Tucked away just off the seafront in Margate Old Town is a little green shop that feels like it should be there. It stocks vintage clothing, mostly menswear, reflecting the unfussy taste and appreciation for quality of the owners. I don’t enjoy shopping, but Matt Dawson’s gentle manner and honest appraisal makes a visit to Breuer & Dawson a pleasure. He and business partner, Paul Breuer, have worked together for 10 years, mostly in London’s markets, before opening up on the coast.
The strong sense of personality and taste in the shop evolved naturally; their business model is not calculated. As Dawson says, ‘We don’t pander to contemporary trends’. Instead their business is based on the idea that, ‘people buy stuff or they don’t.’ It’s not about fashion, it’s about a genuine appreciation of style. Their sincerity is reassuring, they have integrity. Their intuitive approach is an antidote to marketing cynicism.
My walk is an unspectacular journey, just a hilly half-circuit of Wetwang, the Yorkshire Wolds village where I grew up, and which is always hard to write about because of its ridiculous name. Up the green lane to the south, right down another lane that is hedged and canopied by elder, hawthorne and sycamore trees, right again and then across a stubble field at the bottom of steep-sided chalk valley. Right again at the little dewpond, and back towards home. I could write a pseudo-lyrical paragraph here about the way the Wolds fall down into the coastal plain,
so that on fine nights you can see the lighthouse at Flamborough Head, or others about the wild orchids in the uncultivatably steep valley sides, or the smoky, melancholy light in December. It’s not the ready beauty of the scenery that gives me the feeling of interested quietude as I walk, though. If anything, this sort of a walk involves appreciating the commonplace; I like a good view as much as the next rambler, but I also like, say, just standing to look at and listen to a plain hedgerow, with its trillions of tiny movements, and its birds twitching about inside, and its twigs and leaves troubling the wind. (I do like hedges, I have to say. My favourite piece in Hockney’s Bigger Picture exhibition, which features mostly pictures of the Yorkshire Wolds, was the room-size collection of video screens depicting a hedgerow in the full green flush of spring, using the close up and scale to make you realise that it was a multifarious living thing. Not so pretty as the painting, but interesting.)
We meet up to make some portraits in a well-preserved 1960s café, the glass corner affording spectacular people-watching. We are not disappointed. A woman in four different types of body-hugging camouflage with a red-and-white polka-dot handbag halts our conversation. ‘That’s beautiful.’
Not long after, a very tall, hirsute old man in an ankle-length fur coat, Cossack hat and cowboy boots catches our attention. This continues. Margate has idiosyncratic streetstyle. That kookiness appeals to the Breuer & Dawson world view. They fit in here. Their own style is hard to pin down; not decade-specific, but ‘old-fashioned’ without a sense of nostalgia. Timeless perhaps? Dapper without being theatrical? Both cite popular music (they both play guitar) as the basis for their love of clothing. Conversation meanders from the pros and cons of gentrification and Pennie Smith’s mighty The Clash: Before and After
to the idea of the shopkeeper as social worker.
Afterwards we wander back to the shop and newly arranged in the window is an old Mexican blanket. I’ve wanted one of these for years but they’ve always been too pricey for me at the Rosebowl in LA. The colours are exquisite – subtle gradients without the fluros you see in the more modern ones. I buy it and solve a problem: they’d both wanted it and now won’t have to figure out who’ll take it home. I ask them about their favourite finds. ‘It’s always changing.’ Beaming, they pull out a pair of 1930s sporting blazers with matching caps in incredible condition. The latest find. I can’t remember the last time I was with a shopkeeper who was so genuinely excited about the wares.
Breuer & Dawson,
7 King Street,
Photograph and words Jason Evans