. I guess I’m not sure what the difference is between a decently made, mid-priced shoe and decently made, mid-priced clothing like this.

Not having a go at John Simons or anything – I like the look of some of it a lot and frankly even the photos of the shelves fill me with an overwhelming sense of nostalgic longing for actually … going to shops.

Peter Hall

I think many men,especially, if they come from the mixed Ivy/Suedehead tradition, absolutely get this look and appreciate the practical -I’m not going to say shabby,(soft, broken-in )look and the looser fit. I could happily wear most of the clothes illustrated and the Mingus is very similar to a brown cord Harrington I owned in the 70s. Could you do more shop reviews,Simon?

Aaron

I bought a John Simons Madras shirt at the end of last summer, didn’t get much wear then but definitely looking forward to wearing it more this summer.

Michael K.

Hi Simon, Wonderful to see the shout out to Pendleton. Their mills are practically the only wool mills still operational in the US. As with Filson, only some of their clothes are actually US made, and there’s a lot of rather gaudy western wear patterns in the catalogue. Their blankets, however, are truly wonderful — plaids, solids, stripe. These are immensely durable and warm, rugged enough to wrap up in on a damp autumn evening in the garden, and very reasonably priced.

Stephen

Another interesting article Simon – thanks.
Just to reiterate / build upon some points. I too have missed spending time looking through racks and shelves of clothing. I find some time spent doing this is enjoyable and relaxing. I for one prefer feeling and trying an item, then actually bringing it home ( as I write this a courier with a scarf I bought earlier in the week hasn’t turned up today! ).
Yes please on some retail focus as the shops reopen. Some of the smaller one’s especially as there are often ‘gems’ to be found.
As far as comparisons go, whilst useful, they are not necessarily ‘like for like’. Variety of style, finishes, price points makes – for me anyway- the whole menswear purchasing experience interesting and creative, beyond being purely transactional. I would suggest John Simons is a great place to start on that basis alone.
Hopefully come the spring/ summer it’s something all that wish to, can enjoy again. In the meantime let’s all remain resilient, safe and considerate towards others.

MacHiver

I love my blue work jacket from Vetra!

Going to check out John Simons next time I’m in London.

Great post as always, Simon.

Kenny

It’s a surprise that John Simons stocks Laurence J Smith shetlands. IIRC Laurence Odie started his company in Hoswick after the closure of Laurence J Smith in 2004. Odie sold his business to the management when he retired a couple of years ago. Have the new owners revived the the Laurence J Smith brand or is John Simons selling new old stock?

Shoddy

“West Coast Ivy look“? Not sure I follow.

Anonymous

What alterations did you have done on the blue seal chinos? Quickly becoming my favourite pair I own

Anonymous

And what do you think generally of the blue seal Chinos quality and styling? Compared to your loves old Armoury ones? Thanks.

Colin

Whilst full ‘Ivy League’ may not be most readers choice many of these pieces are perfectly straightforward to blend into a more tailored look, if one chooses. This shop is one I’ve been meaning to visit for years and these recent articles have reminded me I must do that, once practical!!

Dave

Hi Simone, I’m new to tailored clothing, and was wondering if you can give some advice on what to look for in a local tailor/alterations for hemming, etc… thank you!

Dave

Yes, exactly. Thank you

Jack

Hi Simon,

I seem to remember, but naturally can’t find the post, that you were considering writing an article on neckerchiefs and how to wear them with shirts and knitwear. I don’t know whether you still plan to do so, but I thought I would register my interest in seeing it.

Thanks,

J

J

Interested as well. Started to play around with a neckerchief during lockdown.

Robin Basu

This place reminds me a bit of GREY FLANNEL in Marylebone..have you been able to check out their own brand stuff, it’s more italian soft tailoring,but at the same time feels very english
http://www.greyflannel-london.com/