Barrie Sharpe: the story of a mod icon in fashion & music

The fashion industry was looking in Barrie Sharpe's direction, either to emulate or copy. "Let them copy me, this is fashion, nothing is new, this is what we do; I have many, many more ideas, I can afford to lose a few"...


Words by Funky, photography by Ronya Galka, clothes by Sharpeye

"Let them copy me, nothing is new, this is fashion, it's what we do, I have many more ideas, I can afford to lose a few." This, a poetic defiance, was Barrie Sharpe's answer to the scrupulous fashion industry. An industry that has always looked in his direction for inspiration, both copying and emulating his groundbreaking designs.

Barrie Sharpe was one of a four-man East London team consisting of: Eddie "Trendy" Prendergast (don't confuse with Teddy Pendergrass), Marco Cairns and Cliff Bowen. These young entrepreneurs created the iconic fashion brand Duffer of St. George. 

Duffer had humble beginnings. The early days consisted of the young quartet cycling around London collecting classic second hand clothing from thrift stores. Eventually, they started selling the stylish wares they had collected out of a suitcase at Camden Market; it was an immediate success. Duffer opened their first store in Portobello and within 6 months had commissioned stands in Harrods, Jones and Paris.

The brand quickly amassed a cult following. This was clearly due to their "Suedehead " style that could not be defined by any of the fashion conformities of the time. Duffers were not quite skinhead, nor mod or American collegiate. Instead they aimed to re-establish many classic brands; subsequently designing their own unique, sophisticated “Street pimp wear”.

 Duffer’s signature pieces included: 1930’s style Baker Boys caps, 6 button double breasted initialed blazers, leather Luftwaffe jackets and a remodelled century old classic - the Islamic prayer hat. The quartet, who had no real fashion experience, only an appreciation for stylish clothing, had their talent recognised by Ray Petri (Buffalo) ID, and The Face magazine. These high influence mediators championed the Duffer Style, thrusting them into the international fashion world at an astounding rate.

Portobello was a success, after two years the fledgling team had defied all odds, accumulating enough money to open another London based Duffer store - in Soho. Here they introduced a psychedelic 1970’s collection inspired by their youth, titled "Pimps, Black Exploitation and Gatsby". Arguably their biggest success on the other hand was with the 80s classic "Trim Cardigan and cropped trousers"; this shook up the fashion world and was copied by most major menswear outlets. These designs have recently come back into fashion and can be seen exhibited on the streets of Camden today. 

Duffer being internationally connected from such an early stage, were responsible for introducing many of the currently recognised Street Fashion names, and bought multiple US classic work-wear-brands to the UK. These included products such as, Baker Boy caps, Red Wing boots and Schotts leather puffer jackets. Duffer was also instrumental in the rise of the Gucci Loafer. 

With the birth of Acid Jazz in the late 80’s, Duffer style was once again the flavour of the “mod hip-hop” scene. This period proved instrumental as the success provided Duffer the finance to lead the creation of the breakaway menswear catwalk shows- "The 5th Circle." This was achieved in partnership with John Richmond, Nick Coleman, Joe Casely-Hayord and Destroy. The first show was held in the edgy and then derelict Spitalfield market, fitting well with the brands identity.

Digging through the archives, I found this quote taken from Face Magazine September 1991, which sums up Barry Sharpe’s design ethos perfectly -"The fashion industry does not cater for us, we don't fit in. As far as I am concerned, we have been designers of the year for the last five years and we shall continue to be so".

Duffer really hit the big time in 1995 becoming official market leaders. But Barrie, a new father, left the company to bring up his son and work on a new collection closer to his heart, this he dubbed Sharpeye. The collection was an overnight sensation, with concessions in Selfridges, Jones, Harrods and pieces in high-end fashion stores across the UK, Barneys in New York and Segal in California. Barrie shunned all media commerciality with Sharpeye but it was impossible for the fashion world not to feel his presence. The Soho Sharpeye store attracted the local film directors, street stylists and pop stars that wished to be seen as credible.

With collection after collection, Sharpeye continue to re-create urban vintage styles; his biggest influence being the WWII Luftwaffe. A new Sharpeye store was launched in Covent Garden, soon followed by Notting Hill, Ladbroke Grove, Kings Cross and Roman Road. After an extremely affluent 10 years Barrie was offered a buy out... an offer he could not refuse. Barrie now only design and produces limited edition Sharpeye styles & designs for independent fashion houses. He has turned his eye to photography, motorbike fabrication, film making and has written several books.

In 1984 Rene Gelston (the owner of Black Market Records) created the Black Market night, at London most elite club, "The Wag" (now O'Neil Bar in Chinatown). He recruited Barrie Sharpe, an unknown and untested DJ. Barrie turned up on the opening night with a box of 7" funk records from the 70s, a rare sound to UK ears. His first night was an immediate success so Barrie also brought in his neighbour Lascelles, who had a rare collection of 70s funk vinyl. Together they instigated a global change in the sound of club music; the sound became known as "Rare Groove".

Barrie and Diana Brown

Barrie and Diana Brown

After a year at the Wag, Barrie and Lascelles started their own club night "The Cat in the Hat.' Here they recreated an essence of their youth with the music getting deeper, funkier and looser. They introduced Rare Groove classics such as ‘Across The Tracks’ by Maceo the Macks, 'I believe in Miracles' by The Jackson Sisters, 'I know You Got Soul' by Bobby Byrd and 'Express Yourself' by Charles Wright. Paul "Trouble" Anderson also joined Barrie and Lascelles, playing his own loose funky music. 'The Cat in the Hat' was where it was at for many future Rare Groove DJs to do their homework.

Due to growing mainstream presence of the Rare Groove scene, Barrie Sharpe and Lascelle alongside drummer Jan Kinkaid, guitarist Simon Bartholomew, bassist Andrew Levy and Singer Diana Brown formed the live funk band Diana Brown & The Brothers. Barrie played percussion and Lascelle rhythm guitar. Due to the Rare Groove movement the band was in great demand and played at many live music venues and nightclubs. They released a very well a executed Rare Groove cover of Sweet Charles "Yes It’s You". Andrew and Simon left the band to form the amazing "Brand New Heavies".

Barry was invited by Bobby Byrd and Vicky Anderson on their Japanese tour as a support act DJ accompanying Norman Jay, Jazzie B and Aich B (Soul to Soul). On the tour Bobby Byrd said to Barrie,"I got thank you man, you brought me back from the dead." Diana and Barrie carried on the band with new guitarist Gareth Tasker, bassist Marco Nelson and drummer Antonio. Femi Fem (Young Disciple) became the band manager.

Barrie and Diana left in 1989 to record "The Masterplan", under the moniker Diana Brown & Barrie K. Sharpe (the K standing for Kingfisher). Barrie and Diana signed with a major record company and had the first "Acid Jazz" style hit with "Masterplan” (check out this tune, it’s a killer) the song hit the UK top 40 music charts and the same in US in 1990.

The duo went on to release many Acid Jazz style records and an album,"The Black, The White, The Yellow, The Brown (Don't Forget The Red Man). Diana Brown continued a solo career, Barrie signed a recording deal in Japan with his new band "The Children of Judah" and recorded a very credible underground raw funk album,"Waiting By The Gates of Eden". Barrie Sharpe now records loose funky music, with Gareth Tasker under the guise of "Rhythm Revolution”.