Philip Minaker on the tennis champion who went on to front a successful line of classic sporstwear and men’s, women’s and children’s fashion
In Fashion, descriptive words like practical, timeless and endearing are rarely used to describe a label. And that is exactly why the British based Fred Perry Brand continues to be in a league of its own sixty years since its inception.
One must first look at the man himself to fully appreciate the standard of excellence that continues to be the driving force behind the brand and its unique and amazing client base.
Frederick John Perry was born in England on May 18th, 1909 to working class parents. His Father was a cotton spinner who eventually forged a career in politics. Despite his humble upbringing, Fred won the World Table Tennis Championship at the age of twenty. He retired from that sport when he fell in love with lawn tennis.
Tennis was a sport reserved for the elite and despite the indifference he received from the British tennis “establishment” he won three consecutive Wimbledon Championships from 1934-1936. Andy Murray, in 2012, is the only other Brit to win a singles title at Wimbeldon.
Fred then turned pro which only made him all the more ostracized in his homeland. As he always marched to the beat of his own drummer, he decided to take up residency in the United States in 1938 and continued his world domination and active involvement in the sport until 1956. His unique form, passion and contributions to the game made him one of the top ten players of all time.
It wasn’t until his twilight years that the British Tennis authorities fully recognized his contributions. A bronze statue of Fred was unveiled in 1984 at Wimbledon, London commemorating the 50th anniversary of his first win. Never one to hold a grudge, Fred was a regular commentator for the BBC covering various tennis events throughout his lifetime.
He also served in the US Air Force during World War II in honor of his adopted country. Fred was also quite the globe trotting ladies’ man with love affairs with the likes of Jean Harlow and Marlene Dietrich and was married four times. His Hollywood experience also included a few films but it was his lifetime friendships with the likes of Errol Flynn, Charlie Chaplin and Bette Davis that he truly treasured and that also depicted his own remarkable sense of humor.
In the late forties Fred was approached by Tibby Wegner, a retired Austrian Footballer, who wanted his input on designing a sweatband for professional athletes. Upon its success and inspired by Rene Lacoste, they decided to create their own version of the Tennis Shirt. In 1952 the Fred Perry Sportswear Collection was launched and quickly became the favorite choice of professional tennis players around the world.
Fred’s integrity and desire to be the best was also quite evident in the brand as well. Fit, fabric and detailing were unparalleled. Unlike the Lacoste tennis shirt, Fred’s logo was woven into each and every garment as they still are to this day rather than being appliquéd onto it. The Laurel Wreath logo is actually the first emblem Wimbledon used and was graciously given to Fred as he himself earned the privilege and wore it proudly throughout his lifetime.
The British youth of the sixties embraced the “Fred” sports shirt for its ability to sustain a night out on the town and still look fresh the next day. As the British Pop Culture Movement invaded the rest of the world the Fred was along for the ride. From the Mods of the early sixties to the present day youth movement the Fred has been an understated yet relevant and treasured wardrobe necessity.
Expanding on its’ sports wear appeal the twin tipped cotton pique tops featured various colors depicting the various football teams of Britain. Fred Perry became the first sportswear brand to integrate street wear into its design elements due to its affectionate relationship with British youth culture. Musicians and other artists began to take to the Fred as well, giving its “performance wear” credo a new and broader meaning.
The collection expanded into other elements featuring a knitwear program of cardigans, crew necks, vee-necks and shawl collared pieces for men, women and children all featuring pure yarns (cotton, silk and various wools) made with the same level of excellence Fred insisted on with his tennis shirts. To this day, the knit wear program remains free of synthetics preventing pilling and assuring longevity with the proper care. Sizes range from xsmall to xxlarge and are moderately priced. These stylish pieces also stand the test of time rather than falling into trendy territory.
Rather than brazenly selling the line thru slick advertising campaigns and flooding the marketplace the brand has continued to gain global appeal by affiliating itself with various musicians and athletes. Long a favorite in European countries, the brand is now just beginning to catch on in North America.
Prior to the death of Amy Winehouse, she collaborated with the design team at Fred Perry to create a division of women’s wear inspired by her offbeat approach to dressing. They continue to work with her family going forward with her collection and proceeds of the sales of her items go to her foundation helping troubled youth.
Bradley Wiggins (the new poster boy for competitive cycling) seven times Olympic medalist, first Brit to win the Tour de France in 2012 and this years recipient of the BBC’s Athlete of the Year also has a collaborative series of cycling shirts included in the Fred Perry Men’s Collection. Made in either 100% cotton or 100% wool and in short or long sleeve they have become a welcome addition to the brand. This collaboration will no doubt continue forward in the coming seasons.
And speaking of No Doubt…the band has also collaborated with the team at Fred Perry for Spring/Summer 2013 and will feature a line of pieces for both men and women emphasizing their musical influence and styling.
The footwear program for both men and women is a unique blend of sport and street. One could refer to them as “Urban Kicks” and the price points range from $75.00- $275.00. The quality and design details make them a total bargain compared to other well-known designer brands.
Children’s wear is absolutely adorable and some of the pieces are exact replicas of the adult pieces. Leaning towards the male side, these pieces also feature an androgynous edge making them all the more appealing to the open minded. Sizes range from 6 months to eight years and the “Fred” tennis shirts are indeed a highlight.
The line has evolved into complete head to toe looks for both men and women (including accessories) with its emphasis on quality over quantity. Even though Fred Perry left us in 1994 the collection still honors him by remaining true to his legacy and his standards of excellence. As they say, “Fashion comes and goes but style is eternal”.
It is for this primary reason that the Fred Perry clientele has no age, race, creed, color, gender, sexual orientation or social class barriers inhibiting it from being recognized as a brand of apparel created by a man willing to follow his heart while defying social convention. His legacy lives on through the integrity and passion he chose to live his life and in the high ideals he set for the brand that bares his name and remains its foundation.
The Fred Perry Collection is available online, in better Shops around the world as well as in limited free standing Fred Perry Boutiques. In Canada, The Fred Perry Shop is located on the outskirts of the west side of downtown Toronto at 964 Queen Street West. If you live in or are coming to Toronto, it would be my pleasure to meet and assist you in selecting the most appropriate pieces best suited to your needs, as I am one of the proud members of Fred Perry Team Toronto.
In closing I would like to take this opportunity to wish you the best during the Holidays and in the coming year ahead. One Love!