Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Sunday, November 24, 2013

This is a story of a Mod who spent the day with 6 beautiful pin-up models

Gentlemen, we have all been, as young lads, in the same shoes as Jimmy Cooper in Quadrophenia, grinning from ear to ear while looking at the picture of a pretty lady. Am I the only one that can relate to the record shop scene in Quadrophenia where Jimmy pulls out the photo of a model in a bikini? He also had 3 things on the wall of his room: newspaper clippings of the fight between the Mods & the Rockers, posters of The Who and pictures of scantily dressed women.

Let's face it, the classic pin-up falls more in the realm of the Rockers than in Mod territory. We have Twiggy and Mary Quant as our our Mod queens and they have Betty Page. 

Twiggy, Mod icon
Mary Quant British designer and fashion royalty

Between you and me, I admire Twiggy's fashion sense but Betty will be the one to get me hot under the collar. In the last decade, the image of the pin-up seems to have made a major comeback.

In the 21st century, I find that Mods and Rockers have more in common than issues to fight about. As a DJ, I often find myself spinning some early RnB that will please a Mod as much as the Rockabilly dancing next to him. Being both interested in everything that has a vintage / retro edge, our two subcultures are bound to cross paths on occasion.

It's hard to admit this but sometimes even the fashion will intersect. I've been buying quite a few vintage knits on the Internet lately that have a wide Mod appeal but I will find myself typing the word “Rockabilly” in the search bar.

This brings me to this week's post. A talented photographer named Simon Laroche has found me on the web and asked me if he could rent my loft to do a pin-up photo shoot. Six models would invade the Parka Avenue headquarters for 6 hours. “Excuse-me, did I understand this right? You want to pay ME to have beautiful women parade around in my loft?” Luckily, I have a very understanding, open-minded and secure wife.

Funny how Simon didn't contact a Rocker before getting in touch with me. My pad has nothing of a Rocker aesthetics but somehow, I'm the one who ended up with very attractive ladies in my home. I'm sorry my leather clad friends, I think this round goes to the Mods.

Simon has agreed to answer a few questions for our benefit.

- What was the look you were aiming for during the photo shoot?

I wanted a vintage look where a certain feminine attitude would be portrayed and their curves would be at the forefront. We are sometimes quick to judge and view pin-ups as macho but when we stop to think about it, I believe it has more to do with the way women assert themselves and a celebration of the first female icons.

I really wanted to put the emphasis on their stare and create an atmosphere where the women is in charge. For me, I view the pin-up as being unattainable. I wonder what Freud would think about that?

- Where did you get your inspiration for this project?

The inspiration came from the images on the Suicide Girls website. The site is a bit too softcore for my taste. At first, I was looking to do a nude shooting but after careful consideration, I thought that it would be more interesting to do something tasteful where the curves of a women would be celebrated. Like it or not, pin-ups are voluptuous and with that in mind and from a man's perspective, you can really create some powerful images. Attitude, curves, sensuality, all while remaining classy. I'm not looking for anything vulgar but instead creating a sensual, healthy ambiance.

- Tell us how you picked the models?

On my Facebook page, Simon Laroche Photographie, I had an open invitation. I also approached a few acquaintances with a very specific plan in mind. I wasn't looking for a specific type of girl. I had 10 girls cancelling on me before I ended up with 6 models. Two days before the photo shoot I was down to 4 when I found 2 more at the last minute. The models I ended up with where all very motivated by the project. Since then, a lot of women have shown interest in participating in next shoot!

Recruiting models is a crucial step. I didn't want to discriminate and I'm very happy with the ones that answered the call. They are all very different. One works in the field of international cooperation, another teaches nursing, one is a mom with 3 kids and one does puppet burlesque shows!

- Have you noticed a resurgence of the vintage / retro style in photography, ads and the arts in the past few years?

With iPhones and our growing dependance on new technology, I think that people sometimes feel like saying “The hell with it!” and go back to basics. For example, a lot of people are turning to old film in their cameras. The advent of Instagram with their vintage filters is another. The VSCO Company is also gaining in popularity with photo editing programs that recreate the look of old film (Kodak Ilford, Fuji, Polaroid) and gives it that vintage feel. Vintage is popular in so many ways. Take the new Fender Relic for instance, it costs a fortune just so you can get it “pre-used”.

- For the amateur photographers out there, can you give us a few simple tips on how we can improve our photos?

Speaking of having access to a bunch filters and photo editing programs, you shouldn't rely on them to camouflage a bad photo. First, you need to take photos and practice. I often compare photography to learning to play the guitar. You can't only rely purely on talent. You need to get out there, take loads of pictures, practice your framing and get out of your comfort zone. I can sum it up in 3 words: Practice, Knowledge and Talent. I once took 200 shots of pieces of rust just to practice my framing techniques!

If I could give you only one piece of advice, I would suggest that you don't take 1000 photos thinking that one will turn out alright. You have to work thinking that the photo you're about to take is the only one you can have. As for equipment, I suggest that everyone gets a small 50mm 1.8 lens, that costs around 120$, with a DSLR case. Then, you need to go outside! Take the path less traveled. Finally, don't always take photos from a human's point of view. Crouch down or raise you arms. Try framing from different heights. And have fun!

Ninja, striking a pose

The afternoon session started with the charming and vivacious Caprice DeLuxe. She arrived at the loft with rollers still in her hair. There was a good reason for that. Aside from getting her hair just right, she was to go in front of the lens in her white silk baby doll. I was more than happy to assist Simon whenever he needed some furniture moved. The thing I didn't expect was to be asked to step in front of the camera. I didn't need much convincing.

Looks like Caprice went through my library!
After a costume change, Caprice (not her real name obviously) and I got to chat about our love for all things retro, especially music. 

Can I hear you say: Vavavoom!

Diamonds are a girl's best friend
She saw that I had quite the record collection and mentioned that her father and uncle were musicians in a obscure group in the 60s. 

- Really? What's the name of the group? I asked.
- Les Mykels... They were one of the rare RnB groups in Quebec during the 60s.
- Of course, I know them.
- I don't believe you!
- Sure! I have a few of the their 45s.
- Get out of here! I have never met anyone who has them. Prove it to me!

Of course, I managed to pull 4 out of my boxes. I might have a couple more that I don't play often hidden somewhere. My favorite being En Attendant, a good cover version of In The Meantime by Georgie Fame. Another photo session ensued holding the records, this time for her father's benefit.

Check out this video from 1965 of Les Mykels doing a French version of Tobacco Road. Caprice's father is the saxophone player.

Next was the shy and reserved Sophie. One word, classic.

Sophie was followed the undeniably photogenic Melanie. She has the beauty of a Grace Kelly and the timeless elegance of an Audrey Hepburn.

Our next model could be the girl next door, should we be so lucky!

If you want classic pin-up, here you go. I present to you Emilie.

Myriam not only poses for stunning photos but she was also responsible for the make-up and the hairstyling for all the models. Myriam brought an edge to the session. I believe she represents the image of the 21st century pin-up to a tee.

Another model made her appearance at the last minute and she's without a doubt, the most beautiful of all. How can you resist such an angelic face?

Jedi, a true lady

I want to thank Simon for allowing me to use his photos for this blog post. He's a real professional and you should all check his other work on his website or on his Facebook page.

You can also find the lovely Caprice Deluxe on her Facebook page here.

For all your hairstyling, make-up and modelling needs, you can contact Myriam through her Facebook page here.

I must also praise Melodie Perron who worked behind the scenes and was tremendous help with the hair, make-up and styling. She has her own modelling Facebook page that you can visit here.

And to all the other models, a huge thank you for brightening up my Sunday afternoon.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Attention to detail, the Mod credo

If there's one Mod tenet I adhere to without fail is to pay attention to the small things. Whenever I meet up with my tailor to have a new suit made, I always have a bunch of new ideas that I want to incorporate in my next design. You should see my tailor's face when I present him with a crazy new idea. It's true that by now, he's starting to expect it.

Of course, I'm always looking to the 50s and 60s for inspiration. I try not to go overboard and look like a Mod caricature or John Lennon on the cover of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It's a real balancing act. It's all about dosing and restraint all the while finding the killer details that will set you apart. It's not an easy task and I don't always get unanimous thumbs up from my entourage. That doesn't stop me from trying. I've come to forge my own personal style and feel comfortable in it. But being comfortable doesn't mean I don't try to challenge myself and seek out new concepts or reinterpret old ones.

For those who don't know me intimately, I need to point out that I don't write these blog posts as a feat of showmanship or to dictate how a Mod “should” look. They are meant to serve as a source of inspiration. Just like I look to the past for insight. If you don't like what you see then by all means do the exact opposite! My purpose is to light the flame and get you passionate about molding your own style. My goal is to get you thinking and to push you to come up with your own vision. That's what Mods do!

I got bored with the black 3-button suit a while back so I've been searching for small details or subtle tweaks to separate myself from the masses. If I'm wearing a black suit (because I still wear them) I better pair it up with a bold shirt or a colourful tie that will pop.

Sometimes, the details in question aren't even noticeable! But because you know they are there, it gives you a little jolt of confidence. Your demeanour changes and a suave attitude washes over you. Is it just me or when I wear a nice, sometimes expensive, pair of underwear, I feel more self-assured? Don't feel the need to answer this one.

Let me illustrate my point with a few examples.

Take this unassuming looking polk-a-dot vintage 60s slim tie for instance. Nothing to write home about really. It's classic and can go well with a myriad of shirt and suit combinations.

What sets it apart from the other ties I have in my closet is this little detail in the back. When I wear this tie, I instantly have hair that starts growing on my chest. I can feel the testosterone flowing through my veins. I unexpectedly want to order a Martini and I'm on the lookout for evil masterminds planning to take over the world.

James Bond's signature in the silk lining

Let's have a look at this conventional Prince of Wales check 3-button jacket. It's safe to say that it falls into the accepted Mod norms and part of many of our wardrobes.

Again, one hidden detail makes it unique and I'm talking about the inner lining. The silk lining of a jacket is often a feature that is dismissed, neglected and overlooked. But for a few of us, it matters. Even if it can be briefly peeked at when taking off your jacket, it's still important.

Back to the new suit I just had made. I didn't choose a bold and flashy fabric but instead opted for a more discrete bluish grey with a subtle check pattern with hints of purple and pink. I was aiming for something classy and timeless with a twist. The gauntlet cuff is certainly not a detail we see every day and it gives the jacket a little edge. I went for the single working cuff button to keep things simple and sleek.

I figured that if it's good enough for James Bond than I can pull it off too.

Roger Moore in The Persuaders. I would take a few inches off those lapels though.
The gold vintage wrap around cufflinks with a purple stone were meticulously selected to match the purple / pink check in the fabric. The same can be said for this custom shirt I had made that has pastel pink and blue stripes. The white contrasting club collar and the light blue 60s slim tie brings the whole look together.

Another interesting detail that is seldom seen on a suit jacket is the hidden buttons. You'll see a placket with hidden buttons on a shirt, but on a jacket, not so much. I went without a breast pocket to give it a clean, slick look that draws the attention to the cuffs.

The trousers have the classic frog mouth pockets with an 7.5 inch hem and a small triangular notch in it. The design of the back pocket is one of the features I am most excited about. The peaked pocket flap with covered button really does it for me. The slightly wider belt loops also breaks the contemporary status quo.

When speaking of small details that make all the difference, socks are at the top of the list. Notice I didn't says "shoes". I don't consider shoes a "small detail". They are a crucial part of your overall look. But socks are too often overlooked. For this suit, a pair of gray and metal blue with a tiny red line was my first choice. A pair of burgundy Bass Weejuns is all that I needed to complete the ensemble.

Last but not least, a few little squirts of a masculine eau de cologne and your ready for a night on the town. In my case, I'll go for the Jaipur Eau de Parfum by French house Boucheron. Take it from me boys, a fragrance that is well chosen for your type of skin is another, sometimes neglected detail, that will get you noticed especially by the ladies. You won't only turn heads but you'll awaken other senses too!

Now time to hit the dance floor. Want to join me?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Drive down Parka Avenue and take a left on Essex Lane for all your Mod Art needs

Deny it all you want but art has always been closely associated with Mod culture. Many of the original Mods from the sixties eventually went on to work in creative fields. Graphic design, fashion, film, music, photography, ad agencies are all domains that naturally fit Mod sensibilities.

I've always been a big fan of the visual arts. My loft is full of original paintings and limited edition lithographs. So much so that wall space is starting to be scarce. I always prefer to support emerging artists than deal with art galleries. Having direct contact with an artist gives your art more meaning and an added personal touch.

Enter Jeff and Erica from Essex Lane. Jeff and Erica have teamed up to offer us a wide selection of colourful hand drawn prints that will enchant both Mods and music lovers alike. Reminiscent of the psychedelic concert poster of the late sixties, they have masterfully incorporated lyrics and song titles in their work. If you're looking for a unique piece of art that has a definite 60s vibe, then look no further! They are also open to do some custom work for their clients. You can reach them through the Essex Lane Facebook page or their Etsy page .

I was very pleased when they accepted to answer a few questions for the benefit of the Parka Avenue readers.

Your art is undeniably inspired by the sixties. Why is that era so important to you?

Jeff: The 60s were a great era. Creatively and culturally there were so many barriers being broken down. You can see it in the fashion, the music, the lifestyles of that time. People were doing things, whether it was art or playing music, or whatever, because they really cared about what they were producing. I feel today, people tend to do things more because of money or fame, rather than a real need for a creative outlet.

Erica: The 60s were a giant explosion on the pop culture timeline. There were so many changes happening socially and politically. I grew up in a small town about 30 minutes south of Detroit learning about American history and in my mind, the 60s were about political activism (such as Vietnam and racial equality), personal freedom and a cultural and creative revolution. People were struggling and rallying together for collective causes. So as someone who grew up 20 years after that time, I've always been attracted to the passion and the power of people working together that defines that era. Plus, if you look back, it was really the beginning of the world getting smaller. With television and radio becoming so mainstream in everyday life in the 60s, creativity became a bigger part of everyday life. The average person could listen to the radio all day and see what was happening in other places of the world. I kind of see that as the beginning of the more technological, globally connected world we live in now.

Small Faces - Itchycoo Park

Many of your pieces have a Mod theme. What is it about Mod culture that attracts you?

Jeff: I've always loved Mod culture, but I've become even more connected with it since moving from where I grew up in Essex, England over here to America. I had kind of taken it for granted. My Dad used to take us to the same pie and mash as the one in Quadrophenia. One of my first gigs was in the same pub that the Small Faces played and rehearsed in when they were starting out. Graham Bond lived a few roads away from my house. That music is so entwined in my life. And like a lot of those Mod musicians, I've always been inspired by and attracted to the same American music that they were: Blues, Soul, R&B, Jazz, Motown, Stax, Chess, etc. There aren't too many Mods in Nashville, so I find myself now seeing it more as a part of my heritage. I've always loved the quote "clean living under difficult circumstances". The whole reason I ended up in America was through playing bass in bands. Last year when I decided to stop touring and I wasn't sure what I was going to do next, that quote sorted me out. When it was hard times figuring out finances, how cutthroat the music industry can be or living in a different country. I've really applied it to everyday life: look smart and do your best. That's what I'm trying to do.

Erica: Obviously, growing up so far away from Mod culture, both in distance and time, I've had a lot to learn! And I have loved all of it. Jeff has shown me so much music, fashion and things that I had never been exposed to. I try to be a sponge for culture so I'm really intrigued by all of it. 

The Who - My Generation

All of your illustrations are hand drawn. What brought you to work that way? 

Jeff: I had finished touring and was looking for other things to do. Erica was shopping on Etsy and I took a look over her shoulder at what she was looking at. So much of it looked so generic and digital. It seemed as though people had copied and pasted things and didn't really put much thought into it. It wasn't stuff we wanted on our walls. We love hand made things, things that happen organically, naturally. It's the same with music. We like things that feel like there was passion, thought and time put into them because people really cared about what they were creating and putting out to the general public. I made a comment that I could make something better than what I was seeing online. So Erica told me: "then do it."

Erica: Ever since I've known Jeff I knew he was artistic, but music had always been such a priority that he'd never really had time or a notion to do anything with it. Since he was working on getting away from being a professional musician, but not sure what to do next, focusing on art, in a medium that we could turn into a business, seemed logical. We came up with the idea to create art we liked and sell it as prints so that it would be affordable. 

Otis Redding - Pain In My Heart

Music is also a central theme. Do you connect with music the same way you do with art?

Jeff: Music is my first love. I've been playing since I was a kid. I've been in bands most of my life. I've been in love with music since I can remember. I will always play music and I will always collect records and 45s. I've also always loved comics and drawing. I spent a year in art college. I enjoy creating art as much as I enjoy being part of the process of creating a song.

Erica: I have always loved music and art pretty passionately. I love being a part of the creative process but I don't like to execute the final product. I prefer to stay behind the scenes and make sure things are running smoothly.

Small Faces - I'm Only Dreaming

This project is a husband and wife affair. How does each of you contribute?

Jeff: We started this whole thing together. I may draw everything, but we both think of the ideas. Some are all Erica's. Some are all mine. Some we come up with together. Once I have it sketched, inked and colored, we scan it and clean it up a little so it's ready to print and then package. As far as marketing, social media and the business side, that's Erica. We've been consistently aiming to get at least one new piece out a week, so between that, commissions and all the other work that goes into this, there's always something going on.

Erica: We really collaborate on every aspect. From the concept of a piece, to the packaging, to the marketing, to the physical printing and framing and hanging it up around town in different shops and cafes. We do the majority of it together or with both of us contributing somehow. There's so many pieces of this, apart from just putting pen to paper (which is 100% Jeff). We are constantly thinking of more we can do, both with the art and our business tactics. 

The Who - Boris The Spider

Any notable artists that have inspired you that we should know about?

Jeff: I draw a lot of inspiration on the Essex Lane stuff from psychedelic artists like Wes Wilson, Andy Warhol, Pete McKee, Rick Griffin and Gary Grimshaw. We both also really love a lot of Art Nouveau work and artists like Henri Privat-Livemont and Aubrey Beardsley.

Small Faces - All Or Nothing

I hear that Jeff is also a musician and that we play the same bass, a 1964 H22 Harmony. Do you want to tell us about your current musical endeavors?

Jeff: Yeah, I love my old Harmony. Ronnie Lane played an H22 and he is one of my favorite bass players. The name Essex Lane is a tribute to Ronnie and our logo is drawn in the shape of that bass. I used to play a bit of guitar but switched to bass when I started touring in America. I also love Duck Dunn (Booker T. & The M.G's / Stax) and George Porter Jr. (The Meters), so I also play an early Fender P Bass. Now that I'm focused on art, I don't play as much anymore but I have recently been working on some songs with another musician here in Nashville. We're working on getting together a little band that's Mod / Freakbeat / Psych inspired. It's still in very early stages so we'll have to wait and see but it's been fun playing so far.

Essex Lane logo

Jeff and Erica have been kind enough to offer one lucky Parka Avenue reader a print of their choice. To win, simply share this post on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #ParkaAvenue. In a month, all the names will be entered in my very advanced Selectotron 2000.  Once I have pulled down a lever, pressed on a big red button and all the blinking lights and computerized beeps have stopped, a punch card will slide down a chute and the name of the winner will be revealed. Good luck!

Don't forget to pay Essex Lane a visit at their Etsy shop, on Facebook or follow them on Twitter