An Interview with John Fendley - television presenter and outerwear obsessive
Anyone who has watched Soccer AM will probably be aware that presenter John Fendley has a bit of a penchant for jackets. And although it’s maybe not much of a surprise that a footy-mad lad from the north of England likes nice parkas, it’s his sheer enthusiasm and dedication for classic outerwear that sets him apart.
When he’s not in the studio, he’s scouring the deepest corners of the world-wide web for rare vintage pieces, before restoring them back to their former glory. You only need to get him on the subject of vintage zips to realise this isn’t some passing phase.
Keen to find out a bit more about his love of well-crafted functional clothing, we caught up with him to talk about his early influences, the quest for authenticity and his new project, Life Jacket.
You’ve got a well-documented obsession with jackets. Where did it begin - was there something specific that set it off?
Me and my best friend have always been obsessed with it, but because we grew up in Scarborough, we didn’t have any shops nearby, and we didn’t have any money, so we were seeing things from afar. I remember there being an article in Smash Hits about casuals, and one of them had a pair of Nike Wimbledons on and some bleached jeans. From there I started becoming a bit more aware of it, and then my cousin, who lived in Ellesmere Port, came and stayed with us. He had the wedge haircut, the Jaeger jumper, the cords, the Trimm Trabs and the trackie top, and he looked like a superhero. It immediately sparked my interest in it.
I’ve always had jackets, but a lot of them were second hand. When we were kids, it was all about getting second-hand clothes off the lads who worked at the amusement arcades. They’d have Gazelles and Tacchini jackets. You’d knock on their door at the weekend, and say, “Have you got any clothes to sell?” then they’d go and put together a little bag of clothes, and you’d be off on your way. I think I’ve always had that hoarder gene - just looking to find that bit of magic. It happens now, I still love going around second hand shops and picking out things.
The first jacket that I spent a lot of money on was a Henri Lloyd, which I bought when I was working in Lincoln. I used to go into clubs and deliver education programmes, so one day a week I’d go to a different club. I went to Lincoln once, and I can’t remember the name of the shop, but I bought this cream Henri Lloyd cagoule with this reflective trim. And when I came down to Sky to get some work experience, I had that jacket on. That was when I met Tim Lovejoy. He was into his football and music and clothes - and when we got chatting we realised there was a bit of common ground there. So when something came up on Soccer AM, he said, “Let’s give him a try.” So I always think it was partly down to that jacket that I ended up getting a job. So thanks to Henri Lloyd for that one.
What is it you’re after these days? What are you hunting for?
I find myself going back to the 80s stuff. There was a time when things went from sportswear, to something a bit dressier - brands like Cabourn and Chipie. I remember me and my mate looking for Armani blazers - but because we didn’t have money and we didn’t have the shops, we’d be cobbling it all together. There were these Armani blazers with the classic eagle badge - but we would just buy an RAF badge and stick it onto an old blazer we’d found. It was our thrifty way of putting that look together that we’d maybe seen in GQ or Arena. I think I’ve always had that gene - I still love going round second hand shops and picking out things. It’s about finding that moment - that bit of magic.
That buzz of finding something new, or unexpected?
Yeah, that’s exactly what it is - sometimes I just want to see it. I’ve started searching for all these old brands that I used to see - I feel like I’m sort of having my time again. I bought a long Stone Island Tela jacket the other day. It smells like an old tarpaulin from 1982, because that’s literally what it is. I’m constantly looking for the old stuff now - that’s what I do. I’ve got a lot of stuff that was made in the last 20 years, but I’m now looking to move that on, and get stuff from before the year 2000.
From the tennis gear in the 80s to your Henri Lloyd sailing smock to jackets inspired by military design - it’s all functional design. Why do you think people are drawn to these items which are made for purpose?
I think it’s the quality - that thing of, ‘If these were good enough for the army, then they’ll be alright for me when I’m popping down to the shops.’ People want the quality, and I think they also like the fact that something has stood the test of time. I like things with a bit of a twist - whether that’s the colour or the fabric or something - and I think you get that with Nigel Cabourn or Massimo Osti. There’s a bit of personality to their designs - these extra little touches.
My mate refers to some of them as ‘trick jackets’ - things like Osti’s reflective stuff. I don’t know if he was using it in a complimentary way, but I thought he was. With these sorts of things, it’s almost like you’re not just getting a piece of clothing, you’re getting a toy. It goes beyond being just something you wear, it’s something you interact with - maybe it changes colour, or it’s got a lining that you put in with a rope, or it glows in the dark - I like that sort of thing. They’re not just garments, they’ve got more to them.
I’ve seen a lot of vintage Cabourn going around - and it’s like, “Wow”. And the thing with Cabourn is that you’re not going, “Well, the quality isn’t as good as it was back then.” The quality has been consistent throughout. I think it’s incomparable in terms of the quality - it really is. I’ve never met Nigel, but it seems like he’s very hands on still.
I’ve got the Liam Gallagher smock, and the quality of it is amazing. As is the Track Smock and Pit Hoody The same goes for the Pleated Chinos and Race Pant I’ve got. They just fit perfectly - trousers are always weird for me because I’m skinny - so it’s great to get some that fit right. I’ve got some pretty big, dramatic coats that need a dramatic pair of trousers like those to go with them - they wouldn’t work with just a normal pair of jeans.
It’s got to be carried through I suppose.
Yeah, you’ve got to have the thought-through outfit, without looking like you’ve thought it through too much… even though we all know you’ve been thinking about it all night.
How does your jacket obsession fit with you being on TV? Are there certain bits you think, “I couldn’t wear that on Soccer AM”?
No, absolutely not. If you’ve got an ostentatious jacket, I think TV is the place to wear it. If you can’t dress up on TV, then when can you? It’s funny, because I’ve started dressing up a lot more. I used to just wear jeans and trainers, but now I’m a bit more confident. And also, because we’re outside a lot for the show, I can wear a jacket. I always say, “Do you think I can wear this jacket inside?” And they’ll be like, “It’s May, John - it’s 25 degrees.”
I think people think with Soccer AM there’s a big wardrobe, and people are there dressing me, but I just get dressed in the morning. Usually what I do is I’ll think about what I’m going to wear on Thursday, and by the time it’s Saturday I’ll think, “Well actually, I don’t fancy that.” So I’ll have a big panic, and then get dressed and go on.
Haha - so TV isn’t the big showbiz experience people think it is?
Yeah, I’m sitting here now thinking how I’m going to make a fiver on an old Armani jacket. It’s all part of the fun. I’m looking for a belt at the moment—so that’s become my obsession for the day, until I find a cheap one and move onto the next thing.
It’s endless isn’t it? With some things people collect, there’s a set edition, but with old jackets or vintage trainers, no one really knows how many were made.
I think that’s the beauty of it, especially the early stuff. When these brands started up, they were using different fabrics or different buttons depending as to what was to hand. They weren’t mass producing items, so when you do get your hands on some of this stuff, it might be one of a few… or a one-off. I’ve got a Stone Island fleece from the 80s with these gold buttons. Someone got it from a shop in Italy, and it was maybe a staff-only one, or a prototype, and I’ve never seen one before. So you get these little stories.
As well as hunting down the jackets, you also spend a lot of time restoring them - finding the right buttons and things like that. Is that just a case of trying to get things exactly how they were?
Yeah, someone was telling me about an old jacket they had recently, but then they told me that they’d dyed it, and my heart sank. Because to me, after that, it’s not original, it’s not what it was. For me, it takes away from it.
The other day, I got a real bargain, but the zip was broken, and the buttons were missing. So I got it, and then got in touch with the company who made the original zips. And then I sourced some buttons. It was too big for me, so I was never actually going to wear it, but I still wanted to put it together. I love getting something in, washing it, pressing it and restoring it. The authenticity of it is important to me.
And it goes back to what you were doing in the 80s. There’s still that DIY hunter-gatherer attitude to it.
Yeah. I bought some trainers recently - a pair of Adidas Indoor from the 80s. They’re battered, and they don’t fit me, but I’m going to do them up. Even if I just get my money back on them, I’m just interested in getting them and having a look at them. It’s a nice little hobby - it’s not always about having something or wearing things, but it’s also about sharing it with other people, saying, “Have you seen these?”
It’s important to have a hobby like that too. People need things to occupy their mind.
Yeah, I think you need a bit of something. For me, it was always playing football. That was it - Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday up until I was 32. And then we started to have a family, and playing football became less important, and obviously work was very full on, so this has sort of become something I’m passionate about.
I think everyone’s got that thing in their life that gives them a little bit of excitement. I do have to check myself every now and again - certainly on social media - I’m on there a lot sometimes. I need to make sure it just remains a hobby and a nice thing for me to do. But saying that, we’re coming to the end of the season, so I’ll have more time - I want to do more with my Instagram page, Life Jacket.
I’d seen that. What’s the idea behind that?
At the moment, if you look on there, it’s just pictures. But we’re planning on doing some evenings in the Autumn, sitting down and doing ‘an audience with’. Sitting down with someone and talking about jackets, and clothes, and then naturally the conversation will go off on a tangent, maybe talking about football or music. I also want to touch on the mental health aspect, talking about that—as a lot of lads out there are struggling. My aim this summer is to get a couple of these events lined up, and then go from there.
Sounds great. We’ve covered quite a bit here now I suppose—have you got anything to wind this up with?
Erm… I don’t know. I did an interview about mental health recently, and they asked what advice I’d give to people, but I’m not really one for giving advice. What I would say is that you should just do what you do, because you love it - it’s not a competition. I’m not a collector or an expert, I’m just an enthusiast, and I think an enthusiast can have 100 jackets, or no jackets. It’s just about your love of the thing, whether it’s jackets or music or football or whatever.
That’s why I want to do those Life Jacket events. I want to sit down and ask, “Who was the person who started it for you - who was the kid on the estate you saw and went ‘woah’?” It’s that thing when you stop and go, “Wow.”
I remember I was with Kate, who’s now my wife, in Chester in 1990 - and I’m a massive Stone Roses fan - and she went, “Oh my god, it’s the Stone Roses.” They were coming through this little market area - Reni, John and Ian - and they just pinged out against the normality of what everyone else was wearing. I rushed over and did what any fan would do - waffled, got an autograph and nearly got run over by a car. They just stood out.
These people don’t even realise they have this effect. Your cousin who set you off being into clothes probably didn’t think anything of it.
That’s it. In his social scene, he was probably one of quite a few lads who were dressed like that. There’s nothing new under the sun, but it’s the way you take these influences and turn it into something different. It’s great, isn’t it?