Mod-friendly fashion retailer, clothing designer and longstanding member of the Italian mod scene. We interview Claudio De Rossi of DNA Groove.
1. When were you first introduced to mod and the mod scene?
I spent my childhood in the Philippines and thus things were always late arriving out that way. Watching Quadrophenia on Betamax (remember those?) in ’82 was my first approach to Mod, along with the Two-Tone craze that can soon after that. I started consciously being aware of Mod and its iconic esthetic features (parkas, bowling shoes, suits etc) early ’84.
Although it was after John Lennon’s death in December 1980 that I fell in love with The Beatles and British 60s culture, style and music. And that’s stylistically when I was born.
2. What was the mod scene like in Italy at that time? Different than today?
In Manila, there was no scene bar another English mate of mine, an elder (22!!) suedehead and one or two other people who knew what we were on about. Many moons later I found out that international soul DJ Nancy Yahiro was at the same school I was attending for three months in 1984! I came to Italy in summer ’86 and met other mods by following my beloved football team AC Turin, so it was the Turin mods I met first.
In Vicenza at the time there was a big enough scooter/mod scene and was mainly based on John Belushi’s Animal House film, thus it was a mixture of soul music, scooters, clothing and lots of heavy partying. It wasn’t clothes-obsessed (most of us were still at uni at the time, so cash was always a problem). Parkas, bomber jackets, sta-pressed and Doc Martens mostly. Few of us had tailors to go to – secondhand and deadstock clothing stores we would raid, scooters, LPs to buy and what have you. The majority were quite superficial on the details and heavy on the music/partying bit.
I had met the Rimini posse early ’87 and they were the ones that introduced ‘smart’ into what we were already doing. Music was mainly Kent LPs, Stax, Atlantic, lots of classic northern soul, Jimmy Smith and a few other jazz standards. I was in Germany for eight months in ’88, so experienced part of the mod scene there and it wasn’t too different from how it was in Italy. Today’s Italian scene is definitely more evolved, sussed, more musically widespread (we have lots of good DJs who competently cover pretty much all of the music spectra) and is up to pace with the rest of Europe.
3. What gave you the idea of starting DNA Groove?
I was running a local vintage clothing store (Adidas, Puma, denim, leather, deadstock 60s – nothing too exciting or cool) called DNA, which I had bought off a friend. I kept the name as it was a popular shop in the area. All my mod friends would keep pushing me to find something that would cater to them and asked me why I didn’t sell the clothes I was wearing. I was having most of my clothes made for me from my own designs, so that prompted me to start a shirt and trouser line and add ‘Groove’ to DNA to distinguish the new clothes from the vintage.
4. What the first item sold by DNA Groove – and how did you initially sell your stock?
Classic button-down roll collar shirt, with the pointed back collar and all the usual detailing (front and back sewn pleats, back button etc). Soon after it was the trousers. I had the shop so I would be selling the stuff both at the shop and at rallies/parties. In 2001 I went online. I’m quite sure I was the first online store in Italy – still am one of the few in this country that regularly sells online. From there, a good friend of mine (American living in London) Fracois Nordman took them to London sometime around 2001 and sold them from his Camden stall.
5. Where did the skills come from for creating the clothing and accessories you sell?
As I said earlier, I became fashion conscious/obsessed through The Beatles at an early age (12), so all these years I have been looking, admiring, wearing, experimenting and appreciating clothes and fashion of the 50s and 60s. Over the years I have gone through a few stages of different retro looks but I was always doing it with passion and individuality. As I didn’t go to fashion school or anything like that, it’s the experience, instinct and passion that have led the way.
6. What has been your most successful item – and have there been any big failures?
The men’s button-down roll neck shirt is still the most successful item. Big failures? Luckily, none so far. When I experimented with more adventurous late 60s fashion some five years ago, the time was right and it was something popular not only on the mod scene but to regular youngsters as well. So keeping my ‘regular Joe Public’ customer happy with styles I also dug and wear meant I was credible and authentic – not just another salesman trying to jump on the latest bandwagon. The ladies clothes I have made also sold well, but I didn’t give them enough publicity, time and attention, so will be stopping those.
7. Is it hard to sell mod fashion to the more mainstream clothing retailers? Do the majority have an understanding of the modern mod scene?
Nowadays, mainstream men’s fashion in one way or another has a link to mod fashion. Most of my wholesale customers are in one way or another involved in mod. However, the final retail customer is mostly someone from outside the scene that appreciates the style, cut quality and individuality of the product. He does not know what mod is, just digs the style and cut. Personally, I do not label my clothes as mod clothes, as nowadays that has no real meaning and is very reductive.
8. Have you noticed any changing trends or demands over the years?
In the first few years of the century, there was a more late 60s phase, both inside and outside of the scene. Thus, the demand was for more psychedelic styles and fabrics. However, I never changed the core of my clothing line – that was the more classic/clean-cut look of the early 60s – but I did introduce more adventurous items, styles and patterns. Today, it’s back to basics again, but as I never stopped offering this over the years, I wouldn’t say there has been a major change, although the quality, detailing, manufacture and fabrics all improve as time goes by.
9. Do you see DNA Groove changing over the next five years? Anything already in the pipeline?
DNA Groove is basically a one-man band and this has got to change soon. I can no longer do it by myself and need the support of someone else so I can have more time to travel. I will be introducing more accessories early 2008, want to expand the shoe line, get knitwear back on the menu and develop the existing line (there will be a new trouser style soon and I’m working on a new winter coat. In five years time, I hope to be working with the Japanese market more extensively and generally have a broader retail base. I don’t imagine there will be an evolution of any kind, I’m passed the phase of experimenting with fashion (which I barely did in the first place) and I can safely say I will stay in the current boundaries. I don’t really consider myself a fashion designer as I do not create new styles – I re-interpret what has long been forgotten. I’ve been into style for over 25 years and don’t expect to make an abrupt turn.
10. And finally, in your view, which three items should be in every self-respecting mod’s wardrobe?
There will be too many to mention, all equally important, so I will choose three current favourites of mine:
Silk pocket square
Colourful quality socks
Thanks to Claudio De Rossi of DNA Groove for his time.