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.
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.”
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:
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?
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.
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.
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?
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…
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?