The M65 has permeated popular culture since its appearance in Taxi Driver and countless other Vietnam epics. It is, without question, the archetypal field jacket, masterfully designed and very well built. The modular military jacket is a menswear icon and still one of the best bang-for-buck jackets available today. If you can find the real deal, that is. With the history of this purposeful and storied jacket in mind, we set off to explore another icon of utilitarian design - Sheffield's Park Hill estate.
On a hill in an industrial city in the north of England, one of the most famous builings of the brutalist school lies three-quarters derelict, fenced off and badly in need of regeneration. Looming over Sheffield, the shell of the once great Park Hill estate remains both a foreboding yet comforting sight for many. Its brutal edifice rises up out of the hill side while it's shadow stretches into the valley below. Having stood firm above the city's train station for over 50 years, it's so recognisable they don't even need a Welcome to Sheffield sign.
The 13 story high-rise estate was designed by architects Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith under the supervision of John Lewis Womersley, Sheffield Council’s City Architect. Once of the most innovative and recognisable brutalist schemes, the estate was based around a revolutionary street deck access plan inspired by Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation and the Smithsons' unbuilt schemes. The site is composed of four blocks connected by bridges and walkways. The estate's unique design promoted strong community cohesion and social diversity and many people lived out most of their lives happily there until it was cleared for redevelopment.
Despite being Europe's largest listed building many believe it should have been demolished when similar buildings were torn down in the 1990s. Renovation work is currently underway to transform Park Hill into a modern apartment complex. After numerous set backs and delays the first phase of the project is now complete; yet three of the four blocks remain derelict - faded giants standing lonely hostage to time and decay.
We had wanted to explore what remains of Park Hill for a long time. The conversion and redevelopment of first block had been a bold effort to repurpose the framework to rebuild a community - stylish residential and commercial properties combine to breathe life back into the faded giant. Shooting the M65 jacket, a perennially repurposed garment, among the ruins and renovations of Park Hill just felt right. Initially a utilitarian piece developed to be worn by American troops in Vietnam, the M65 has since become as a staple jacket for civilians the world over and, like many well designed things, has become a revered style piece.
The M65 was specifically developed for troops in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam where the additional liner and roll up hood was perfect for keeping soldiers warm and dry in the cool weather conditions that followed monsoon rains. In the years after the war, as surplus equipment flooded back to the US, the M65 became a staple of the American wardrobe - soldiers and civilians alike now turned to the venerable field jacket for protection from the elements. As the M65 began to appear in movies like Taxi Driver and Rambo, it earned cult status amongst fans and collectors and its popularity surged again. Its the jacket that spawned a thousand imitations from almost every brand, from Gap to Gucci. The Olive Drab M65 hasn't been issued by any major military for decades, advancements in fabric technologies have pushed the jacket out of general service and its ubiquity is started to fade again.
Like most military kit, the original M65 is rugged and handsome. The four pocket front designed to ensure your essentials (smoke grenades, field dressings, Marlboro reds, iPhone etc ) are easily accessible and secure. My particular example is dated 1987 so its the same age me; it's a little bit beaten, broken-in, faded and well-worn around the edges (again, the same as me) but like all good things the patina just adds to the charm. Styling the M65 calls for some heavy duty denim and classic boots so I reverted to type with the Hiut Selvedge SkinRs and Red Wing 875s.
Despite its condition I still feel like Park Hill has got more to give and I'm excited to see how the redevelopment progresses. As for the M65, this is just the beginning of our journey - its the perfect partner for exploring places like Park Hill and I'm sure it'll be put to good use this coming autumn.
If you're in Sheffield, Park Hill is worth a visit but it's worth noting that most of it is 'off limits' due to the redevelopment works. The video below by English Heritage gives a great insight into the history and regeneration of the estate so is well worth a watch.
- Keep listening,
Jacket: Vintage M65 by Alpha Industries (1987)
Jeans: Hiut Denim SkinRs
Boots: Red Wing 875