Part Of The Forever Young: Neil Primett 50 Years
80s Casual Classics founder, Neil Primett, celebrates his 50th birthday and talks us through his life from a young casual to building a world renowned retail business.
I grew up in a small village in Bedfordshire and first went to London on a shopping trip when I was 14-15 years old. My youth passions were mainly football, rugby, athletics, tennis, knocking about with mates, going to the youth club and spending every night down the park kicking a football. By age 10 I was able to captain the team and even got to pick the team – that made a few friends! In 1983-84 a few London Casuals with a monied look came to our school which turned some heads and inspired a greater one up man-ship. A big part of my younger days from 74-75 was a Liverpool love affair from Kevin Keegan to King Kenny. I rated myself as a middle distance runner and with that came another hero Seb Coe. For tennis it was Borg as he was GOD like and so cool. I used to tune into the radio midweek to listen to Liverpool in Europe and lived the highs and lows – obviously mostly the highs. I was part of a single parent family from a young age, nothing came easy and a desire to survive was magnified – be it football or clothes. As happy as I was I would end up in fights as that was also part of survival when nothing came easy. I was earning money anyway I could from 12 with after school jobs, weekend jobs and mum bringing her own office overtime home and me doing it. Money for me meant records and clothes and not a bank balance.
Above: One of my idols. Tennis legend Björn Borg lifting the Wimbledon trophy in 1980.
The casual years largely hit our upper school when I was 13-14 years from 1982-1985 with a few London faces upping the casual anti. Middle school was punk from about the age of 9-12 years, 1977-1980 – The Clash, The Sex Pistols to The Jam and new wave. Clothing became very new wave linked – think The Jam and Quadrophenia – waffle cardigans, Gallini tees, tank tops, Fred Perry polos, Lonsdale, STA Press, Nike Wally Waffle. Casual style for myself and many in our district was the Nike Wimbledon trainer.
At college I studied business studies/accounts. The interest level was weak, I never wanted to study and my job came with day release. I eventually decided to give in and with a lot of discipline to learn. I went from an F student to A/Distinction. At about 20-21 years old I learned the real ability to apply oneself, probably as I had been playing football since I was 10 years old. School reports suggested I was easily distracted and always wanted to be in amongst it. I had a hyper nature and I don’t really know when or how to slowdown.
Above: Neil Primett as a young casual in 1984 and an original Nike Wimbledon trainer advert.
I never liked the idea of being a management accountant, although I have grown to respect how useful it is in my grounding. Whatever the day job was, it was means to live. Friends, going out and entertainment ran way beyond school. Whilst having some friends in bands, I soon took on a role to manage and promote their gigs. A lot of this compares to the greatest managers who had accounting and fashion backgrounds. I soon realised people would turn up through the prospect of a good night that was also good value. I realised PEOPLE are the key to anything. At my gigs I wanted feedback and wanted to know they were happy and having a good time.
As things progressed, opportunity grew through a scene thriving of the enthusiasm of GIG GOERS. Those who run a business all too often suggest capabilities to make all decisions – fashion people and certain brands generally have their head up their arse to have all answers, failing to notice their customers provide the way forward and to meet their expectations and every now and then look to go one better. The obvious role of business – don’t over promise; no hype, no bullshit.
The day I booked Oasis I had enough information and they had all ingredients to break through big so I felt able to hype and suggest in Dec 93/Jan 94 that they were going to be “The Band of 1994” and it was soon justified. If I subsequently found a bigger act set to come along I was ready to amend opinion. Often people go off gut instinct – my gut only carries a sense of similar emotions. It means I have been here before and I know what’s around the corner and feel confident I can do this again. I don’t act on a whim. If I know my personal taste will resonate across many and would not waste my own opinion on deaf ears, I hope to have broad tastes and still respect individuality has to be key.
What followed Oasis in 1994 was a period of sell-out gigs and a SCENE of music celebration loosely termed RULE BRITANNIA. Enough people were UPBEAT and wanted to be part of it. It knocked onto film and fashion. Looking back if you were to ask was Blair Labour or Conservative? I would be none the wiser, he had my vote as did Oasis and Blur. When good things were happening culturally in the UK much else falls away. These were simply great times. It’s apparent work is a means to an end but entertainment, fun, enjoyment if available can become a must to accommodate, a reason to hold a job – do overtime etc. The idea of industries that aim to please and entertain and that feels good means everything to someone like me – “Shiny Happy People All Around”.
Above: The set list from the Oasis gig at the Water Rats, London in 1994. Neil was guest listed to the show as a Bedford promoter and managed to get Liam’s set list.
Clothing in 1993
A store called ‘Planet Clothing’ opened that forged strong immediate links to the music scene in my hometown of Bedford. We were the ticket office and the hub of gigs and club nights. Bedford was on the map and people had to be part of it, look the part and that’s how it began. Most of the Brit Pop scene was a retro culture of old skool trainers, from adidas, Puma, Gola and even Dunlop, it was not conforming to any high street trends. Oasis were seen in baggy jumpers, parkas and Berghaus jackets. Damon from Blur championed the likes of Ben Sherman, Kappa, Fila, Sergio Tacchini. Then there was Bobby from Primal Scream and Jarvis from Pulp who were fashion rebels with a greater retro 70s look.
Having lived and loved punk in 78-80 and my own personal rebellions I could relate to this and more. My greatest interest is the understanding of people, not to be pigeonholed and narrow minded and hope that’s an influence I generally have where RESPECT for fellow man becomes key. This 18-year-old wears skinny jeans with my Sergio and I know most youths wears skinny/slim jeans that he is no freak. If a 45 year old wants slim denim I won’t be making judgement. Over 37-38 years of my own path of fashion I’m certain I have worn all fits of denim, cords etc. Today it’s how the mood takes and pulling off that look is down to the individual – confidence in clothing/wardrobe is key.
Above: Planet Clothing. Neil Primett (middle) wearing the Sergio Tacchini Orion track top which is now available from 80s Casual Classics.
The Casual – Retro Revival
By 2005-2006 I had had 12-13 years experience in retail and lad culture had swept over a music linked scene into world of branded clothing. Whilst never in a football town, Bedford, you’re talking daywear lifestyle, Friday, Saturday night. Brands like G-STAR had become best sellers, Lyle & Scott was fast on a revival and both were doomed to be swallowed by a mass brand logo culture with a cooler crowed in search of new finds. Oddly we had two approaches within days of one another, a UK launch of Sergio Tachini Italy opening a UK office and Fila relaunched again with a UK market distribution. Fila was to be mass sold in the likes of Sports Direct while a new heritage premium brand Fila Vintage was to hit UK independent business.
Sergio Tacchini told the launch story with links to a UK film The Business, by producer Nick Love who had also recently directed the Football Factory. Both brands were my upbringing, me and 5 pals were small town casual dressers. Personally, I was Farah, Lois with roll necks and V Neck Pringle Lyle Jumpers and a few bright polos, Kappa cagoule, suede and leather patchwork jacket, wedge haircut, Lendl adidas and Nike Wimbledon’s. My pals did have Fila, Sergio and Diadora.
Above: The noughties casual revival. Danny Dyer in The Business (2005) sporting the legendary Sergio Tacchini Dallas tracktop.
As a return to casual culture was fast resonating across back in the day memories and new a found young retro consumer sold on The Business and culture stories of fresh classic gear. Along came Nick Love with a plan to use The Firm name to tell a fresh story of casuals and gang culture with a period rewind to approx 1983.
I know Nicks story was in many ways his own and maybe mine had I been in a football town. He was even keen to show that many were simply clothes dressers and this was more than a punch up portrayed in certain football films before. Going to the game dressed was most important- everyone has their own stories and mine is not a football one – dressing always comes out top. The Firm was to be a huge wardrobe and chance to re-introduce endless brands and looks across 150 people not just Danny and Tamer in The Business. I was finding collectors and shopping on Ebay to get character wardrobe and a brand mix of 80s London memories and some Portsmouth (I had a Pompey reference book). We then chased brand support to see what level of re-makes they could do that was visually spot on to original 80s designs.
In doing all this I was creating a plan for a re-launch with brands who new the impact of The Business and what The Firm could now bring. I was in the middle of a website launch and it was an all hours job and tough on many levels living 80s Casuals, talking to endless customers to understand the broader world of casuals and what customers wanted revived etc. Nick was keen to bring some fresh favourites into The Firm such as the Fila Terrinda and certain Ellesse styles were to take centre stage.
On a personal level being cast to run the shop was a BUZZ and in many ways helped me gain the association of my own part in helping with wardrobe and costume (actor and wardrobe consultant). I spent many days on set dressing actors, extras and even having my 80s haircut. Choices were classic wedge, Hoddle, Waddle back perms, Wham and another – my 80s days style was always wedge.
Post the films, the 80s scene spiked up bigger on a more football terrace styling and sold in several stores associated purely with this scene but soon after it reverted to more of a retro music lad look consumer who wants to update fresh heritage looks and 80s Casual Classics took destination ownership once again.
In opening UK stores we branched into brands and looks that work alongside to be able to dress customers fully. Whilst aware how 80s transcended to 90s and how we all still went out and dressed we looked at other era brands that resonated with our core customer and generations that like to re-discover the past in its old skool original way or a fresh take. As a company we will embrace both, I never set out to have an 80s website nor have one solitary look – the key customer who discovered clothing back then to me had the mindset to update and progress style and dress. In many ways looking back at great times, first memories and due to desires and high costs a wardrobe that was never finished for many.
Above: Neil Primett with Nick Love and 300 casuals at the The Firm film premiere in Bedford.
Above: An 80s casual clothing collectors dream. The wardrobe for The Firm (2009).
Every single day that passes something new and exciting comes along although I am still reminded just how much we have established a strong wardrobe of classics that are still the backbone to our business.
Our community is Facebook and Instagram @80scasualclassics today and it’s incredible the level of contribution we get from customers and its priority to us to keep everyone up to date and sharing the 80s Casual Classics LOVE.
IT’S GOOD TO BE 50 AND FOREVER YOUNG! Neil Primett – 80s Casual Classics