It’s been 60 years since the inception of Fred Perry. And like all iconic fashion brands, this British label’s history can be traced alongside various subcultures that flourished with it in the past few decades. To celebrate its 60th milestone, the brand has employed the expertise of Grammy Award-winning filmmaker Don Letts to create a series of six films that looks at the evolution of the brand. Called Subculture Films, they chronicle the development of street style, music and counter culture from the 1950s to the 2000s and highlights Fred Perry’s place as the omnipresent uniform of youth culture.
Having directed more than 300 music videos for artists such as Bob Marley and Elvis Costello and his award-winning film ‘The Clash: Westway to the World’, Letts is ideal to helm this project. He spoke to The Directory about his inspiration, what he wants to achieve and why subcultures fascinate him.
Q: Explain the endurance of Fred Perry.
A: The secret of Fred Perry is simple — the designs are classic, have an enduring style that doesn’t chase trends.
Q: What does subculture mean to you?
A: Subcultures are formed when the needs of all the people are not met by the mainstream. It’s a way for like-minded to people to connect and create.
Q: Tell us about your vision and inspiration for the films.
A: I’ve been touched by or involved with nearly every one of these subcultural movements — yes I’m that old. Indeed, they have shaped who I am today, so the inspiration really came from my cultural journey. It was also an opportunity to look at the impact of black culture, particularly that of the afro-Caribbeans, and its part in changing the very idea of what it means to be British.
Q: How did you bring about the connection between music, fashion and culture?
A: I would love to claim responsibility for connecting music, fashion and culture but truth be told, for the youth in the UK, they are and have always been inseparable. They provide the ingredients for young people to create their own identity.
Q: Walk us through how the brand Fred Perry has shaped youth culture over the years.
A: I wouldn’t say Fred Perry has shaped youth culture, but they’ve been fortunate enough to part of nearly all of it. That is quite an achievement for a brand as British youth movements are notoriously fickle. The label has been naturally embraced and certified by the people themselves.
Q: How did you cross the divide from Black Panther sympathiser and funk fanatic to being chums with the anarchists and Situationists?
A: It was just a case of like-minded rebels aligning themselves. We turned each other on by understanding our differences, not by trying to be the same. That’s how the punk-reggae party got started.
Q: And you are widely credited with merging punk and reggae music. Tell us about that.
A: It was an accident really. When I got the job as DJ at The Roxy, which is London’s first live punk-rock venue, there were no punk records to play as none had been made yet. So I played what I had and loved, Jamaican dub reggae, and lucky for me, the punks liked it too. They loved the bass-lines, the anti-establishment stance and the musical reportage aspect of the lyrics.
Q: Martin Scorsese asked for a private viewing of ‘The Punk Rock Movie’ — what was that like?
A: Scorsese’s a big rock doc fan and I have to say his work remains an inspiration to me. That meeting took place way back in the day when I was just finding my feet. Basically he came and quietly watched the film, after which we exchanged a few brief words before he left. I have to say it’s one of the few times I’ve been lost for words but it was a great compliment that he made the effort to see my film.
Q: Was the transition from Dj-ing to filmmaking an easy one?
A: You know when the whole punk thing kicked off, the energy was so infectious that when I saw all my white friends picking up guitars, I wanted to pick up something too. Inspired by ‘The Harder They Come’ (a Jamaican movie I saw in the early 70s), I picked up a super-8mm camera and re-invented my self as Don Letts filmmaker.
Q: What are your favourite pieces from Fred Perry clothing?
A: There’s just too many to mention. I’ve been wearing Fred Perry since my teens and still wear it to this very day. That’s the thing about Fred Perry, it is youth-orientated but still looks cool on the older, more discerning gentleman or lady — you can grow with it.
* To watch the Don Letts films, go to fredperrysubculture.com