Whether it's Martine Rose and Adam Jones upcycling beer mats or Palace double parking with Stella, the Great British pub has had its fair share of style moments
Introducing Horror Nation?, a new season from Dazed about the current state of the UK from the perspective of the young people who live here.
The Pub. Just as much ink, as drink, has been spilled around it. Even the name itself carries a weightiness to it, two punchy words that land with the thunk of a pint glass plonked down on a wooden table. It is the quintessential British institution, a stodgy constitution of everything good about this god-awful country: beer, games, shit chat, and English tapas.
No event is safe from its warm arms: christenings, birthdays, weddings and wakes are all fair game. After all, religions were built on less: more people visit their local in the UK than every single place of worship combined and timesed by ten. No wonder. The beer garden, on a Mitchum-everywhere kind of summer’s day, is nothing short of Eden on Earth, where a forbidden fruit cider tempts us into sin and our most-told untruth is exposed: fine, but I’m only coming out for one…
Take your CP Company style beer goggles off, though, and things look less sunny. Fuelled by soaring rates, the cost-of-living crisis, and a reduced appetite for getting absolutely trollied, independent pubs are heading towards last orders. Over 150 pubs have already shut in the UK this year, with an estimated 3-in-10 of those still standing to shut by 2024.
In the fashion world, though, something different is happening: inns are very much still in. While real pubs might be making peanuts, countless designers have tapped into the spirit of the Great British boozer, pinning pints onto their mood boards and throwing in the beer-branded bar towel for good measure.
The undisputed English Rose of this all is, of course, Martine. Ever excellent at distilling the essence of the UK’s nightlife scene and applying it to radical, sexy menswear, Martine Rose has frequently returned to the pub as a source of inspiration. Ten years ago for her AW13 show, Rose celebrated the tavern with a patchwork beer towel motif pasted onto denim jackets, hoodies, and slouchy pants. This was later remixed for AW18, which featured terry towelling trousers in a bespoke ‘Martine Rose’ print, and her collaboration with Stussy. Then, for 2021, she switched from cloth to coaster for her beermat capsule, featuring an extended range of bootleg patches displaying her name in the typefaces of well-known beers.
In a more literal sense, Rose has headed to the pub for her shows too. For her SS19 presentation on the streets of Kentish Town, the designer helped get the models ready in a local pub in lieu of any sort of backstage area. Then, last year, for her outrageously sexy show she gave guests wristbands to head to legendary queer pub the Royal Vauxhall Tavern after for a drink or ten, telling AnOther that "her aim is to take everyone with me" along with her on her fashion journey.
Just this week, Rose’s SS24 show did just that in a perspiring community centre on Highgate Hill, celebrating her local community around pub tables (and, thankfully, there were branded beer mats to fan ourselves with and Taytos to snack on). It recalled Margiela’s MM6 show in Mayfair venue The Running Horse back in 2018, though there was so much tinfoil it looked more like the inside of a cooler box than an actual local.
Rose isn’t the only fashion publican enticing fashion publications right now. Adam Jones, whose self-titled label draws on the more eccentric, eclectic elements of British culture and celebrates its most inviting institutions, has made the upcycled beer towel vest his hero piece. Spanning the classic dad-drinks of John Smith's, Newcastle Brown Ale, and Stone’s Bitter, his made-to-order, made-in-England sweats have become cult classics.
“The first ones came from a skip from the boozer outside my studio,” Jones tells Dazed. “It’s so interesting to me that they are my most popular item, because a lot of my younger customers and customers out of the UK don’t know the origins of what the vests are made of so are excited purely by the aesthetic.” He notes that older buyers, though, revel in the nostalgia of their spent – or, at the best of times, misspent – youths in the pub.
It’s this nostalgic quality that drives Corbin Shaw’s work, another pub-adjacent creative working in the visual arts. Known for his blocky, blokey prints exploring lad culture, terrace fashion, the fragility of masculinity and working class life, Shaw set-up a pop-up pub for his ‘Thirst Prize’ residency with Celeste McEvoy at Changing Room Gallery, complete with McEvoy's pub-themed ceramic sculptures.
“The pub was meant to be a recreation of the (now shut) pub my mum and dad met in,” Shaw explains. “I wanted to live in a memory in somewhere I’d never been or could never go back to. Both (my parent’s recollections) of it were totally different of course, things were lost and added; I felt this represented the idea of the pub, a place people go and tell stories, which might change again and again until they exist as something new.”
With all this accrued interest, it’s no surprise that beer brands are taking note and putting down a pound coin or two to join the creative pool. Last year, Stella Artois double parked with London skate brand Palace for the wildly popular Palace Artois capsule, featuring co-branded beermat patches across tees, jackets, and hoodies. Focusing on form as well as function, the collection featured a tote bag decked out with beer can holders, branded glasses, bar towels, beer mats and a cooler. To launch it, a temporary Palace Artois pub took over the Blue Posts in Chinatown, recalling The Face’s Face Arms (taking over Adele’s local for a night for her cover shoot) and VICE’s long-standing second HQ The Old Blue Last.
So why is fashion doing so much boozing? Primarily, it’s testament to the willingness of the best British designers – including the likes of Martine Rose and Adam Jones plus Priya Ahluwalia, SS Daley, and Edward Crutchley – to embrace rather be embarrassed by British culture, a reminder that, while we’re living in a Horror Nation in terms of politics and inequality, when it comes to creativity, the UK is still doing OK. Situating collections in the local also brings globally-renowned high fashion brands back down to their British roots, showing an appreciation for the simpler things in life and the comforting charm of the sticky carpet.
Visually, too, the pub is a winner; swathes of swatches are there to be experimented with, from towelling to net curtains, dartboard felt to patterned carpets. “The pub is a mood board in itself, you have everything you need there to build a collection,” Jones says. “My favourite colour is that pool table cloth green. I particularly like to steal the imagery of animals you get in pubs,” he continues. “A good pub is like a history book,” Shaw notes. “My practice is basically made up of bootlegging tat. Mirrors, trophies, beer mats, you name it. All of which I’ve found first in pubs. They feel like relics of a time and represent common ground.”
Let’s not forget, too, that the pub itself is a never-ending show for people-watching fashion fans. OK, sure, you’re unlikely to see the kind of ‘fits that you’ll catch on a trendy street, but there’s probably no better cross-section of UK fashion than in a city-centre boozer.
At the risk of sounding like a discarded Mike Skinner lyric, wander into a pub anywhere from London to Glasgow and you’ll catch pintmen wearing polos, students in vintage sweats, geezers in flat caps, girlies in leather pants, and construction workers in hi-vizzes. Even the most fashion-forward of us pretty much wear anything we want to the pub, and that’s the magic of it – it’s the most genuine reflection of the clothes that we feel comfortable in, a true snapshot of British casualwear.
“That’s the beauty of a pub really, no one’s told what to wear,” Shaw says. “It’s come as you are and it’s for you…it’s like home, whatever you’re feeling,” he continues, remembering lads in tracksuits next to ladies in their best dress in his hometown Harthill. “It’s whatever you feel your best in…jeans and a nice top applies to all really.”
Back to the Fashion Inn for a final thought, though; could a new aesthetic appreciation of the pub actually save it from total demolition? Jones notes that the sanitisation of pubs and gentrification of old boozers is a travesty, turning them into mere pastiches of their former selves. “I think we will regret it in decades to come, we will see it as a great shame. These places are part of our history...they should be treated like going to see a monument or a museum," he says. Shaw also holds this reverence, referencing Rose’s latest show. “I think if it’s done sensitively and the locals are being treated properly it’s giving back to these people,” he says. “There’s nothing like it and I truly hope that this generation don’t forget about them.”
Perhaps, just perhaps, art and fashion can help keep the doors open even in a small way, reminding us of the beauty of the boozer and calling on us to support our locals through cold hard cash and our own creative ventures. While actual publicans aren’t likely to see upcycled beer towel vests made for fashion kids as their saviour, it’s a way of raising a glass to a Great British institution; one so impossibly good that, even after it makes throw up all over our fresh new Palace Artois tee, it keeps us coming back for another.