18 May 2012
Meeting Alan Flusser last week was something of a moment for me. His 2002 book, Dressing the Man, was, after all, a fundamental part of my education in menswear and the inspiration for years of exploration and expression.
But it seems not much has changed in the past 10 years. Men still need a lot of help in knowing how to dress, and Alan’s books have not educated enough people, despite the thousands sold. In Alan’s opinion, a fundamental problem is the lack of stylish and erudite sales staff.
“Style, clothing is a very visual medium. You need to see something being worn well to be inspired. And most tailors are craftsmen, not stylists. Customers are usually inspired by their cutting, not what they are wearing,” he says.
English tailors snipe about the success of stylish men such as Richard James, Ozwald Boateng and Patrick Grant. But they fail to learn the lesson: that men need style advice as much as they need a great fitting suit.
“One client came to me recently and he said, ‘I’ve been to Savile Row and I’ve had suits made at Poole, Anderson & Sheppard and Huntsman. I have these beautiful things. But when I put them on I don’t think I look any better than I did before’. He needed direction, so we helped put together a little capsule wardrobe,” says Alan.
Sales assistants in department stores should be different – it is their job to sell, and usually on the basis of style, not craft. There are some good stores in New York that have this kind of staff. I met some wonderful examples last week at Paul Stuart, Ralph Lauren and Bergdorf Goodman. But most, particularly in the UK, fail miserably.
“The problem is they never say no,” says Alan. “They will never tell a man that something doesn’t suit him, that two things don’t go together. That’s one of the privileges of custom clothing, such as we operate here: we have no particular prejudice in what we sell.”
Alan Flusser Custom has shrunk to one floor since the departure of Mark Rykken a couple of years ago (now at Paul Stuart custom). But Alan has plans to expand his cheaper, branded line of clothing (currently sold in 300 stores across the US). He shows me a series of mannequins – in suits, gilets, outerwear – each with a label pinned to them reading $170, $220 or similar.
“That’s the price of the whole outfit. In the past two years the range and quality of Chinese manufacturing has improved considerably. It’s now at the point where we can use clothes like this to sell taste to the mass market,” he says. “The current sellers spend no money on design or displaying outfits. And designers have no interest in that market.”
Alan’s taste is sophisticated but eclectic. We talked for a good while about the tracksuit bottoms and trainers he was wearing with his pinstripe jacket and white shirt. It will be interesting to see whether he can have any success dressing the broader American population.