After more than half a century in which Ben Sherman shirts were bought by The Who, The Jam and Oasis, the fashion brand has been snapped up by a US private equity firm.
Marquee Brands, backed by the US investment firm Neuberger Berman, has agreed to buy Ben Sherman for £40.8m from its current owner, Oxford Industries.
The deal brings Marquee a second clothing brand after it bought the Italian shoe and leather goods maker Bruno Magli in February. Marquee was set up to acquire fashion brands ripe for expansion into new products and countries.
Ben Sherman shirts were a staple of the golden age of UK youth cults. They were worn by mods in the 60s and were later adopted by that movement’s various offshoots including skinheads, suedeheads, mod revivalists and rude boys.
The button-down shirts’ distinctive features included a button at the back of the collar, a full-length back pleat and a hook at the top of the pleat.
Ben Sherman was founded in Brighton in 1963 by Arthur Benjamin Sugarman. He moved from Britain to the US at the end of the second world war, raised a family and worked at his father-in-law’s clothing manufacturing business.
Having changed his name to the more all-American sounding Ben Sherman, he returned with his family to Brighton in the early 60s and rented a factory. Sherman spotted that high-spending members of the growing mod movement were buying imported preppy shirts made by firms in the US such as Brooks Brothers and decided to produce his own version.
Sherman imported fabrics from the US and packaged each of his shirts, made from Oxford cotton in unusual colours such as pink and mint green, in a box.
He opened a store on Carnaby Street, the centre of swinging London, and was barely able to meet demand for his shirts as Roger Daltrey of The Who and other young dandies sought more shirts. In 1970 Sherman ordered 1.5m yards of cloth from his US fabric mill. George Best wore the shirts and stocked them at his Manchester men’s clothing boutique.
Sherman sold the business in the mid-70s and retired to Australia. Ben Sherman shirts remained popular in the late 70s and early 80s as The Jam, The Specials and Madness helped them appeal to the mod revival and rude boy movements.
When sportswear and global designers came to dominate fashions in the 1980s, Ben Sherman’s appeal faded. But the brand revived in the 1990s when it was taken up by Oasis, Blur and other mod-influenced Britpop bands.
The brand has branched out from its traditional button-downs into T-shirts, jackets and shoes. Paul Weller, The Jam’s former singer, designed a range of 60s-influenced shirts in 2007.
Weller said at the time: “I can remember original Ben Sherman shirts being around till the early Seventies. I had to really save for my first Ben Sherman. We used to buy Brutus shirts, which were much cheaper – second best. But Ben Shermans were the sought-after item. The first one I ever got was a lemon-yellow one. I must have been 12, 13, and it was a bit too big for me. But being a kid I didn’t realise you could take it back to the shop. I wore it till it fitted me.”
Michael DeVirgilio, president of Marquee Brands, said: “We are particularly excited about this transaction as Ben Sherman is consistent with our mission to acquire high-quality brands with substantial global growth potential. We’ve received supportive messages from retailers across the globe that share our view of the growth opportunity ahead.”
Ben Sherman has a main store on Carnaby Street and branches across the UK and elsewhere in Europe, as well as in the US and Asia.
This article was written by Sean Farrell, for theguardian.com on Monday 20th July 2015 14.28 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010