I probably looked like a schoolboy playing hooky, which, as far as life is concerned, I am. Here I am clashing blacks and blues as usual, although for once, not anywhere on my skin. I was in NYC on business recently, but busy as I was, I managed to find an afternoon to explore the brick and mortar offerings of some our better known catalog companies (see below).
The following are my off the cuff first impressions (unedited); I’ll probably wish they had remained unwritten. Keep in mind that these are not the words of an urbane sophisticate who frequents haberdasheries, but rather those of a bohemian.
Polo: The Mansion: definitely fronts an elegant facade but is rather misleading, since most of it appears to be office space – leaving only the corner sliver as a retail store. Thin it may be, but we get 4 floors of it. I found the inside to be like an over-decorated movie set. That meant: too many oil paintings cluttered along the stairs, (as a painter, I didn’t think that was possible) a couple of which I wanted to consider closely, but the lighting wasn’t appropriate for viewing (the art deserved better). The staff who passed me looked concerned, as if I hadn’t realized the paintings were for decoration only!
Speaking of the staff: they appeared to have been sent over from Central Casting, on hiatus from Gossip Girl. Immaculately groomed — they were handsome, aloof, and disinterested (because, at a glance, they knew I wasn’t a touriste; I probably appeared to them as either a poorhouse fashion student or an intern from next door, so they politely ignored me). Staff outnumbered customers nearly 3 to 1. The few hardy souls who had braved the rain were clustered around an altar of big logo’d polo shirts. Upon leaving, I happened to notice a white-jacketed manboy at the door, silver tray of champagne in hand for incoming customers. Nice touch but note to staff: I prefer scotch.
Overall, not an entirely unpleasant experience, but this place was clearly for tourists. I found myself more mesmerized by the props/styling of the store and less beguiled by the salable merchandise. The narrow layout is odd; maybe it’s just simple familiarity, but I find the San Francisco flagship store more comfortable and the staff more engaging.
Rugby (both the flagship and Bleeker Street store): easily, the most interesting and positive experience among various bougie big-brand retail in NYC was here. And by here I mean not only inside the stores themselves but seeing it worn on the streets of New York in general. Not only was the average in-store customer base older, I definitely saw Rugby being worn on the street, by a similar demographic. For all I know these were employees of Papa Ralph on their lunch break but I enjoyed seeing other men my age wearing it. At the store, staff was helpful without being overbearing, condescending, or rude. Unusual for retail, in this day and age.
Back home I’ve nearly given up on going inside the San Francisco Rugby store since I feel like a creepy old man among the pubescent sales staff. Sure, they’re friendly enough, with few staffers genuinely going out of their way to smile and chat, but everyone is so young. As a rule I don’t like kids, and by kids, I mean anyone under 30. While most of SF Rugby customers are slightly older than the cashiers, they’re usually just looking for brashly branded polos and are too lazy to try and park their car near the downtown Polo store. The only people I’ve seen in the SF store close to my age are the Japanese tourists; judging from my shopping experiences in Tokyo, I can say that we seem to have similar taste.
Brooks: The older sales staff followed me around like I was going to steal something, which is funny since paying full price there would be like them robbing me.
J. Press: Devoid of customers except for a man I took to be Bruce Boyer (and, if it was, he was my only celeb sighting on this trip.) Mr. Boyer was chatting with sales associate about ”Ivy,” but that’s the most I could eavesdrop, and I too shy to approach him. Overall, J. Press had a much more playful and tempting selection of neckwear (particularly bowties) than the competition. Their casual wear is collegiate, and certainly my style if not my budget; in person, the selection was better than online (or so it seemed) but still not as daring as their designs in Japan. I understand that it’s for a different market over there in Tokyo, but a boy can still dream.
Pink: The young sales staff, though friendly, followed me around like I going to steal something. Offputting.
J Crew: Conspiring circumstances prevented me from visiting the famed mens “liquor” store, though I did trespass in both the Union Square and upper Madison stores. Not much to say overall. One thing I did notice was this: any under-40 male in Manhattan who wasn’t wearing either a business suit or H&M casual seemed to be using the J Crew catalog as his style guide — jeans, plaid button down, and déshabillé blazer. I will credit the Crew on making something of their menswear — ten years ago, it took experts with microscopes and carbon testing to determine if there was any difference between J. Crew and Banana Republic; now both brands are leagues* away from each other. (*by “leagues” I mean that even though they both still cater exclusively to upper middle class white guys, among that particular 1% they are noticeably different.)