New York may still have some of the worst-dressed businessmen in the world — a hot mess of beige nylon and square-toed shoes to a man — but it also has the most stylish dressers on the planet too: the men who pay as much attention to grooming as their wives or partners, who wear boldly fitted tailoring with a dandy attitude and strut between appointments clutching slick black leather portfolio cases. They find trends ridiculous, but they know about, and understand, style.
The latest movement might all have started with Tom Ford. When he opened his first own-name flagship store on Madison Avenue in 2007, it was in the guise of a classic gentlemen’s outfitters — a space with private fitting rooms, club chairs and glass drawers full of hand-finished pocket squares and silk ties. After season upon season of men’s style being defined by impossibly skinny tailoring and a soundtrack of Berlin techno, staid was in.
Several years on, and the gentlemen’s outfitter has made its way downtown — a young generation of stylists and tailors have come together to service a growing demand for home-grown made-to-measure and even true bespoke suiting, alongside shirts, shoes and myriad accessories. It’s all being done with a New York flair. And by retailers and tailors who mean business.
‘We have more bespoke work than we can handle,’ says Kent Kilroe, managing director of Freemans, where clients enter an upstairs outfitters and tailor’s workshop through a secret door, hidden behind a bookshelf, at the end of a corridor above a restaurant. This is the Lower East Side, where the obsession with the trappings of the speakeasy adds novelty to the business of selling $5,000 suits as well as $13 cocktails.
Once you’re through ‘the door’ at Freemans, all is as you’d expect from a legitimate gents’ outfitter — there are tomes of fabric swatches and a Chesterfield on which to peruse them. The milieu is smart but intentionally less pristine than on Jermyn Street. ‘There are no white gloves here,’ says Kent. ‘We keep it purposely “normal”. And we want the customer to see the actual people who are working on their suit.’
They can, too. The space is divided between outfitter and atelier, where Enrique Vejande, a Cuban master tailor with four decades of cutting cloth under his belt, works on what Kent calls ‘an updated continental style of suit, but very American too.Rarely with slanted pockets, more Neapolitan — a little waisted, with a soft shoulder.’
The bespoke offering at Freemans is in the top tier of outfitters in the city, and their focus is squarely on tailoring. The Armoury — a new TriBeCa offshoot of the Hong Kong brand — offers a superlative quality of suit via visiting bespoke and made-to-measure tailors from Italy and Japan. But it also has an exhaustive range of nearly finished off-the-peg garments (requiring tweaks for cuffs etc), luggage, casual wear and shoes (including bespoke) by Carmina, Saint Crispin’s and Koji Suzuki.
The Armoury is no arriviste — the team in Hong Kong realised they were shipping such a great deal of their stock to the States that it made perfect sense to open up shop in New York. And, like most of the New York outfitters, they create the kind of product they want themselves. On a set of shelves sits a best-selling ‘Porter x the Armoury’ black nylon travel bag. The Armoury continually works with the best brands on exclusive products. And the team wear them and carry them all themselves. They are their own customers as well as poster boys.
Similarly, Brooklyn Tailors, based in Williamsburg, has expanded into wholesale, selling its fully canvased suits through Barneys, as well as becoming something of a cult product in Japan.
‘I started this business out of frustration,’ says Brooklyn Tailors’ Daniel Lewis. ‘I wanted a suit but couldn’t find what I wanted in terms of the balance of taste, quality and price.’ Lewis co-runs the business with his wife, Brenna, and while their price points are relatively low for true bespoke (from $1,420, with made-to-measure from $1,170), the quality — including fully canvased jackets — is remarkable.
The customers who come to buy their suits mix Joseph Cheaney shoes with bright or patterned button-downs. It’s a very American look — a little preppy, perhaps, but sharper than the norm. It has an urban insouciance. You can see the same DNA in the work of Thom Browne, who mixes sporty, low-fi oxford button-down shirts with his meticulously constructed quirky grey suits.
The new wave of gents’ outfitters in Manhattan and Brooklyn are enjoying huge success. ‘There’s a generation of young professional guys in New York who are less focused on trend than they are on well-crafted clothes with a story in the lining,’ says Julie Ragolia, fashion director at the Manhattan-based men’s fashion magazine Man of the World.
At Against Nature, there is gothic-tinged jewellery by Ryan Matthew and bespoke denim by Simon Jacobs that brings new levels of meaning to that diabolically amorphous term ‘smart casual’. It’s a catholic, hip, distinctly New York mix, and the otherwise anachronistic look of the classic outfitter is very much in tune with what the customer is looking for.
It sits far outside the trappings of big brand and fast fashion marketed via multi-storey billboards looming over Houston Street. It’s reassuring, solid and exclusive.
The touchstone might be the vintage Mayfair outfitter, but the downtown upstarts are doing things their own way. ‘Four of us physically built this shop, with a group of our friends helping out,’ says Amber Doyle. ‘We were all inspired by the Victorian era, Edwardian dress and early Americana.’
Doyle and her friends installed stuffed white peacocks alongside the de rigueur brown leather Chesterfield, but a lot of what looks like art direction is authentic New York history. This is one of the oldest parts of the city, and the ornate ceiling that resembles the painted punched-tin panelling that every filament-bulb-lit bar and dining room has is the real deal.
There’s another lovely visual flourish over at the Armoury — peek under the rug at the front door and you’ll find an ornate sewerage manhole cover. The building that now houses the Armoury was built around it. It was here first. It’s going nowhere.
‘We have clients from their twenties to their sixties and above, from all different backgrounds and jobs: musicians, artists and businessmen,’ says Doyle. This season’s ready-to-wear suits are inspired by Mick Jagger circa Bianca — all 1970s rounded-out, peaked lapels that ‘look aggressive on the hanger but are very wearable when you try them on’. Then there’s the ‘Swordsman’s Cuff’, a trademark motif on all the jacket sleeves — an elegant, curved, turnback cut.
Thirty years ago, Amber and her team may well have been creating kooky fashions along the lines of Patricia Field or Stephen Sprouse at their most outré, but the outfitters is where the fashion Zeitgeist is today. ‘We have lavender silk and linen suits for one kind of customer, but we also have our classic grey three-piece suit,’ she says. Beige nylon be gone!
(BIG) APPLE STORES
159 Chrystie Street
168 Duane Street
358 Grand Street, Brooklyn
Freemans Sporting Club
8 Rivington Street