Saturday, August 13, 2005

The State of REALLY high-end menswear in the States

If you want to get clothes that are the epitome of craftsmanship and style, you have to head to NYC.

There are other great tailors in the USA, or places where you can get high-end shirtings and suitings. But if you want the full-custom treatment for EVERYTHING that you could conceivbly array yourself in, there are only two places you can go: Ralph Lauren* and Alan Flusser. Paul Stuart comes in a close second, falling down because of the rather bland nature of their house silhouette.

Ralph Lauren is a well known entity, but most people do not know of the custom service afforded at the flagships. Best known of these is the "Purple Label" line which has RL's take on classic Hollywood attire of the 1930s. The shoulders are usually broadish and the waist and "skirt" pretty slim, for this line. What most people do NOT know is that if you prefer the "classic" Polo silhouette you can also get that custom made and the label will be purple, but otherwise identical (I'll try to post pictures so you can see the difference). All else being equal, I prefer the Polo silhouette, especially for single breasted jackets.

Alan Flusser is a different animal. The shop is ONLY the highest of the high end. It wouldn't surprise me if shoelaces were custom made. Also, AF is wa-a-a-ay harder to find. He used to be on 16 E. 52nd, then he had a deal going with Saks whereby he made custom stuff for them and had a shop on the 6th Floor and also designed some RTW stuff that was--frankly--just okay, to now going to another location for the shop: 3 East 48th Street (it's up on the 4th floor, and between 5th & Park Avenues).

A vist to Flusser is like going to a specialist for consultation. There is a better than even chance Flusser himself will come out and comment on your ideal "cuff to jacket sleeve" proportions. He is also legendary for not selling you things he considers unflattering to you. Whereas the RL store is a museum to an idealized Haute WASP culture, Flusser's is a shrine to 1930's menswear illustrations in Esquire & Apparel Arts. RL treats you like the star of the movie, and therefore has other aspects--set design, if you will--such as furniture, china, crystal, and so forth, to help complete the illusion.

At Flusser you are the subject of a portrait. The silhouette is drapier, less fitted and the fabrics softer to correspond. The shoulders are broad, yes, but not as much as RLPL and they are pitched forward, the waist is narrower but the skirt is fuller (notice all the mannequins have one hand in their pocket!). Where AF goes a bit off the rails is in the combinations. You'll see a lot of the "Ain't I clever!?" stripe-on-stripe-on-stripe that makes a guy look like a walking test pattern.**

Mind you, none of this is a comfort to those of us who live in the provinces. Especially since Flusser ONLY does custom work (i.e., a lot of fittings, meaning a lot of trips to--or long stays in--NYC).

But, beauty is pain, yes?


* Although, you can get almost everything the NYC flagship offers at the Chicago and Beverly Hills flagships, but the NYC is the one where you can get EVERYTHING.

** It's okay to wear, say, a glen plaid with a striped shirt and a patterned tie PROVIDED all the patterns are small and discreet. Anything else looks like you're trying too hard and missing too badly.


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