Born Arthur Benjamin Sugarman, the celebrated shirtmaker was the son of Brighton gift shop proprietors.
Seeing no future in little sticks of rock he moved to the US, and after two failed marriages met a third woman and took over her family's shirt company. In 1961 he moved back to Brighton opened up his own factory, changed his name to Ben Sherman and began making a line of distinctive button down shirts, which he called The Oxford. Influenced by Brooks Brothers' original polo button-down, the Oxford caught the Mod boom at the right time and sold like the proverbial hot cake.
Soon virtually every British pop group worth their onions sported his product, including The Animals, The Troggs, The Who and The Kinks, while a new group of young kids, influenced by American Ivy League, made the garment their own.
“In 1968 it was part of the skinhead package" explains Dexy’s Midnight Runners front man Kevin Rowland. “You had to have the Ben Sherman button down with the loop and pleat at the back with the Harrington or the Crombie, the sta-prest and the wingtip brogues or Royals. If you didn’t have the lot life wasn’t worth living.”
By 1969 the company moved production up a notch and bravely moved to Derry in Northern Ireland, where it garnered such respect that it was the only factory regarded as off limits by both IRA and Protestant bombers. In 1973 Sherman sold the company and moved to Australia.
After a temporary drop in sales the late Seventies the shirt was back after featuring prominently in the landmark Brit cult movie, Quadrophenia, snapped up by a second generation of Jam following Mods. When Two-Tone broke in 1979 a brand new wave of smart ska loving skinheads filled the companies coffers. "I had my first one when I was just about 11 in 1972” remembers Suggs of Madness. “I remember they were brightly colored against the dark grey drabness that surrounded us. When Madness started we loved that Ivy League look but with a British twist and Ben Sherman personify that.”
“It’s got such street history that it is now one of the great iconic British brands” asserts Paolo Hewitt, author My Favourite Shirt: A History Of Ben Sherman Style. “It’s interwoven into the fabric of British culture and is as culturally important as anything this country has ever produced.”
Over the last decade the company has reissued many of their Sixties designs which have been worn by the Ordinary Boys, Damon Albarn, The Gallaghers and Rio Ferdinand.
“I bought mine in the late Sixties” says former Clash bassist Paul Simonon. "And I would still wear it. That style is a classic it will not go away.”