Skinheads, anti-fascists and the Fred Perry connection
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Young French anti-fascist Clément Méric died following a fight with far-right skinheads outside a private Fred Perry sale – a clothing label that betrays the shared cultural roots of France’s far-right and anti-fascist movements.
A day after the young leftist militant Clément Méric died in a violent altercation with far-right skinheads, the street fashions popular with France’s extreme political movements have revealed a shared cultural heritage between diametrically-opposed ideologies.
The attack late on Wednesday took place outside a private clothing sale of the Fred Perry and Ben Sherman labels – traditional favourites of the skinhead subculture that are as popular in France with the far-right as they are among leftist anti-fascists.
Precise details of Wednesday night’s events are still unclear, although police and witness reports say that Méric and a number of his friends had a verbal altercation with far-right skinheads at the clothing sale.
As Méric left the sale, the skinheads, whom leftist groups claimed on Thursday were linked to the Paris-based neo-Nazi JNR (Young Revolutionary Nationalists), were waiting outside.
In the fracas, Méric was allegedly punched by an assailant who was wearing brass knuckles. He hit his head as he fell and died the following day.
In the wake of the tragedy, JNR leader and founder Serge Ayoub told reporters that any link between the attack and his organisation was “completely false”. He added that the fight was probably started by left-wing activists and that the skinheads allegedly responsible for Méric’s death were “only acting in self defence”.
The French anti-fascist movement, of which Méric was an adherent, has a long history dating back to the 1920s and 30s when they battled with right-wing groups such as the (still active) monarchist Action Française.
In the 1980s the so-called “Antifas” maintained their reputation for street violence and adopted a look that mirrored that of the skinheads – including bomber jackets, work boots and short hair – a fashion that came directly from a British subculture of which the Fred Perry label remains an enduring symbol.
Mods to skinheads
Fred Perry was a British tennis champion (Wimbledon winner from 1934 to 1936) who launched his label in the 1950s.
His shirts were an immediate success and Fred Perry became one of the first sportswear labels to make the crossover into mainstream fashion.
It was especially appealing to the teenage modernist movement, or “Mods”, which over time evolved into the then largely apolitical skinhead subculture.
By the 1980s, some skinheads began to align themselves with political movements on both the far-right and far-left, while the subculture and its various offshoots moved beyond British shores.
One constant was fashion – and British labels such as Fred Perry (now Japanese-owned) and Ben Sherman remain popular with the Mods and skinheads’ cultural and political descendants.
Filmaker Marc-Aurèle Vecchione, whose 2008 documentary “Antifas: Chasseurs de Skins” [Antifascists: Skinhead hunters] examined the culture and activities of France’s militant leftist movements, told left-leaning daily Libération on Friday there was nothing overtly surprising about a fight outside a clothes shop.
“France’s “Antifas” have adopted the skinhead look, they even shave their heads,” he said. “They wear the same bomber jackets, the same Dr Martens boots, they have the same cultural origins and they have they same taste for street fighting.”