Category Archives: Men’s Fashion

The LOUiS Experience (A Customer’s Perspective)

I have a confession to make.

I’ve always loved buying men’s clothing more than I loved buying women’s.

Of course buying for women was exciting, because I was buying things I would like to wear too. But buying for men was just an entirely different experience. Perhaps that was because I wanted to give men the options they need to dress in the way I knew women wanted them to.

In order to do that, you need to have willing participants. In my case, I needed to have a customer who understood, had confidence, and felt it was important to present himself in that way that would reflect who he was, or at least who he knew he wanted to be. It’s a man who understands that when you’re well dressed you command, and will get, attention and respect.

While I have been buying men’s clothing for over 25 years, I almost always leave the selling of them to my accomplished sales consultants. I never found it easy to walk up to a man during a sales presentation and insert myself into the process. In a way I felt like I was intruding on a private moment – not to mention the fact that I felt like I could be perceived as just another woman walking into his life, telling him what to wear.

Instead I found my way to a comfortable, anonymous place where I bought, and they sold. But I always bought the best, and the reward was seeing what our customers would buy.

Then one day – after having a particularly bad day – I walked into my office and found a letter waiting for me from a customer who had taken the time to very kindly thank me for his clothes. He told me that he loved the opportunities Louis gave him to find clothes of substantial quality that fit him beautifully, and went on to describe how much he enjoyed the process of shopping at Louis because it helped him know he was well dressed – and he wanted to thank me for that.

And it meant more to me than anyone will ever know that he took the time to go out of his way to thank me. I’ll never forget it.

And to this day, more than 20 years later, he continues to come to Louis, every season, to shop the collections.

It’s no secret that I have an affinity for appreciation, and it’s important to understand that appreciation is my motivator. It’s not about the money, it’s about the appreciation and the product, and how great it’s always been at Louis. So today I want to thank him, and all that are like him. I thank them every day for allowing me to do what I loved to do.

I thought it would be enlightening to hear from this particular customer about his experience at Louis. He and my other customers are painfully aware of the fact that when Louis closes the experience will be gone. Here’s a nod to the legacy of Louis as told to my friend and writer, Jamie Kohn.

**

Jamie:

Can you share your earliest experiences with Louis?

Jim:

My love affair with Louis began in the mid-to-late 50’s when my grandmother shopped there for my grandfather and uncles. In the early 80’s when I attended Boston College I would sneak into the Back Bay and Chestnut Hill mall locations and shop for myself on dad’s credit card. It was never very well received, because he didn’t know it was happening until he got the statement from the credit card company.

I grew up with an appreciation for the quality of the merchandise and the staff at Louis. They are very customer oriented and part of the reason I have returned to Louis for the last 20 years to shop the spring and fall collections that come to Boston.

Twice a year I spend several hours with Arthur Jordan who along with his assistant, will reserve a section of the store for me and carefully lay out the best of the best of each season. The first hour is spent trying things on and making decisions, the second is spent with their incredibly talented tailor.

I will say that no matter where I go – whether it’s Italy, Paris, LA, and even Manhattan – someone stops me to ask where I got my clothes. You would think that the clothing opportunities at Louis may be available in those cities, but they aren’t. They don’t have Debi, and she has the extraordinary gift. The men’s collections at Louis are, hands down, the finest of any store I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to many. Some people might say it’s an extravagance, but I think it’s a necessity – to look good and know that what you purchase isn’t just a “trend,” but rather classically tailored clothes cut from beautiful fabrics. The workmanship is simply outstanding.

JK:

Who have been your favorite designers throughout the year?

Jim:

Some of my first pieces were Perry Ellis and early Armani. Then Debi started buying Dries Van Noten, Belvest, Kiton, Melinda gloss, Marni, and of course, Massimo shirts! You just can’t find anything made like a Massimo shirt!

Both Arthur Jordan, and Bob Daly before that, helped me navigate the new designers and merchandise, and feel comfortable taking some risks. I didn’t want to be the first guy in the boardroom with a look no one was wearing yet, but with a little justification from the experts at Louis, I knew that everything would be okay. And it was.

I didn’t want to be a trendsetter, but I did want to have classic clothes that looked incredible. And that is Arthur Jordan’s gift, he takes you by the hand and gently walks you through it.

JK:

What is the shopping experience like at Louis? What happens when you make an appointment with Arthur?

Jim:

Shopping at Louis is a blessing, and not an inexpensive exercise, but it means walking into the store and being treated in a 5-star manner. The staff is gracious and hospitable, and they make sure you have what you need. Arthur has a wonderful assistant so he’s always with you throughout the experience. When I arrive they have already laid out pants, dress shirts, ties, and any other more casual pieces for the season such as shorts or jackets. They let you take your time to take it all in and see what speaks to you. I begin my own selection process with the things I love and want to try on, and then Arthur will bring other things in to the mix for me to consider. And this is what makes him worth his weight in gold. He and his team continuously hand me items one at a time. It’s nothing like the locked box dressing rooms you find at department stores. At Louis it’s all about the service.

JK:

Where will you go next?

Jim:

I honestly do not know.

When Debi first told me she was closing I asked her why she wouldn’t just sell her store to someone else, or one of the talented members of her sales staff. But I only had to think about it for a minute before I realized it was a bad idea, because nobody else has an incredible eye like Debi. She has a vision and I thank her for it every chance I get.

There are other stores like Bergdorf’s in New York City, and Fred Segal in Los Angeles, but there is really nothing like Louis. When you walk into the Bristol Hotel in Paris and the impeccable Parisian dressed hotel manager greets you by saying, “I love your suit where did you get that,” and you say “A store in Boston called Louis,” you know you’ve found the best.

Nobody does what Debi can do. It has to end with her.

JimShea_5

JimShea_6

Massimo Bizzocchi – A Louis Legend

As I continue to make preparations to close our doors this summer, I can’t help but reflect on the people that have had an impact on Louis, and ultimately some of the best fashion Boston has ever seen.

When it comes to our vendors, one man, Massimo Bizzocchi, has always stood out to me as being “The best of the best.” The founder of his namesake company, Massimo produces the best ties and pocket squares in Italy, and truly embodies everything that is wonderful about Italian manufacturing – and Italians period. Like Louis Sales Consultant, Arthur Jordan, Massimo is one of the great romancers of our industry. It saddens me to think that his presence will be diminished in Boston.

When I first began to travel to Italy to buy for Louis I was always met by a warm, welcoming committee. The Italian manufacturers would invite you to “…come in, sit, and have a drink.” They would invite you to dinner and take the time to get to know you and see if you were like-minded in our goals. They weren’t just selling me “something,” because they understood that if you only talk in dollars and cents, you eliminate the soul and beauty and romance that come from buying a beautifully made product.

One thing I love about Massimo is his ability to tell a wonderful story. He is very passionate about what he does. He lives and breathes his work and gives his product a personality, and character, and integrity. He truly makes you believe.

I can only liken it to when you go to an Italian restaurant (in Italy). Your not just given a list of specials, you are told what’s fresh and how it can be prepared and then you are asked, “What can we do for you?” and there are no limits. When it comes to clothes, Italian manufacturers ask how you want to see it and they make it for you that way. And when you succeed they don’t take any credit, they say, “You were so smart to do it…and we’ll do it that way now, with everyone…and thank you for the information.”

This is what it’s like to work with Massimo. It gives him great pleasure to present what he has and deliver it to you exactly how you want it. This makes him happy.

It’s becoming a lost art.

I’m so glad my daughter, Sam, got to meet and know Massimo. She knows him well -and has experienced and now possesses his gift. While I know she uses Snapchat like the rest of her generation, I also know that as she enters the world on her own she also understands how important romancing something is. She knows how to make something rise up and off of the page, and for that I am grateful.

Once again, I asked my friend and writer, Jamie Kohn, to speak to Massimo so he could share his relationship with Louis, with all of you…

 

By Jamie Kohn

I can’t take much of the credit here I can only confirm that what Debi says it true. Massimo is a wonderful, passionate storyteller, and it was with pleasure and ease that we spoke about his relationship with Murray and Debi, and all of his experiences with Louis. I spoke with him on a Saturday, and from the moment he began to speak I was mesmerized. As you read, the nuances of his native language are apparent and contribute tremendously to the charm of this decades long relationship.

 

Jamie Kohn:

Massimo, It’s wonderful to speak with you. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today…

Massimo Bizzocchi:

Thank you, Jamie. It is nice to speak with you too. I look forward to telling you about 40 years of my beautiful adventure with Louis.

In 1974-75, Louis was my first customer in the United States. It was known as the #1 store in the United States, not only for the size of the store but the precise direction and unique way that they bought the line and communicated with the manufacturer. I had the pleasure to meet Murray for the first time in New York, at the Waldorf Astoria. I was working with a small company called Berto Modes from Biella, Italy, and had traveled to New York to show previews of the fabric for the season. I selected the fabric for the American market and it was there that my education with Murray began. He was open and sincere in giving me advice and making me understand what I needed to do for the American market. Slowly I understood that it was not the “American” market, but the “Louis” market, because his direction was advanced with color palettes and everything that was related to style. He was always quite a few seasons earlier than the rest of the market would accept or understand. And that was the beginning of my relationship with Murray.

After that I traveled to Boston to better understand the market and the store. At the time Louis was an incredible new source of ideas and also experiences with the sales consultants and young generation that that worked there. I remember they had a jeans parlor downstairs which at the time was quite a new idea. Having the jeans and the music and the ambiance made everything so incredibly young and attractive. The windows were decorated impeccably – I remember once they were decorated with the influence of the Broadway show Les Miserables – and it was fantastic. Everything Louis did was a message of how to show and how to make people part of the style that Murray was promoting and selling.

 

JK:

I have heard a lot about Murray Pearlstein, but didn’t have the honor of meeting him. For someone who knew him for so long, can you tell me, what was Murray Pearlstein like?

Massimo:

Murray was unique. But he was not only unique, he was a leader in the industry and he had a vision. He was a visionary of elegance and an interpreter of designer lines with the sophistication of someone who wanted to adapt fashion to daily life – not only the runway.

I used to travel to Como with Arthur Jordan and woman named Mrs. Lupini who owned a company called “Personality.” Together we would travel from place to place to choose fabric for the ties for Louis. Everything that was shiny or loud made Murray very upset to the point where he said, “I will teach you for a couple of seasons, but then you need to prepare what you know I want to see.” He told me, “I don’t have much time and I want you to do it fast.” He was like a tornado coming into the manufacturers. They would have 3-4,000 designs he would grab 5 in 5 different colors. His major request always reflected the kind of finishing on the silk he wanted to make the color soft. And the fabric would have a touch of cashmere – something that took 30 years to develop – but he had the sensibility to request it already.

The school that he presented to us, and the vision he had for colors and product made myself and the company develop a sensibility that in the end, many times, we made just for Murray and his store. Others were not mirroring his direction, and I know this made him very happy. We had many interesting adventures in Italy and Milano and after 5 or 6 years he thought I knew enough (but never really enough) to go by my self and do research for my own line of ties that he helped me to promote. He helped me start my own brand, Massimo Bizzochi.

Murray and Debi were extreme supporters of my tie line. When Mrs. Lupini passed away, the small factory that she owned was going to close, but Murray helped me transition and take over the company and helped me build my business. He encouraged me to use my own label along with Louis of Boston label.

 

JK:

What is your relationship with Kiton?

Massimo:

I started to work with Kiton in 1984, almost 10 years after I met Murray, and I dedicated my attention to the American market more than any other. I remember going straight to Murray with the owner of Kiton, who Murray knew through the fabric trade show in Italy – Luciano Barbera – Kiton was producing some of his garments under that name. I remember Murray bought a pin strip suit, double breasted, in pure cashmere. It was the first thing he bought from Kiton through me. After that the experience of the selection of fabric and the way to style the product was absolutely unique – and that tradition has been brought to this day through Debi. This developed over all these years, a special and unique model for Louis, with a lot of success. Kiton dedicating time and effort and took risks that they would only take for Louis, and Debi always knew exactly what she was looking for. Debi always respected our quality product, in fabric and workmanship, and she always tried to help us continue to have the Louis of Boston image on the product and give the consumer a the kind of experience that only Louis of Boston would bring to them. She would buy a different silhouette and have different measurements of the lapel and shoulder – taking a major risk, like she always did, because it was going to be unique in the market, and very early in the market.

 

JK:

What was it like working with Debi once she took over?

Massimo:

It has been a phenomenal, fantastic experience. I went from having a professor (Murray) telling me what and how to do something to somebody (Debi) who tired to help me understand the reason. She was generous in her ability to share information. It has been a friendly journey more than a business relationship. With Murray I would listen and take notes and then hopefully translate the notes properly to deliver what he wanted. With Debi she always asked me to try, she asked me if I understood, she asked me to discuss with her what she was looking for. Her patience has been one of the ingredients that made me feel comfortable giving my best to the relationship and developing with her, all that she desired. She has a fantastic knowledge of the Louis style, that never changed, and starts with the fabric. Whenever we would start a new collection she would say, “Let’s start with the best. Show me the top of the line fabric and let’s get on the (design) table the colors and styles and designs that, for me, will represent the next season.” Then she would go through the whole line (2,000-3,000 swatches), pick 20-30, and from there she would narrow it down to 12-15. She already had in mind who she would present those pieces to, what sizes she wanted for each piece, and what kind of ambience she would create visually in the store from the pieces she bought along with the rest she was buying.

My admiration for Debi is the highest it can be. I can’t describe the kind of experience we had making all of those collections together. While it stayed greatly the same, it seemed that every 6 months the Louis image would evolve, and reflect the knowledge Debi had for the young generation and the consumer that would approach the line in the way the sales consultants, like Arthur Jordan, would translate the line to the consumer. I have had a wonderful relationship with Arthur, and I have to say he was the only one who never had a problem translating the line because he was in complete symphony with the store. We spoke often and he gave me excellent advice and comments about consumer reactions as he made them try our garments.

Debi married the old Kiton world that was clothing, to the new world where Kiton started to represent lifestyle – jeans, sweaters, leather pieces, nice overcoats, etc. Debi always chose things from us that were different from the other lines. When all the pants were plain front, she bought them with one pleat. She was the one that wanted things to be a little shorter…or more flexible, etc. She was the one who said let’s design a new color, a new style, a little shorter point, a little more spread. Her sensibility for designing comes not only from her education but also from the artistic world of Art Basel and the old galleries she would visited in Paris , London and Milano – by herself. And I think we have to give a lot of credit to Debi for traveling all these years, at least 6 times to Europe per year, talking to herself about the selection she was making. Being sure that what she was going to invest in was going to be received in the store the way that she meant it to be. I understand because this is how I learned myself – traveling alone to suffer in silence while making great decisions.

 

JK:

What will it mean when Louis closes?

Massimo:

We will all miss so much when Louis closes. The only thing I can hope is that Debi will continue to help us, through whatever medium she can, continue to see her vision of the future. I hope to belong to a small club of people who can follow her as closely as we can, in the future. When she moved from Newbury Street, which became “The Louis Building” to the waterfront she had a vision. She had been hunting property down at Fan Pier when she first brought me to the area. The Volvo Ocean Race was passing through the city on its 37,000-mile journey, and I said to her, ‘It’s a parking lot with a great view,’ and she said, “exactly.” I understood immediately and smiled at her. I always supported her vision and she made a success of it, as she always does. She continued to share with me how she imagined the restaurant, and the store, and the light coming through, and the way she would present the garments to her customers. I know Debi still has plenty to share with us if she wants to.

I think we will all try to chase, in any way, the future of Louis of Boston, and Debi’s visions. The doors might be closing, but hopefully we will see something from her again.

We need to wait until Debi tells us something. So, we will wait.

Fashion in Boston will never be the same because what she did was so special. It’s like when you have a beautiful painting, created in a beautiful light. You can ask the painter to do it again, and he will always say, “I’m sorry, I can paint another painting, but not the same as the one that I already did. There is only one.”

**

As we began to conclude our conversation, Massimo stopped me and said…

“This is one little thing that I have to share. When Murray passed things to Debi, I was so nervous, especially during the first seasons, not knowing what would be. Once, she came to Milano and I was to pick her up at her hotel. After she got in the car I began to drive away. However, I was listening to her so intently that I didn’t notice a car parked on the side of the street…and smashed right into it. Debi said with her wonderful laugh, ‘Are you trying to kill me before we even start?’ I told her I was paying close attention to what she was saying and she said, ‘Well, you have to drive too!'”

**

And with that, Massimo and I shared a hearty laugh and a fond farewell. A lovely man. Truly one of a kind.

IMG_4691

Our beloved Massimo Bizzocchi

The Perfect Fit (It’s Not Over Until It’s over)

Well, 2015 is certainly off to an exciting start, isn’t it? By now I hope that most of you have read the blog I wrote to address the incredible responses we had to the announcement that Louis would close in July. If you haven’t, I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you, again, to our loyal customers – old and new, from near and far – who have articulately expressed that you will miss everything Louis has represented in Boston for nearly a century.

It was a pleasure to hear from so many women who have shopped at Louis throughout the years. I found their comments reflected a sense of sadness that the discovery and entertainment of an afternoon spent at Louis would soon be lost. Many confessed the love they had for coming to the store to find something they had never seen before, or to fall in love with a garment that clearly went against the grain of mediocrity.

It’s been equally nice hearing from the men whom we have been dressing for decades, but the comments I’ve gotten from them seem a bit more distressed. Perhaps it’s because they understand that they can’t find the things we sell at Louis anywhere else in the country – and truth be told, they can’t.

The product I buy is made by hand and I am able to spec it to whatever I want. It’s very interesting to me when I go into stores like Neiman’s, Bergdorf’s or Saks, because while they may carry some of the brands I carry, they usually stock things in only exceptionally large sizes. I often wonder, do they think only a big or tall man can afford quality?

At Louis I know that our customer prefers a cut that is fitted and tailored to perfection. I also know they will want every last drop of the inventory I have because #1, I never buy an abundance of any one item, and #2 these men want (and need) to have a selection of sizes that truly fit.

What some men may not understand is that when you buy a garment in a department store that is already much too big on you, you are essentially asking your tailor to suck the soul right out of it by having it re-cut for you. When you try on a garment and have to adjust the sleeves or a nip or tuck here and there, it’s not taking the soul out of it – it’s making it fit you. That’s what we do best here.

So, I invite you all to come in to Louis before we close in July because, well, it’s not over until it’s over. I’ve spent a lifetime figuring it out what you want, and I understand what fits you well and what you will feel good in – from the moment you put it on, not after you get it back from the tailor.

I invite you all to come to Louis to discover the perfect fit – while you can still find the perfect fit in Boston.

IMG_5270

IMG_5278

IMG_5281

Menswear 101: Intro. to Pants

Last week I wrote about fashion categories for women, and how I like to avoid them for those who shop at Louis.

This week, I want to talk about fashion categories for men, and how they’re pretty much unavoidable.

If you are a man, or shop with a man, or shop for a man…or own a clothing store that has been selling the best in menswear for decades, you’re probably already familiar with the rules of men which are: 1.) They’re always hot, 2.) They don’t want to wear anything scratchy, and 3.) They’ll only buy what’s comfortable.

You’ll also be familiar with the fact that men have fairly standard choices when it comes to fashion, and those choices fall into categories. It’s because of this, and the nature of what I do, that I embrace the predictability of those categories and find the very best in them: the best tailoring, the best fabrics, the best in comfort, and always the best in style. Especially so when it comes to pants.

Besides a very avant-garde few, every man will wake up, get out of bed, and put on a pair of pants – every day – one leg at a time. Therefore, it makes me wonder why the majority of them are so willing to follow the path of least resistance (also known as khakis) and less willing to take the time to search high and low for the pair that will ultimately make them look and feel good at the same time.

When men come into Louis to shop for pants they politely explain that they want something in a soft “cotton” that won’t wrinkle or stain. Then I laugh and ask them if they understand that finding “cotton” that won’t wrinkle or stain is like finding a unicorn running down the Esplanade. It doesn’t exist. And then I ask, “Do you really want to walk around with the most precious parts of you all wrapped up in Teflon?”

As you can imagine, after the shock of my question wears off, the answer is pretty much always “no.”

I understand that you can walk into any store and get a “pair of pants” for $75-$200, but what you won’t get is what you’ll find at Louis … hand tailored pants crafted from incredible fabric with an incomparable fit. And unlike the aforementioned, these pants will be worth every penny you invest in them.

And when a man invests in his pants this way he’ll notice that they’ll have the most spectacular fit. They won’t sag in the ass or be cut too wide in the leg, but they will have enough of a cut to allow you to sit down, or drive a car, and be comfortable.

And when a man invests in his pants this way he’ll have a better understanding about innovations in fabrication including corduroy made from cotton and cashmere, brushed or twilled printed cotton, and lightweight flannel wool. And he’ll appreciate the fact that when he comes into a store like Louis he’ll have the opportunity to see it all and have it available – in his size.

Listen, I’ve been in the business of menswear for a very long time, and I know that if men want to expand their repertoire and be prepared for every occasion they can do so by having 4 different types of pants in their wardrobe: wool tailored, cotton tailored, cotton washed, and either a jean or track pant – or some other kind of casual pant. And they should all be equally comfortable across the board.

In our response to the rules of men, I can say with confidence that the collection of pants we have curated here will 1.) Not overheat you (nothing is heavier than 250 grams), 2.) Will never feel scratchy, and 3.) Will be tailored to perfection and always feel comfortable.

Guys…I beg you, please don’t let your jeans become your excuse. Jeans are not okay for every occasion. There truly are so many more interesting options, and I promise they will be just as, if not more, comfortable than denim – and they will definitely look and feel better.

Life presents more opportunities than ever before. Put your pants on one leg at a time and walk through them effortlessly.

But don’t wrap yourself up in Teflon.

Please.

PT101 Pant, Mastai Shirt, Robert Clergerie Shoes

PT101 Pant, Mastai Shirt, Robert Clergerie Shoes

 

Valentini pant, Mastai shirt

Valentini Pant, Mastai Shirt

Tim Coppens pant, Sartoria Partenopea jacket , Common Project sneakers, Malo sweater

Tim Coppens Pant, Sartoria Partenopea Jacket , Common Projects Sneakers, Malo Sweater

Sartoria Partenopia pant

Sartoria Partenopia Pant, Robert Clergerie Shoes

FDLouis13

Father’s Day Comes Once a Year. Don’t Blow It.

It’s no secret that we all love our fathers, but to be quite honest with you, Father’s Day has gotten downright predictable and boring…and for a guy who is so great, don’t you think he deserves something a little more exciting than a tie?

You only need a minute to browse the Hallmark isle to realize that unless your father is golf-playing or lawn-mowing, you’re out of luck in the card department, and if you default to buying him a department store discounted tie, he’s the one who’s going to be out of luck.
So this Sunday, for Father’s Day, why not do him a significant favor, and instead of telling him you love him with a predictably boring Father’s Day gift, show him you love him by updating his look.

Isn’t it time?

Young or old, your dad deserves to have a sense of pride in how he dresses, and if you have to show him what style is these days, there’s really no better time then on Father’s Day, when you hopefully have his somewhat, undivided attention.

We also understand that breaking tradition might lead to a look of confusion on your father’s face as he wonders, “Where the hell is my tie?” but when he sees what’s in the box, we can pretty much guarantee you’ll instantly become his favorite child.

We just know.

Can you picture him now…in a pair of slim fitted PT01 (Pantaloni Torino) pants, with a perfectly tailored Kiton shirt and a pair of Common Projects sneakers? We can.

And if you must get a tie, please, pick out something with some color. Pick out something he would never pick out for himself, and let him know that as far as father’s go, he should stand out in the crowd, as he’s always done in your eyes.

FDLouis8

 

FDLouis9

 

FDLouis13

Is That The Groom? (It’s Wedding Season)

It’s wedding season.

You know how I know? Gorgeous young brides-to-be are walking though the doors of Louis Boston with desperation in their eyes, and bewildered fiancés following closely behind them.

Several weeks ago, one such bride-to-be entered the store, with her bewildered fiancé not very far behind her. She had actually been in two month earlier when she purchased a brilliant Jason Wu gown for her wedding. Designed in ice colored satin and silk, it was sleeveless with an intricate high collar. But the element of design that we knew would take their collective breath away during the ceremony was the dramatic open back – with just a delicate chain that draped flawlessly across in just the right place. It was all at once, soft, sophisticated, sexy and kick ass!

There I was, recalling every detail of the dress, and at the same time my mind was working its way through our inventory so I could pull some things for him that would compliment her perfectly, and he said…

“I don’t want to wear a suit.”

“Excuse me?” I said. Not really believing what I was hearing. I took him gently by the hand and said “I understand, you’re getting married in July, by the water, and you don’t want to wear a heavy suit…” and he interrupted me to say, “If I have to I’ll just wear navy.”

Huh?

And this is the part where I got to do what I truly love to do: style someone who doesn’t understand his own potential. I pulled a featherweight cotton suit with 1% cashmere (to hold it all together), a blueberry and white checked linen shirt, and a pair of kick ass Common Project sneakers, before I nudged him toward the dressing room.

Thinking about her dress again, I knew this look was going to compliment her well. I knew that when she saw him she would feel proud to approach him as she was walking down the isle. And as I was thinking that, to my amazement, he was turning around, looking at himself in the mirror not believing what he was seeing. He looked great and now he knew it.

He looked at me and said he couldn’t believe how comfortable the pieces were and how well everything fit him. I explained again the difference beautifully tailored pieces could make.

He grinned. He nodded. He looked at himself again in the mirror. I really thought he was there.

Then he turned to me and said, “What if I don’t wear the jacket…just the shirt and the pants?” Besides the fact that he looked incredible from head to toe, and that should be reason enough, I explained that the pants were part of the suit and were not sold separately.

He shrugged and said, “I don’t want to buy the suit. I never wear a suit.” Then he turned and walked back into the dressing room.

I took one look at his bride-to-be and saw her face drop. She quietly said, “If he doesn’t wear a jacket, won’t I look nicer than him? Won’t I look too dressed up?”

So I excused myself, pulled him aside and whispered to him, “I know you don’t know what she’s wearing, because it’s a secret, but your fiancé has gone to a lot of trouble to make sure she looks super sexy, and sophisticated for you – because she wants to. Don’t you want to do the same for her? She loves you in this suit…”

Don’t get your hopes up. He walked back into the dressing room, pulled on his old jeans and t-shirt, and they started to leave. She looked back at me with a defeated look on her face before she shrugged, as if to say, “what can I do?”

I wondered what he was going to do, and I prayed, for her sake, that he wouldn’t be renting a tux.

I wondered why he wasn’t willing to take more pride in himself and his appearance on his wedding day. Even if he did only wear the suit once, wouldn’t it be worth it to look back in later years and feel proud of who he was, and how he looked for the occasion? A wedding is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities where a man should move outside of his comfort zone and raise his own bar – just a little bit, or even a lot.

Having been in this business for a very long time, I know that men used to really care about how they looked. Unfortunately we now live in the age of “Casual Friday Everyday,” and a lot of men just don’t really care at all. The times may have changed, but one thing should remain the same, and that is an understanding that there is a certain decorum that we should all adhere to when it comes to how we present ourselves for certain, if not most, occasions. Don’t you agree?

In other words, why do you want to look like everyone else on your wedding day?

In the end I’ll probably never know how he shows up to the wedding, but I will know that his bride looks stunning.

Guys, you don’t have to do anything, but don’t you want to?

 

Bowie? Say it isn’t so…

b-0509-vs-we235

Where Have All The Icons Gone? Menswear: A History

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that my affinity for clothing, especially men’s clothing, began long ago.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact I’m the fourth generation of my family to own and operate Louis, and all that goes along with that is now in my blood. Contrary to what people may believe, Louis wasn’t founded to sell women’s clothing. As a matter of fact, the history of Louis was built around the best menswear money could buy, and both my grandfather and father were pioneers in the industry.

My father, Murray Pearlstein surrounded by his cousins Louis (l.) and Jerome (r.)

My father, Murray Pearlstein surrounded by his cousins Louis (l.) and Jerome (r.)

From L to R: Nathan Pearlstein (my great uncle), Saul Pearlstein (my grandfather), and a few of their dapper friends.

From L to R: Louis Boston owners Nathan Pearlstein (my great uncle, Louis and Jerome’s father), and Saul Pearlstein (Nathan’s brother, my grandfather)…and a few of their dapper friends.

In the 1930’s and early 40’s, when the silent film era began to decline and “talkies” took over, the movie studios understood the value in their investments, and had beautiful clothes custom made for the actors in their films. They brought in the best tailors from Italy; to dress them, and give them what would soon become “signature styles.”

A craft that had been taught and passed down from generation to generation, the Italian tailors took the business of fabric, tailoring, and fashion very seriously. The garments were handmade, and depending on the region of origin, were distinctly different from one another. Hollywood brought them over to help their stars develop distinct differences as well, and they did.

You only have to take one look at the suits Cary Grant wore, with defined shoulders, lapels, and patch pockets…or the fitted garments Gregory Peck wore, with much stronger shoulders and very baggy pants, to see the incredible custom work that was being done and the impact these “style icons” were beginning to have on fashion. As Grant’s co-star, Eva Marie Saint remarked about the actor: ”Other men wear suits. But with other men, there’s the man and then the suit that’s on him. That didn’t happen to Cary Grant. Style was like (his) skin.”

Cary Grant

Cary Grant

Cary Grant with Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday

Cary Grant with Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday

When the war was over at the end of the 40’s the Italian tailors returned to Italy, but they took something from the United States with them. It was here that they first became privy to the concept of “off the rack;” and the understanding that suits did not have to be made entirely by hand to be special. For the first time they began to alter their designs for a much broader audience, and my father was among the first to buy them and bring them back to Boston. Even though the garments were now part of a larger production process they still had the quality only the Italian tailors could impart to them. They were still something special. Word spread, and toward the end of the 50’s and more so throughout the 60’s and 70’s, when the Baby Boomers were starting to take their fashion more seriously, Louis saw a substantial amount of growth. It was around this time, when I was a young woman, that I took a real interest in Louis and our family business.

My father developed a shop within our shop called “Down with Louis,” which was created for consumers in my generation. He was importing 3 piece suits from Italy, crafted in gorgeous gabardine fabrics, and sold them for $125 each. With a sales team made up of only women (including me!), our male clients couldn’t get enough and began to buy 6 or 7 suits at a time, in every color they could get their hands on.

As the 70’s wore on and designers continued to develop their lines based on the signs of the times, men’s fashion took a turn…for the worse. Men were being presented with Rayon suits and chunky, high heels shoes, and after a brief fascination with the trends, they started to turn in another direction. They abandoned these clown suits (sorry!) and sprinted back toward conservative and emerging designers like Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren who knew exactly how to “save” them. Throughout the 80’s they did just that by creating comfortable “uniforms” so men didn’t have to think or be different. They were simply, and gladly, fitting themselves in to the images the designers created. The “Armani suit” infiltrated the professional set, and from preppy, to safari, to dude ranch, to Wall Street – Ralph Lauren mastered the presentation. Men who weren’t sure anymore about how to dress themselves felt a wave of relief. It was all there for them. It was painless, mindless, and safe.

They ran from this:

1978 Men's Fashion Advertisement Vintage 1970s Menswear 5-1

To this:

Armani

Armani

and this…

Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren

Similar to the history in women’s fashion, the 90’s brought all things to a screeching halt because Generation X wanted nothing to do with nostalgia or achieving a particular “look.” The truth was everything to the contrary. The demise began with the notion of “Dress Down Friday” which turned into, “Fu*k it…let’s dress down every day.” “Deconstruction” and “Grunge” made men deconstruct wearing a suit to wearing, well, anything…and besides bankers and attorneys, you would see everything from ripped t-shirts, old jeans, sneakers, and even pajamas on the street. This was fashion?

5dc6fa0ce623e6ced839890cc2ed1e74

Later in the decade the tech bubble burst which required GenX to find “real” jobs and present a bit more professional. Suits were still out of the question, and when the next century began a new uniform emerged in the form of no crease, no stain, fabrics made from Petroleum and Teflon. White t-shirt + blue button down shirt + gray suit =  fashion? I know you remember it well. photo

Soon thereafter, with a downturn in the economy, men’s fashion began to genuinely lose its footing and once again men became unsure of where to turn…to find another uniform. Because of the spread between generations, and due to the fact that is no longer a “one suit fits all” landscape, it seems that luxury department stores have had to divide the shopping experience for men into “tailored” or “designerwear.” In my opinion, they’re getting extremely lost on the path between two places, and I think their customer is getting lost right along with them. Tailored clothing are no longer one style fits all, and designerwear has developed into extremes that are unequivocally not for everyone. barneyspicstitch

To be honest, if they don’t find what they’re looking for soon I’m afraid men are going to rebel like they did in the 70’s and we’re all going to find ourselves staring out into a sea of mediocrity once again.

So where do men turn for their inspiration today?

Long gone are the days of Marcello Mastroianni, who ordered custom suits from his Roman tailor….and the rugged dressed-down style of Steve McQueen…and the New York City grit of Al Pacino. From the casual cool of Marlon Brando and James Dean, to the sex appeal of Richard Gere in American Gigolo and the power of Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street,” who are men looking to for inspiration today?

Are there any icons out there?

If you find them, will you let me know?

Brando, Dean, McQueen

Brando, Dean, McQueen

Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve

Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve

Pacino, Gere, Douglas

Pacino, Gere, Douglas

This brings me full circle to my affinity for menswear, and fuels my purpose to bring inspiring pieces to Louis today. I travel the world with what I just shared with you in mind, and remain determined to help men find a way to pack their jeans away. It just has to happen! I make it my mission to help men who shop here find their own contemporary, relevant sense of style – where clothes are tailored correctly to fit closer to the body without looking awkward, and where urban and athletic style come together with PANTS, refined hoodies, gorgeous fabric, gorgeous blazers and sophisticated sneakers that will blow them all away…

Long Journey jacket, Mathias pant, Greg Lauren plaid shirt, Public School sneaker

Long Journey jacket, Mathias pant, Greg Lauren plaid shirt, Public School sneaker

Tim Coppens jacket, Ami shirt, Valentini pant, Tim Coppens / Common Projects sneaker

Tim Coppens jacket, Ami shirt, Valentini pant, Tim Coppens / Common Projects sneaker

Belvest Jacket, Malo hoodie, Haider Ackermann tee, Tim Coppens pant, Belvest scarf

Belvest Jacket, Malo hoodie, Haider Ackermann tee, Tim Coppens pant, Belvest scarf

Long Journey jacket, Melinda Gloss shirt, Massimo Bizzocchi tie, Haider Ackermann pant, Public School shoe

Long Journey jacket, Melinda Gloss shirt, Massimo Bizzocchi tie, Haider Ackermann pant, Public School shoe

I’ll leave you with this…

I remember once, when I was young and single (oh yes I was!) and living in a Townhouse outside of Boston, an acquaintance asked if they could set me up on a “blind date.” Never one to turn away from trying something new, I agreed and waited, and wondered who would arrive at my door.

After several days of anticipation, the date was upon me. I remember hearing the doorbell ring and walking to the door with the anxious/excited feeling one (hopefully) gets just before a blind date and swung open the door.

To my excitement, the man who stood before me surprisingly very handsome, and I felt a wave of relief take over…until my eyes left his face and found their way to what he was wearing, and before I knew what was coming out of my mouth, I said, “I’m sorry, you must have the wrong address…I’m waiting for my blind date!”

He didn’t get it. Do you?

One Style Does Not Fit All

Rhetoric (n.): The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing…

There’s an evolution going on in fashion, and my hope is that you’ll take the time to find the pieces that have meaning to you, before the rhetoric of new trends are spoon-fed to you from the pages of magazines.

While those glossies have always been around, and serve a great purpose to many, it’s important to understand that most of the trends they write about are manufactured by an industry to suit the season.

In other words, it’s no secret that some women (and men for that matter) are being force-fed a “one style fits all” mentality. And clearly our society is NOT one style fits all. Not every body is meant to fit in skinny jeans, and not every breast was meant to be revealed in a skin-tight top. I understand that yoga pants are a “thing,” but there’s a time and a place. We don’t all want to see an ass wrapped in spandex while in line at the dry cleaners. (I’m sorry, but it’s true)

People seem to be spilling out of their clothing lately, and for some reason they think that’s okay.

But, it’s not.

Creating a trend to push people into buying is not the only way.  As a matter of fact some of the most exciting fashion “trends” actually originated in society, based on an authentic sign of the times.

The 70’s were a shining example. People didn’t wait for “Punk” to appear on the pages of Vogue before they sought it out. The clothing was part of a bigger, cultural movement before it became “The Punk Look.” It was completely organic before it was pursued, embraced, and ultimately devoured by a generation starved for something unique and different.

Another obvious example was “Deconstruction,” or “Grunge.” The movement, initially, had nothing to do with fashion, but everything to do with music and culture and a severe socioeconomic backlash that was sweeping the world.

Speaking of sweeping the world…have you met the Millennials? They’re young, influential, and sitting in various positions on the current socioeconomic pyramid: Some have more money than they know what to do with (Yummies), and others can’t seem to find a job…even with a very expensive University degree in their pocket. But regardless of their position they’re demanding and consuming everything, even (sadly) the skin-tight trends.

But it’s also because of this that the world seems to be on the brink of real change. And it’s important to notice again how THIS is what can propel people, and therefore fashion, forward.

So turn off your smart phones, shut your magazines, and take to the streets. If you do you’ll see that a compelling mixture of volume, athletic luxury and urban flavor now embodies an evolution of fashion design that hasn’t really been done before.

Today, the architecture of clothing has taken center stage. “Volume,” in fashion, might sound intimidating, but it’s not. Volume, done correctly, will enable you to feel comfortable, but look interesting and impeccable. It’s not about larger sizes or cuts of clothing, it’s about moving fabric away from the body. It’s about evoking a bit of mystery. And in this world, obsessed with fast and furious consumption, where almost nothing is sacred, mystery can be a very good thing.

Additionally, athletic influence in fashion has become a legitimate game changer. Where blazers and jeans and yoga pants held court, athletic influenced jackets, shorts and pants are taking over. Pieces are being created to be comfortable, fashionable, acceptable, and ultimately coveted.

And all of this is reflected in an urban sensibility that has been woven so prevalently into our society today: In life, and music, and fashion…on the streets of New York and Paris and Milan.

What you find in the streets is not rhetoric…it’s life.

Haus Alkire jacket and skirt, Proenza Schouler top, Balenciaga sneaker

Haus Alkire jacket and skirt, Proenza Schouler top, Balenciaga sneaker

Haider Ackermann jacket, Proenza Schouler pant, Robert Clergerie shoe

Haider Ackermann jacket, Proenza Schouler pant, Robert Clergerie shoe

Bogden top, Long Journey pant, Roland Mouret shoe

Bogden top, Long Journey pant, Roland Mouret shoe

Piece d'Anarchive shorts and sweater, Balenciaga sneakers

Piece d’Anarchive shorts and sweater, Balenciaga sneakers

 

 

 

Suits by the Numbers

My most favorite number that I use to shock people about the men’s apparel business is this: 50% of the menswear business is done by Walmart…that’s in $”s. The menswear business is a $55 billion dollar business and Walmart’s men’s business is $27 billion. I promise you if one bore into that number you would find that about 65% of the shoppers of menswear at Walmart are women…maybe more. I know the dollars largely come from purchases of socks, underwear, jeans and t-shirts….but that’s what most men are wearing. As I state this to whomever I’m talking to (male) they usually act surprise and then look down at what they are wearing and say “yeah that makes sense”. They are so oblivious to what they are wearing that they don’t even know what they have on!

So Men’s Retail Magazine just came out with some numbers about suits that I find so interesting. The numbers are from a nationwide survey of 500 U.S. males ages 18 to 35 conducted in July. 67% of the responders ages 18 to 22 said they have bought a suit…that’s promising…73% ages 22 to 33 said they have bought a suit….again looking good. 63% of the responders ages 31 to 35 said they have bought a suit and even more troubling 55% of the responders 35 years old  have bought a suit (I think recently). REALLY so the interpretation is you buy one suit in your twenties and you use it until you absolutely positively have to buy another one. Wait the numbers get better.

42% of the responders shop at Men’s Wearhouse, 15% at Macy’s, 9% at JCPenny’s, 8%Kohl’s and 7% at Jos A. Bank (which was really surprising considering how many suits the say they give away FREE). The last 19% shop at Walmart, Burlington Coat factory, Dillard’s, H&M, Sears, Express, J Crew, Target and TJ Maxx. I guess the line “we guarantee you are going to like the way you look” works. But here’s the kicker of the 42% who shop at Men’s Wearhouse  69% buy on line….really without even trying it on??? Do they even know how a suit is supposed to fit? The real question is do they care? Why not? Why don’t men care?….oh how I wish they would, again.

I do have some experience in this matter. I know how many different areas on a man’s body that a suit needs to fit right so that it will lay properly and not look ….well….wrong. How about the fabric. When you buy a suit on line you can’t feel the fabric. Does it feel like sandpaper? Would you pay more for the suit if you knew it felt better? Would you buy a more interesting fabric if you could look at the detail of the fabric more closely?  Would you care more if you got involved in the process instead of running away from it?

It’s not like the fashion has moved on and the suit has been replaced by….let’s say… a spacesuit? The last portion of the survey really gives away the ambivalence towards the suit. 44% responders say they bought the suit for “special occasions” as opposed to 28% say they buy suits for work. 15% say they buy suit to look good (there’s a ray of hope), 7% to look professional (as opposed to work?) 5% for church and 3% for funerals (lovely thought). Since the mid 90’s suits have not been required at work, forced by a new generation that didn’t want to be like their fathers, and that generation thought they were ushering a new looser revolution in the work place. But they never figured out the new uniform….their leaders were Steve Jobs and Bill Gates (both not well known for their attire). The new uniform ends up being mundane and nondescript with features like “no iron and stain-resistant”

There is a small underground movement of young men discovering the suit. They come into our store asking lots of questions. For me it’s a beautiful thing to watch. The suit has progressed so much in the the last 20 years and no one ever talks about the advancements. The industry did answer the problem of the suit being too uncomfortable by developing light, soft fabrics; and the tailoring has come so far to make the suit fit close to the body but allow the user to move freely. Of course I am talking about suits that DON’T have stain resistant and no iron fabrics (which are made up of mostly petroleum …who wants to wear THAT next to their body?)

So with these numbers there is nowhere to go but up. Perhaps with this next generation of employees, employers will demand a more professional workplace. After all “dress down friday” was started  to capture generation X workers when unemployment was at an all time low. Now we are at the opposite end of the spectrum, unemployment is at an all time high. Being competitive is a necessity and looking the part should be one as well.

It’s The Product …. Put Simply

Sorry I haven’t written but I’ve been traveling for business…mainly in Italy. I have lived through many turbulent times running this store. I think my generation has been burdened with the same curse as my grandfather’s, where we have to navigate wars, recession/depressions, and discounting at all levels of retail. But this trip really illustrated how frazzled the world is from dodging and maneuvering to meet all the challenges that have been thrown at business over the last decade. Retail vendors are at their wits end trying to figure out, yet again, how to innovate and keep ahead of all the economic changes happening daily. Forget the frustration with paralyzed governments…we’re just stuck with the results of their non action. In Europe many businesses took advantage of the Asian market which has helped their bottom line for many years now….well that is not a given any more….you can feel the wheels slowing WAY down to a pace of business that mirrors the 70’s more than 2012.

Well I say it’s about time. I think this is what we need to do. We need to step back and redirect the consumer to the product and not just pushing them to shop , for the sake of purchasing (at a discount). We have been spinning for so long, at such a fast pace, that we haven’t educated the consumer about anything except how to get it for less. Somehow this just doesn’t seem right now. Oh I know, I’m just one person talking but I really felt the “tipping point” away from this discount behavior in Europe. I’m sure the change will take years to really feel the full force, and discounting isn’t going away…but purchasing is going to become “thoughtful” again, and my prediction is that “honest to goodness quality” is going to be the new focus. Well let’s hope or true quality will slowly fade out of existence.

One of my visits this trip was to the Belvest Factory. Belvest is one of our outstanding menswear tailored clothing vendors, their factory is just outside of Venice. It’s very reassuring to me that clothing is still made this way. One by one, section by section, each jacket is worked with skill and care. As a result we fit these jackets everyday and they mold to each customer because the jacket is made in a three dimensional way…one by one (not 20 or 100 at a time).

Each Jacket is Worked on One By One

Educating this process to consumers is our life long project. It would be great if the media would spend more time honoring these kind of efforts instead of training consumers to look for cheap goods. When the next generation is ready to learn about how important it is for a garment to be made well, hopefully we will be there to educate them. Plus we can show how ecological, as well as cost effective, to buy  a garment that will last  more than a year and will reward you by feeling like it was made for your body…which it was.

End Result

Here’s what I’m afraid of…. as a result of the economic roller coaster that we (society) will rush to eliminate the more expensive way of doing things, we will convince ourselves that cheap is more important than longevity, and we will forget that the product is KING not the price of it. For now we are lucky that we can still enjoy  jackets made by hand and we have the customers to prove it…