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Dressing to the Nines

Despite the Malling of the Local Haberdasher, High-Quality Men's Specialty Shops Still Thrive
| By G. Bruce Boyer | From Matt Dillon, Spring 96

There was a time when every town of respectable size and culture had a reputable haberdasher, tailor and possibly a campus shop. Today, they've been largely replaced by the endlessly vast and interchangeable malls, with their endless and identical Gaps selling their endless duplication of shapeless jogging gear. Ironic really, since you've probably noticed that a lot of athletic clothes actually make some people appear even less athletic than they would in almost any other garb. But let that pass.

The old stores have become in turn pizza parlors, jeans joints and video rental shops. Even the veritable firm of Brooks Brothers, our oldest and most American of men's stores, has, in the saddest story of clothing retailing in the twentieth century, lost its way rather badly, and taken the road most traveled by. If Mary McCarthy were writing about the man in the Brooks Brothers suit today, he'd be the disk-driven equivalent of Muzak.

So, where does one go for a spirited sartorial excursion? Well, the men's specialty store is alive and well, albeit in fewer quarters. "We're really in the midst of a major sociological change," the distingué San Francisco retailer Wilkes Bashford is quick to explain. "Many people are turning away from the cities in favor of rural communities. I've noticed that our rural environs are having a higher and more active cultural life than ever before. And more and more people find they don't have to come to town as often, which means that we have to go to them. We've opened three quality-oriented stores in more rural areas of northern California, stores that have a relaxed urban style combined with a rather sophisticated country sensibility." This is the trend.

Wilkes Bashford is just one of a number of retailers around the country where one can find a good selection of quality brands and private labels, a sense of individual style, the service and integrity of knowledgeable salesmen, and expert tailoring. Places where you can invest wisely and tastefully in clothing. Not many, mind you, but enough. The kind of places where a man can still dress to the nines, and occasionally the tens and elevens, if the need should arise.

To look at it from another perspective, the selection of off-the-rack clothes has never been more varied or tasteful. Nor, need we say, expensive. Every season, it seems, the price of manufacturing increases with the prices of material and labor, and retailers are faced with the dilemma of either raising their prices or cutting their quality. Many, it's no great secret, do both. But fine stores--such as those listed below--never cut quality. And so, prices will continue to escalate. In the stores on our list, suits are priced upwards from $900 and shirts from $75, to give you a rough idea. Half of the stores on our list are in Manhattan, always and still the capital of fashion in the United States. But Boston, Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco can still be counted on to provide elegant assemblage.

In alphabetical order, our choices:

The Andover Shop
127 Main Street, Andover, Massachusetts 01810

Outfitters to students of the Brooks School, Phillips Andover Academy and preppies everywhere, The Andover Shop is the prototypical Eastern Establishment men's store. One of the few remaining authentic examples of the "campus shop," a unique American genre in clothing, The Andover Shop represents conservative, tweedy tailoring at its best. Natural-shouldered, two- and three-button single-breasted coats with center vents are the rule here, all in the most traditional woolens, from heavyweight handwoven Harris Tweed to English tropical worsteds. Accompanied by the proper accoutrements: barber-striped button-downs, London-made silk rep and club neckwear, handwoven Shetland tweed jackets, corduroy patchwork waistcoats, ribbon cinch ring belts, English cricket caps and everything else to warm the ivy-covered cockles. Excellent service, personal and friendly.

Barneys New York
660 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10022

When Barneys opened its uptown store a few years ago, it brought with it three generations of retail savvy (current Chapter 11 difficulties notwithstanding). Superlatives tend to multiply when talking about Barneys. It's not that this is merely the largest clothing store in the United States, but rather it offers the most of the best in menswear: Brioni; Oxxford; Kiton; Garrick Anderson; Kilgour, French & Stanbury; Nick Hilton; Luciano Barbera; Tanner Kroll luggage; the best stock of cologne anywhere; footwear from France, England, Italy and the United States; the most extensive selection of fine silk neckwear, including woven beauties from Charles Hill of London; and exclusive dress shirts by Piatelli and Kilgour, French & Stanbury. Not to mention the designer collections of Armani, Donna Karan, Dolce & Gabbana, Calvin Klein, Issey Miyake and anyone else worth considering.

Bergdorf Goodman Men
745 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10022

A simply beautiful store--neoclassical on the first and second floors with marbled rotunda; sleek and contemporary on the third floor with its lacquered and glass boutiques. Bergdorf Goodman offers the highest quality selections and personal attention: shirts and ties by Charvet, Turnbull & Asser and Ike Behar; very stylish collections of classic Italian-tailored clothing by Antonio Fusco, Mariano Rubinacci, Luciano Barbera and Kiton; the Oxxford collection of superb American-made suits and sports jackets; private-label suits and sports jackets exquisitely custom-tailored by Domenico Spano; sportswear by Joseph Abboud; cashmere sweaters from Gucci; the complete line of Penhaligon toiletries; and exclusive treasures like English luggage, hats and braces. Not to mention a wonderfully appointed small restaurant tucked away on the third floor, which offers perfect lunches and a quiet respite.

Bijan Designer For Men
699 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10022

It is doubtful there is a more expensive men's store in the world. Suits at this writing were priced from $3,950 to $6,000 ($7,500 for a three-piece in English worsted cashmere). "Well," says general manager Alan Katzman, "our customers are accustomed to the best." Indeed, Bijan's international clientele includes not a few heads of state and other celebrities who are very touchy about their image. The ambiance here is California-Mediterranean: all mushroom-toned carpeting and beige-and-white walls, huge antique pots of lush green plants, white-and-gold provincial clothes cabinets, with the occasional large bronze statue and oversized cream suede side chair. And impeccable personal service, like tailoring done in an hour if necessary. Tailoring is classic Italian, handcrafted using the most luxurious fabrics to be had: suits and sports jackets in Donegal-styled cashmere tweed, buttery soft gabardines, crisp but airy linens and Super 150s tropical worsteds, as well as nifty little items like silk trench coats, hand-sewn crocodile slip-ons and featherweight shearling coats.

57 East 57th Street, New York, New York 10022

Often credited with creating the best in modern men's fashion--superbly designed ready-to-wear garments with all the luxury and handwork of custom-made clothing--Brioni is celebrating its 50th anniversary with this new store in Manhattan. Its blond art moderne display cases and shelves are a veritable cornucopia of delectable tailoring and haberdashery. The world's finest cashmere plays a considerable part here: heathery argyle hosiery and crewneck sweaters ($125 and $1,200, respectively), a deftly lightweight cashmere riding coat with bright paisley lining (also done in buttery suede or superfine cotton) and the most luxurious cashmere polo-collared sweater shirt in soft pastels. Business shirts in the finest Italian cottons (priced from $300) are available in a tasteful variety of collar styles. Suits and sport jackets in classic trim silhouette in Super worsteds, featherweight flannels, linen and silk-wool blends are priced from $2,500 (particularly attractive are a range of beautiful cashmere blazers in lush colorations of pale yellow, hunter green, black, navy and rich red).

Alfred Dunhill
450 Park Avenue, New York, New York 10022

Alfred Dunhill's family was in the carriage accessory business when he opened his saddlery in London in 1893. With the advent of the motor car, Alfred Dunhill began supplying accessories and clothing to motorists. In 1907 he added a tobacco shop, and by the 1920s the Alfred Dunhill collection of quality items included lighters, wristwatches and writing instruments--each of which has become a classic of its kind, prized and collected. The firm has been granted the patronage of the British Royal Household. Our concern here is with the full range of menswear introduced in the early 1970s. There are suits with all the serious details of English tailoring, pure cotton dress shirts of impeccable cut and the firm's exclusive silk neckwear. There is also a full range of knitwear, belts and hosiery. The New York store also has the advantage of a custom tailoring department governed by Avery Lucas, one of the most stylish gentlemen we know.

Peter Elliot
1070 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10028

This is one of those small, eclectic shops, European preppy in styling and character, that perfectly reflects its owner's taste. Peter (all his customers seem to become friends) offers whatever he discovers in the way of the unusual and colorful. Last fall he found a woman from an island off the coast of Quebec to knit handsome striped Shetland hose in rich colors of yellow, crimson, hunter green and royal blue. At the moment he's interested in linen button-down shirts in smashing primary colors by Luigi Borrelli (priced at $200); spring-weight cashmere sports jackets hand-tailored in Italy by Isaia in beautiful shades of vanilla, creamy yellow and tobacco brown (matching trousers sold separately); jewel-toned chenille sweaters; Viyella yellow canvas short shooting coats made in England and unique silk knit ties with Art Deco designs. Not to mention the woven elastic belts from France, the Pantherella hosiery from Britain, the brushed cotton plaid sports shirts from Italy, a wonderful selection of enameled cuff links, and suede travel slippers that fit in their own zip pouch. Peter will also be opening a women's shop by the end of the spring.

Scott Hill
100 South Robertson Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90048

Discriminating shoppers from Los Angeles' exclusive residential neighborhoods--Holmby Hills, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills--have discovered Robertson Boulevard, an unhurried, discreet and serene oasis of greenery that seems light-years away from the flash and glitter of Rodeo Drive. Scott Hill's maize-colored villa is cool and quiet, with warm European woods and creamy walls, Persian rugs and overstuffed velvet chairs. This is the relaxed gentleman's Southern California. The clothing collection partakes of this mood with oatmeal linen and taupe twill suits, cognac pebble-grain slip-ons, soft-collared shirting and washed corduroy blousons. The labels are elite European--Vestimenta, Loro Piana, Ermenegildo Zegna, Enrico Isaia, Kiton, Luigi Borrelli--as well as the Donna Karan and Calvin Klein couture collections. A very cultivated sense of style indeed.

Stanley Korshak
500 Crescent Court, Suite 100, Dallas, Texas 75201

With its 1.25 million square feet of office space and 226-room hotel, the grand Crescent Court complex--known simply as The Crescent--in the Arts District area of downtown Dallas offers one of the most beautiful galleries of shops in the world, and the Stanley Korshak store is the jewel in its crown. Its men's department has the ambiance of a London men's club, all dark, polished mahogany walls and cabinetry, cherry wood herringbone floors, Oriental rugs and plush sofas. The shop's reputation rests on having the finest selection of designer clothing in the Southwest: Armani, Sulka, Versace, Ferre, Belvest, Canali and Kiton. Last year, the Italian Trade Commission honored the store with the U'omo Moda Award for the best specialty store in the United States.

Louis, Boston
234 Berkeley Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02116

It is virtually impossible to overpraise Louis. It would be a great store anywhere. It happens to be in the original Boston Museum of Natural History building on Berkeley Street in the historic Back Bay, a block long and four floors high of the world's best clothing. The store also offers valet parking, Cafe Louis (presided over by master chef Michael Schlow), a hair salon and a women's department. Louis is all light and spaciousness: eggshell-tinted walls, pale hardwood floors and high ceilings, brass railings and gallery-style lighting. Here and there one finds the occasional Cognac-colored leather club chair. The shop areas within the store are meant to showcase the best of contemporary international styling: Calvin Klein and Donna Karan, Dolce & Gabbana and Vestimenta, Zegna, Anthony Tarassi, Industria, Dries van Noten, Romeo Gigli and Prada. Shirts by Lorenzini and Luigi Borrelli, shoes by Sutor Mantellassi, Paraboot, Kenneth Cole and others. There is also a "Louie" private-label collection of Neapolitan-styled suits and sports jackets in exceptionally refined fabrics, accompanied by shirts and ties in small antique patterns and sophisticated dusty tones. This is classic, confident, international clothing for the next generation of CEOs.

The Polo/Ralph Lauren Store
867 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10021

Only one name on the label here, that of the master of classic Anglo-American styling. This is decidedly the place to achieve that Duke of Windsor-at-Deauville attitude: windowpane linen and checked crepe suits, doeskin double-breasted blazers, cream-colored gabardine slacks and English-made spectator town shoes, not to mention the perfect oxford button-downs, yards of silk rep ties and shelves of pastel cashmere cable crewnecks. The new Purple Label Collection of very 1930s-styled suits are hand-tailored in England and have broad shoulders, a nipped waist and the important custom detailing. The coordinate dress shirts in the finest imported cottons have small cutaway collars and French cuffs for that real Mayfair/Anthony Eden look. All this is displayed in a setting plus anglais than any English country house could be, complete with ancestral portraits, walnut wainscoting, imposing staircase, the odd crystal chandelier and the overstuffed Edwardian sofa or two. Presumably it's possible to have a nice cuppa between fittings. For those who want to look active, there's the Polo Sport line, with its rubberized nylon sailing jackets, tank tops and cotton cargo pants.

430 Park Avenue, New York, New York 10022

Sulka is still celebrating its 100th anniversary, marked last fall, as a discerning venue here and in Europe for affluent international gentlemen. John Jacob Astor, Douglas Fairbanks, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gary Cooper have been among its devotees. Every item is the finest, from the store's famous jacquard-woven silk neckwear handmade in France to its meticulously tailored Italian, Swiss and English shirting and worsted suits of impeccable mid-Atlantic cut. Of particular interest, a decided benchmark of masculine elegance, is Sulka's range of gentlemen's intimate apparel, for which it is renowned: English silk brocade smoking jackets (priced at $1,500), silk pajamas in herringbone and chevron patterns ($450) and full-length cashmere and silk satin evening robes (from $1,500). This season, Sulka introduces a new line of luxury travel gear: handmade Italian leather weekend bags, carry-ons, suit bags and briefcases. Custom tailor on the premises.

114 East Oak Street, Chicago, Illinois 60611

Last fall marked the 25th anniversary of Chicago's premier designer showcase for men and women. Ultimo introduced the Midwest to such names as Armani, Ferre and Missoni, and today remains in the forefront of designer styling--not the glitz and flash, but the more quiet high style that comes from simplicity and quality. While today the store carries such diverse lines as Issey Miyake, Commes des Garcons, Yamamoto, Robert Freda and Dries van Noten, Ultimo has always leaned toward Italy (which accounts for about 70 percent of the menswear): a full representation of Zegna, Valentino, Gigli and Cerruti, as well as Armani and Ferre. Service is a key consideration here: 22 salespeople and 16 tailors ensure personal attention.

Wilkes Bashford
375 Sutter Street, San Francisco, California 94108

Wilkes Bashford pioneered the upscale designer movement on the West Coast and continues to be the authority for advanced thinking on international polished taste and quality. On the seven floors and 18,000 square feet of selling space (five floors have complimentary bars, the seventh a salon for private shopping and dining), the key gentlemen's resources include the sumptuously tailored suits and sport coats by Brioni, Kiton, Ermenegildo Zegna, Richard Tyler and Dolce & Gabbana, plus the Japanese triumvirate of Issey Miyake, Matsuda and Yohji Yamamoto. Wonderful shoes from Testoni (Italy) and J.M. Weston (France), sportswear from Industria and handmade dress shirts from Luigi Borrelli. There is also Wilkessport, the sophisticated private-label casual sportswear. The sales staff is highly trained to provide world-class service.

Two Special Entries

The Alan Flusser Shop at Saks Fifth Avenue
611 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10022

Edgar Pomeroy Ltd.
2985 Piedmont Road N.E., Atlanta, Georgia 30305

One hesitates to include these two fine shops only because they specialize in very refined, custom-tailored clothing. Both designers, in fact, have a penchant for very urbane suits with lots of drape and distinction. Pomeroy is perhaps the more dandyish and brash, Flusser the more concerned with soft construction and classic flair. But both are noted for their fine ready-to-wear collections of dress shirts (in the high-count 120s two-ply cottons), Italian and English woven silk neckwear and one-of-a-kind accessories. At any particular moment, it's possible to find at the Flusser Shop a wonderful selection of Swiss linen pocket handkerchiefs, a dozen or so beautifully hued Italian cashmere ties or a selection of exquisite French lisle hosiery. Pomeroy may be showing his latest collection of English silk braces, hand-embroidered velvet slippers or imported Macclesfield neckwear. Both designers seek out those unique, tasty, Old World items of clothing craftsmanship that are harder and harder to come by.

G. Bruce Boyer is the author of Eminently Suitable (W.W. Norton, 1990).