From the man who collects swing tickets to the one who wants to be cremated in his favourite parka – enter the weird world of the male fashion obsessive.
BY SHERYL GARRATT | 26 MARCH 2011
Illustration by Spencer Wilson
For Oliver Beer, it all started quite innocuously, at a football match in 1985. He was watching his beloved Stoke City play when he noticed another fan wearing a handsome-looking jumper with a logo he had never seen before. They got talking, and the man explained that it was Stone Island, a new brand by an Italian designer called Massimo Osti. Afterwards Beer tried searching for it, but this was before the internet, before there have been designer clothes available in every city centre and mail-order catalogue, and he drew a blank until the next year, when a store called Review in Newcastle-under-Lyme began selling it. He bought his first piece – a sweatshirt – as soon as he could afford it. ‘I’ve still got it. It cost me per week’s wages.’
Beer was working nights as a printer for a national newspaper, so when eBay came along in 1995 he had time within the day to surf the German and Italian sites, buying rare jackets by Stone Island, CP Company and other labels that Osti had designed for. ‘I used to be snapping up coats I’d never seen,’ he says. ‘Talking to the people who were selling them, I learnt more and more in regards to the label. And it just mushroomed. I loved all the quirky details, and the weird materials they used: glass, metal, paper. The first ones, the Marina range, were made out of old yacht sails. It was so different from the rest I would seen.’
At one point, Beer owned more than 200 coats, although he has now slimmed his collection all the way down to about 50. ‘I couldn’t see the purpose of getting boxes and boxes of jackets in my loft that weren’t getting the use that they are designed for,’ he says. ‘But I’ve still got quite a lot of the older, rarer pieces, the quirkier bits which I like. People come to the house and say, “Can I have a take a look at your jackets?” And I am going to spend two or three hours in the back bedroom, talking about them. I like having conversations once you go into the detail: why is that zip like that?’
I’m wondering how a lot of those visitors are women, and Beer laughs and says none at all. ‘My missus thinks I’m crackers,’ he says cheerfully. ‘She’ll bring up a cup of tea and take the mickey out of us: “This jacket’s got goggles on, this jacket’s got a torch on!” But over the years she’s learnt to place up with it.’
Although he has pruned his collection, Beer is still buying and selling. He’s a postman now, but his online trading pays for his family holidays. The day we talked, he had just bought a Stone Island NOC-1 jacket. ‘It is got a rubber hood that’s based on a helicopter pilot’s helmet,’ he says lovingly. ‘I’ve had two hoods for years, but I never got round to finding the winter jacket. This one came on eBay, and the guy had an absolutely dire description of it, but I knew what it was. I paid about £50.’ Essentially the most he has ever paid for a coat was £800; but he has sold them on for as much as £1,800.
He had also acquired a field jacket with multiple pockets by an Osti offshoot label called Left Hand, and was buying back a shooting jacket with rubber patches on the elbows and shoulder that he sold to a friend in Reading just a few years ago. He won’t be doing any shooting in it, he adds, but he will wear it to the match on Saturday – he and his son are Stoke City season ticket holders. Oliver Junior is 11, and already owns a Stone Island goosedown coat. ‘It’s really nice,’ his father says wistfully. ‘But for the time being he is more all for Lego.’
Still, Beer believes in planning for the long run. In his will, he has specified which coat he wish to be cremated in: a 1988 CP Company parka with a rabbit-fur hood.