A banner reading “1966” hangs above DJ Rena Durrant and her turntables at Club Satisfaction in Hollywood. On the dance floor, doe-eyed girls in polyester A-line dresses and bobbed hair shimmy and shake alongside boys in three-button suits and Beatle boots. A ’60s R&B tune fills the room.
A film shoot for an “Austin Powers” prequel? Is “American Dreams” returning to prime-time?
Not on your nelly, mate. This is reality for Durrant and a growing international community of party-going hipsters who are grooving to the Mod scene some 40 years after it zoomed out of London’s postwar streets with Italian scooters, colorful styles, soulful music and its own lingo.
Actually, the Mod scene is in its fourth or fifth wave — historians of pop culture disagree on which — and now encompasses subgroups and Internet cliques from Tokyo to Paris.
Like many of today’s Mods, Durrant, 23, wasn’t even born during the ’60s. But her interpretation of the movement reflects back to that time.
“There’s the age-old definition of Mod as ‘clean living under difficult circumstances,’ which was what the original Mod movement in the ’60s was all about,” she says.
Capturing the look
Like before, Mods love minimalist design, sharply tailored clothes, and living and partying well as they maintain a smartly fashionable image in a world of upheaval.
An ambitious law student by day and a club DJ by night, Durrant wears dresses with Peter Pan collars and coordinates her purses perfectly with her go-go boots or flats. Her long, black hair bouffants in the back. When she goes out, fake eyelashes rim her eyes.
“The attention to detail is the biggest thing for me,” Durrant says.
Though she normally downplays her Modness at school or on the job with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, it still peeks out. Last summer, “when I was working in the sex crimes unit, I could wear a pink plaid suit if I wanted to and my boss one day commented, ‘Rena, you look so Mod.”’
Even the home Durrant shares with her British-born husband and fellow scenester, Glen Durrant, 34, is a tribute to retro design — from the blue sectional living-room couch to an OpArt lamp hanging over the kitchen table.
The two met in England at a Mod event when Rena was 19.
But while Rena jumped into the scene as a 16-year-old in L.A. — discovering vintage fashion and music in various clubs — Glen grew up with it in England, inspired by his Mod parents. He even wears a coat his father bought at 18.
“It was a throwaway generation,” Glen says, referring to his father’s era. “They didn’t actually hold the things they collected in high regard. It’s us that are desperate for these small pieces of vinyl, these records, that we’ll pay hundreds of dollars for.”
This obsession with the past, circumscribed within a Modernist regard for futurist aesthetics, has spurred on generations of Mods.
Rejecting the ‘rockers’In the early to mid-’60s, scenesters rebelled against drabness in all forms, opting for clean and sophisticated European looks reminiscent of the roaring ’20s versus sedate post-World War II duds. They also rejected the 1950s’ greasy hair-and-motorcycles “rockers” culture.
Mod girls chopped their hair short and designer Mary Quant founded the A-line “mini skirt.” Boys adopted longer hair and sleek, dandified suits, and rode around on tricked-out Vespa and Lambretta scooters. Bands mimicked black American R&B artists such as Ray Charles and Bobby Bland, and took on similar high-energy dance forms.
In the late ’70s, Mods reappeared with a New Wave makeover made popular by suited-up band The Jam. The 1979 cult film “Quadrophenia” furthered the revival, with its romanticized portrayal of clubs packed with cavorting, pill-popping Mods wearing World War II parkas.
“It’s a cool, silly flick, I never actually saw the movie until years after I was into the scene. It never really influenced me,” says internationally renowned DJ Tony the Tyger, 42, a regular at San Diego’s Hipsters club and L.A.’s Club Au Go-Go, and a co-founder of Club Satisfaction.
In the early- to mid-’90s, coifed Brit-pop groups such as Blur and Suede reinstated an updated version of the scene.
Recently, popular culture has jumped on the Mod train, from Marc Jacobs’ geometric designs to White Stripes’ soul-driven garage rock clothed in red and white. Sixties Mod icon Twiggy — whose boyish figure, pixie haircut and teenage pout inspired legions of fans — is now a judge on television show “America’s Next Top Model.”
“The Mod scene has an upbeat tempo about it. It gives people a sense of forward motion while having roots in the past, a simpler time,” says sociologist and “Teenage Wasteland” author Donna Gaines.
“It has a distinctive look for people who are aspiring, upwardly mobile, but still want to be hip.”
Connecting with the Mod sceneWith the Internet, today’s Mods can research and explore Mod revival scenes all over the world — from which shops have the best clothes and records, to clubs and scooters.
New York resident Layla Lozano, 29, who works in college administration and co-founded ’60s monthly-party clubs Smashed! Blocked! and Debutante Ball, says she started wearing Mod-type clothes — black turtlenecks, black skirts — in her native Texas back in 1988. Years later, after college, exposure to Mod Web sites such as Swedish site uppers.org led her to exploring shindigs in other cities: “allnighters” (all-night parties) in London or “weekenders” (weekend-long parties) in Chicago and Madrid.
In today’s Mod clubs, DJs come armed with an arsenal of authentic ’60s records. Bands like the Mojo Filters and Headquarters perform. Girls and guys dress to the nines to dance, drink and schmooze.
“Before, those parties seemed like a whole other world away, but I wasn’t online eight hours a day back then,” Lozano says. “I think people want an excuse to travel. For one weekend, they’re surrounded by new faces.”
Lozano herself models her look on a French ’60s style — what she calls “gamine,” but “not too mature looking” — short skirts, primary colors, pigtails, lots of makeup.
“New York is a really international city, so our crowd is very international. Half our scene is made up of people who are foreign: Brazilians, Spanish people, Japanese girls, ex-pats from England. I haven’t really seen that anywhere else in the U.S.”
Next year, from Feb. 2-4, more than a dozen international DJs and hundreds of Mods will gather in New York for Reaction, a huge weekender Lozano co-organized that will feature a record and clothing swap.
Mod snobsAmid the fun, however, both Rena Durrant and Lozano point out that some people take “the scene” too seriously. Women, especially, are subjected to a critical gaze based on their clothes, hair and makeup, regardless of place.
“If you’re going to call yourself a Mod, there’s an element of being picky, of taking care of your appearance. Some people do take it to a snob level, and maybe look down on people who aren’t ‘cutting it’ to their standard,” Lozano says.
As for Quadrophenia’s drug-addled portrayal of Mods, Glen Durrant says it wasn’t an accurate representation of the time, though today’s generation “still engages in that.”
“But I don’t think Mod is synonymous with drug culture. We’re not talking about rave culture, even though there are a lot of similarities,” he says.
If anything, Durrant says the Mod scene’s best quality is its pure joy in having a good time, a shared aesthetic.
“It’s all about taking yourself beyond that level of perfection. I’ll quite happily go out and buy a suit for an occasion, and then I’ll sweat all over it. It’s kind of super-real, knowing people get that down.”