Tonic back onto the fashion map
Digger talks to Stuart at the Ace Face Clothing
had been a Skinhead since 'back in the day.' Now a successful
thirty-something in the noughties, he was planning to get
married, so he decided he needed to do it in style with a Two-Tone Tonic suit - the sort he was wearing back in '79.
was the easy bit, deciding I mean. There simply wasn't any
Tonic available wherever Stuart looked. It was like gold dust.
So began a long search up and down the country for some Tonic
material. With a bit of divine inspiration and a lot of
determination, Stuart got his suit and at the same time
created the Ace Face Clothing Company into the bargain!
days Ace Face are the company of choice for Mods and
Skinheads, musicians such as Madness and The Specials and celebrities
such as Martin Freeman and Paolo Hewitt and, indeed, anyone
looking for a smart, eye-catching yet subtle alternative to an
ordinary run-of-the-mill suit.
iridescence of the Tonic suit makes
it stand out from the herd
by Ace Face founder Stuart Murray
people today think Tonic is the blending of two colours giving
an iridescent sheen. It's not, so you don't have a Tonic
shirt, or a Tonic tie. You haven't got a Tonic Harrington,
unless, of course, it's an Ace Face one. And you don't, or
didn't, wear Tonic Staprest, unless, of course, it's mohair
and wool, in which case it wouldn't be Staprest. And for those
of us with a fancy paint work on the car or scooter - IT AIN'T
was developed by a company called Dormeuil, a French textile
company who worked with a British mill (most likely John
Foster in Leeds) in about 1957. In 1958 or thereabouts
Dormeuil Trademarked the name TONIK. It was impossible to
Trademark the cloth as cloth in many different guises has been
around since man stopped being a hairy caveman (well some of
us at least). And who was to say something similar hadn't been
has always been a high-end textile company and most Mods and
the later Skinheads would not have been able to afford this
cloth. Britain at the time had a flourishing textile industry
and this cloth was copied unashamedly the length and breadth
of the country. (Hence the many different qualities of the
cloth the suits etc. were made from). Tonik was essentially a
3-ply mohair/wool mix, its contrasting effect caused by the
weave of the warp and the weft and the chemical shrinkage and
singeing of the cloth. And, contrary to popular belief,
Tonik/Tonic didn't have to be contrasting colours. Plain greys,
blacks, browns etc. are to be found to this day still. All the
products that were made by these other mills were called TONIC.
is an obvious play on the Dormeuil Trademark, but Dormeuil
haven't bothered about it. I think they were more interested
in the stars of the day - David Niven, Roger Moore, Michael
Caine etc. than a potless 16 year-old Mod from Plaistow.
The Tonic that was produced ranged from the very, very good,
as good if not better than Dormeuil, to the cheap and
nasty. Some were made of just wool, some were a wool Trevira mix (for those not in the know,
Trevira is like its cousin
Terylene another name for polyester). And some were pure
Polyester. The late sixties/early seventies saw the demise of
the tailored clothing era and Tonic had a few last gasps in
the very early seventies before dying off. Apart from a few
diehards the Mod/Skin movement had gone. 1977/78 saw a brief
reappearance of Skinheads in any real force, but it wasn't
really until Quadrophenia and the Two-Tone Ska revival of the
end of the seventies that saw Mods and Skinheads really back
in force. The new cloth was crap - too thin, too shiny, but if
you couldn't afford a tailor-made suit from a tailor who had a
bit of old Tonic in storage then the market stuff sufficed.
Today's stuff, thirty years on from the late seventies and
early eighties revival, bears little if any relation to the
original cloth of forty-odd years ago. And people call Tonic
anything with a slight sheen to it.
cloth at Ace Face is what we consider a very high-end cloth
that any fastidious sixties Mod would have been proud to wear.
from Ace Face London
Please tell us about your background and about your passion
for Mod and Skinhead fashion and music Stuart.
Stuart: From my earliest memories of being a kid at school
always tried to follow fashion. It wasn't every trend. I wasn't
ever into Jazz/Funk or anything like that. At junior school,
long hair and flairs were de rigueur. Patch pockets, high
waisters trouser in greens and blues, browns. Wedges and
platforms on shoes, f**k off collars and patterned shirts.
Later on, Doc Martens made a comeback. We were baby boot boys,
a hangover from the Skinheads, except those of us without big
brothers couldn't really remember the Skinheads. Though bigger
boys over the park giving us our first taste of cigarettes
would tell us stories of these mythical beasts of folk law and
Around 1976 Punk exploded on the scene. This coincided with
a RocknRoll revival that had been gaining momentum over the
previous couple of years. The battle lines were drawn. The talk
in the senior school playground that we had all just moved up
to was "Ere mate what are you a Punk or a Ted?" I never gave it
any thought. I had been brought up on rock 'n roll - my parents
blared it out at every opportunity. I, like everyone else of my
age group, had danced around with a tartan scarf singing Shang-A-Lang by
The Bay City Rollers. But when it came down to it,
rock 'n roll was here to stay (oh baby). We had the odd mock
fight with the Punks at school that turned into real ones, and
the Arra Teds were doing their best to make the area a Punk-free zone.
Quadrophenia was a landmark film of the
era - suddenly
kids wanted to be Mods. I class myself as on the Mod end of
the Skinhead spectrum nowadays. But at the time I wasn't sure
if I wanted to be a Rocker or a Mod. I wasn't ever a real Ted
but that was my mid-seventies aspirations when I grew up.
Suddenly, there was a mode of dress that appealed to me, Mod,
but also the big bikes and the noise. I was split, so at school both
lots got a clump. (lol - only joking). Then, the Two-Tone
explosion came about. Gangsters, the prince, Message To You
Rudy, One Step Beyond. The music was great, the clothes were
but the look was, dare I say tougher. I found my calling and
that was me from fourteen years of age till Twenty-One. It's also interesting
that violence broke out between the Mods and Skinheads at the
time leading to divisions and mistrust till this very day in
some instances. Remember, the Mods gradually evolved into the
Skinheads and until the press called Skinheads that name they thought of themselves as
Mods. Ten years later, take two
groups of kids. Call one lot Mods and the other lot Skinheads,
stick them in a room with lots of booze and not
enough women. Well, what do you think is going to happen? lol.
With Ace Face I realised the passion was still just below the
surface. My mob were like any other Skinhead mob of the time
except we were aspirational. We went back to its roots, most of
us were in shit jobs, lucky to have one. This was the time of
Maggie's millions, UB40s, 1 in 10 - signifying that 1 in 10 people
were unemployed. We worked hard and, dare I say it, we were
bloody good thieves. We were driving nice cars. My mate and
fellow Ace Face director Gary, had a 4.2 cream Daimler coupe
about 3 years old, I had a triumph 2.5pi and so did another one of
us. 2.8 Granadas and other nice motors made sure we never got
more that 50 yards without police interest. lol.
But the main
thing was our clobber. Jack Geach, a Mod tailor in the 60s then
later a Teddy Boy tailor in the 70s, made our clothes. Handmade
Tonik or Tonic (lol) suits. Real Crombie overcoats, material from
Crombie sent down with the label. We wore the best brogues and
did our best to look and act the part. Of course, daytime was
still Levis and Doc Martens, but as we got older the nice
clobber was becoming the norm. Poor old Jack - he is dead now.
girls, Ted and Mods
And what about the background to Ace Face Clothing Stuart?
Stuart: Ace Face came about as an accident. I'm an estate
agent. Yes, that's right, a f**king estate agent as
most people say. About eight years ago I was chatting with
Marc, a fellah I grew up with from about thirteen or fourteen
years of age. We
started chatting about the old clobber and Tonic suits. Marc
is a Savile Row tailor. I then decided I wanted Marc to make me
one. We searched high and low for the cloth to no avail. I
gave up the quest until my marriage was imminent. I went
to Marc, who becoming increasingly irritated by my constant
hounding. He suggested that seeing that no tailors or textile
companies had any, perhaps a mill might have a scrap or two
left. I wanted to get married in a Two-Tone mohair tonic suit
and where there is a will there is a way. A tailor in
Richmond, Surrey came up trumps and I was so excited I nearly
widdled myself. He got 3.5 metres of cloth in (enough for most
gentlemen's suits). It was beautiful. I asked him to keep it for
me until I had lost a stone or two in weight. Two stone duly
lost, I popped into the tailors to get measured, the cloth was
opened and to our horror the cloth had a UV light bleach mark
right the way through it. The tailor rang up his source and
was told that was it. "No more, it's gone, the last
ever." I was
After my Tonic-less wedding, I resumed the search and Marc and
I popped "Oop north" to a mill. The chap we met was very nice and
after a guided tour declared that he wasn't sure what we were
talking about but he would give us access to the archive room.
It was in a huge late Georgian/early Victorian (that' the
coming out in me!) attic of this huge mill. There were vaulted
glass skylights for light and air. We were told to expect no
order, that cloth from 1880 could be cheek-by-jowl to a piece
from 1990. Four hours later we had given up. I leant on a
cloth and swore at Marc stating that I had given up. Just then,
a cloud moved away from the sun and a ray of light hit the
cloth I was leaning on. I couldn't have made this up, it was a
form of Tonic. Single-ply wool/mohair blend, meaning it had a Trevira
content. But at least we had a starting point. By that
time I couldn't have cared less if it had been made from jelly
The mill owner seemed very excited as well. We discussed what
colour I wanted and he suggested that he made a sample blanket
incorporating the colour I wanted but with hundreds of
variations and different colours. Three months later, we went
back and we were delighted. More colours than I thought
possible were on the sample. I pointed out the colour I wanted
and promptly ordered 3.5 metres. His expression didn't change.
I thought as he had worked hard I'd order another 3.5
metres of another colour and Marc chipped in with 3.5 metres for
himself. I cant repeat the words that came out of his mouth,
a troop of Tourettes sufferers couldn't have bested him. It
was then he realised we wanted a suit length and we realised
he thought we were 'Charlie big potatoes' ordering ship loads.
After being told to go forth and multiply, Marc and I rang
Gary our third partner. We chucked in quite a few grand each and
Ace Face was born.
You offer suits 'to suit different pockets' as it were. What
are your most popular lines?
All our suits are made with 3-ply mohair/wool premium Tonic.
our opinion the best available. The main difference is on the
bespoke - you get a floating chest canvass. Not fusing. It's a
technical thing but anyone that knows tailoring will know. The
suits that start at £800 have floating canvass jackets and are
styled and lined to a customers liking. The customer is
measured, then has a mid fitting.
The £497 suit is a generic,3-button,
4-button cuff. No choice of styling, albeit will be
generic Mod/Skin style with ticket pocket etc. Covered buttons
or horn are extra, the lining is standard. The customer sends in
own measurements and if it needs alterations the customer gets
it done themselves. Having said that, unless they have Ray
Charles or Stevie Wonder measuring, them it should be near
enough to alter. Both are going strong. If anything, I would
people go for the full service.
We also do handmade shirts and top quality mohair/wool Tonic
Tonic suit can be made in any number
of colour combinations and styles
Can you please tell us more about your suits and what options
people can have?
Stuart: What more can I tell you about our suits that I
haven't said already? If someone has a favourite suit that fits
them, we can copy it. Styling is down to the individual on the
more expensive suit. There are tailors that profess to be
on the Mod Skin style. In my experience styling and fads
differed from as little as different postcodes in the same
area. And, lets face it, we ain't fifteen anymore. A bum freezer with a
four-button high break skinny collar won't cut the mustard on a
seventeen stone 46 year-old that likes a pint or ten. lol. Neither
will skinny leg drainpipes.
I remember wearing my first tonic suit in the seventies. Why
is Retro and Mod so enduring?
Mod is quintessentially English. It may have Italian styling
but it's as English as red pillar boxes and John Steed. It's also
evocative - it brings back memories of a bygone time when
teenagers were just maturing. They had pulled out of the naivety
of the rock 'n roll era but weren't as old before their
time as the crack- taking, style-less work-shy kids of today.
Fifties America was a time of optimism, big-finned cars and flash
clothing and music. The sixties was Britain's time.
Not all kids of today fit the above description but a large
- regular customers at Ace Face
Specials - regular customers at Ace Face
What is it that makes Ace Face Clothing special?
I do, so does my wife, so does Gary. We are passionate. You can get on the phone and speak to me
about what suit/shirt etc. you want. You will, in all probability,
meet me (maybe not so good. lol) What I'm saying is it's a hobby/business.
We like the people, we like the scene, we understand
the scene. We offer a service that few, if any, can or are
prepared to do.
What gives you most pleasure about what you are doing?
Stuart: It's when a big guy can't get a suit to fit him, or in the case
of one of our customers, gets called fat by a so-called Mod
tailor that only wants to do skinny kids. We can make him a
suit. It's the look of pleasure that we get from a customer that
has been searching for years for that suit in the material he
remembered from yesteryear. But he has been making do with
a cheap imitation. Then they find us. It's meeting friends, old
and new and having a beer with them. It's me being allowed to
indulge in the style I love. Allsorts really.
Freeman with Stuart
Hall of The Specials with Stuart
What sort of feedback do you get from customers, where are
they coming from and how key is The Internet to your business?
Stuart: The feedback we get is good. I can't make someone a bad
suit/shirt/trousers/Harrington. Because if I did and let's face
it we all balls up from time to time, I will make it again,
until the customer is happy. The Internet
is fantastic for Retro Sellers. Before, it was word of mouth and
cliquey, now someone can be sitting at home and think I wonder
whatever? A few clicks of a keyboard and that wonder turns into
Digger: What plans have you for the future of Ace Face
To let it grow organically, I suppose. I don't honestly know.
enjoying myself too much.
Freeman wearing an Ace Face Harrington
Tonic - the retro look
that stands the test of time
Tonic back onto the fashion map
If you've always
wanted a tonic suit, then you've come to the right
place. Originally worn by 60's Mods, tonic made a
revival during the late 70s when bands such as The Beat
and The Specials burst on to the scene with Ska.
For those of a 'certain age', who can forget the
excitement of heading to Carnaby Street to get your
first tonic suit? The contrasting colours &
shimmer of tonic made the wearer stand out from the
crowd; it was smart and individual. Ace Face is
now giving tonic the renaissance it deserves.
Whilst so called 'tonic' is out there, we've checked out
the competition and it just isn't what we at Ace Face
call the real deal. Our tonic is 100% authentic and 100%
made in Britain.
We offer a range in a wonderfully luxurious pure mohair
and wool 3-ply cloth. None of our 3-ply cloths have any
man made materials in their composition.
We also make suits in other cloths such as Prince of
Wales, dog tooth and so on, so if you want a different
suit cloth, we can make one for you.
Got a question or
comment? Telephone 01342 835447
Lowlands Farm house,