When anyone makes a film about mods, they always have a large army of kids all looking the same.
All wearing identical anoraks, all on identical scooters.
This always seemed to me a very west London take on the whole mod thing.
In east London it wasn’t like that.
The goal wasn’t to wear a uniform and look like everyone else.
Quite the reverse.
The goal was not to look like anyone else.
To do something first then, as soon as everyone else started to copy it, to change.
The goal was to be always different.
Always one step ahead.
Usually, you’d know you’d got it right when someone started to make fun of what you were wearing.
Then, about 3 weeks later, you’d see them wearing the same thing.
And you’d know where they got the idea from, even though they’d deny it.
Then you’d stop wearing it and wear something new.
Which they’d make fun of again.
And so on.
Each time it happened, you won.
Because in east London, being a mod wasn’t about looking for approval or being part of a group.
Quite the opposite.
It was about developing the confidence to be different.
It was a great training-ground for creativity.
Which is why, in east London at least, the whole mod fashion actually started at art schools.
Amongst people who were always trying different things.
People who didn’t want to be part of a group and wear a uniform.
When I was a teenager I did a foundation art course at East Ham Tech.
One of the most stylish guys there was called Bob Beer.
Bob was from Mile End.
He always looked great.
He had his shoes made specially for him at Anello & Davide in Covent Garden.
He didn’t have any more money than the rest of us, but he paid twice as much for his shoes as we paid for our handmade suits.
One day Bob and I were talking in the canteen.
You know how, when you’re young, some conversations can influence your whole life?
This was one of those.
I said “What do you think real style is, Bob?”
He thought for a minute.
Then he said, “Put it this way: anyone with a bit of money can go down to Knightsbridge and walk into a decent shop, say St Laurent.
Then go up to the salesman and get him to him pick out a suit, a shirt, a tie, a belt, socks and shoes.
And you’ll come out looking vaguely alright.
But that’s not real style.
Real style is being able to walk into C&A and pick the one item in the entire store worth having.”
I loved that.
The confidence to look where no one else will.
Because everyone else needs the approval of a label.
They don’t have confidence in their own judgement.
Looked at like that, everything is reversed.
An expensive label becomes a badge of insecurity.
Proof that you need other peoples’ approval.
Because you’re incapable of judging the object, so you just judge the label.
I thought about that conversation a lot since.
I thought how it applies to creativity in general.
It’s easy to just pick the best of everything, but there’s no brains in that.
The most expensive directors, the most expensive actors, the most expensive film techniques, the most expensive locations, the most expensive computer graphics.
All you need is a massive budget.
And, like Bob Beer said, you’ll come out with something that looks vaguely alright.
But it’s not real style.
It’s not real creativity.