A whirlwind trip through Michigan gave us the opportunity to visit a few menswear merchants, many of whom are moving or renovating or updating their stores to give them a better shot at competing with ever-encroaching internet competition.
Despite Detroit’s highly publicized financial problems, the private sector is coming through with support, and several communities continue to thrive. Birmingham remains as upscale and affluent as ever and menswear merchants there are doing just fine! At Caruso Caruso, we chatted with Lennon Caruso who is about to renovate his landmark contemporary denim store, adding a lounge. Admitting that business this year has been off just a bit, the ever-outspoken Caruso (his father’s son) is selling lots of denim (AG, Citizens, Hudson) although women’s now generates 70 percent of his sales. “Color in denim is essentially over: we’re predominantly dark-wash slim-fit models. In women’s, the market is trying to re-introduce flares; I really wish they wouldn’t…” (Editor’s note: their T-shirt assortment is exceptional: I bought one for my husband emblazoned with “Detroit Police”…)
The Claymore Shop in Birmingham, founded in 1966, feels all warm and home-y and heritage-y. Proprietor Bob Benkert (himself the poster boy for Ralph Lauren, he was among the first merchants in the country to introduce Ralph to consumers back in 1967) showed off a fabulous collection of newly acquired Polo-attired teddy bears, donated by an elderly lady seeking a good home for them. In addition to great product (the store is very strong in clothing, half of which is made-to-measure), Claymore is famous for its superb sellers: Al Skiba (elegantly dressed in Samuelsohn) has been with the store since 1981; Charley Marcuse started in high school (and in his spare time works as a singing hot dog vendor at Tigers games); Mike Alexanian is the best tailor in town!
At L’Uomo Vogue in Bloomfield Hills, Bruce Goldman and his son Michael had just moved into a new somewhat smaller (2,500 square feet) location with lots of glass walls and great lighting. The two report brisk early fall sales in Sand, Gran Sasso and Cortigiani, with hybrid sportcoats a key item. More excitement: the store was recently filmed for an upcoming episode of HBO’s Topless Profits, which will hopefully lead to some bottom line profits for the Goldmans…
In Lansing, Kositchek’s is soon to celebrate its 150-year anniversary. Catering to attorneys and lobbyists in the state capital as well as students from Michigan State University, the store does a huge business in clothing (they hang 800 suits; hot now are Trussini, Samuelsohn and Canali) and furnishings (they display 2,000 ties) and is famous for its events, most notably a Dapper Dads fashion show at Father’s Day. (We marveled at the great wine cellar in the basement and plenty of set-up space for caterers!) Beautifully merchandised and easy to shop, the store’s mannequins and fixtures suggest creative combinations to inspire impulse sales. Accessories are a huge category, “the frame for the outfit,” says David Kositchek, pointing to a beautiful Chelsea scarf and Carrot & Gibbs wool pocket square. Other hot items at the time of our visit: hybrid sportcoats (for the fourth year now!), five-pocket bottoms from 34 Heritage and Gardeur, Johnston & Murphy footwear (a leased shop), shirts from Eton, David Donahue and Forsythe (“we need all three levels”), tailored clothing (including an entry-level Career Maker collection catering to law school students; tailored is 35 to 40 percent of the business, 8 percent of which is MTM), sportswear from Scott Barber, Toscano, Bugatchi, Ballin, St Croix, and more. A grooming salon was bustling at the time of our visit. An upstairs tailor shop with natural lighting is another plus. (I chatted with Gilberta who learned to sew at a trade school in Belgium and Genevieve who learned from her mother, two of a very professional team of six full-time tailors.) “We’re a small group and we’ve been together a long time,” says Matthew, a 32-year veteran. Adds Mark, with the store for 30 years, “A lot of us worked with David’s dad and David is just like his father…”
In Grand Rapids, Fitzgeralds was preparing for a Hart Schaffner Marx trunk show the following day but even before the event (and long before Christmas), they’d already sold numerous red plaid HSM sportcoats. Clothing is 25 percent to total store, with about a third of the business in custom, says Jesse Girod, who works with his dad at this beautifully merchandised menswear emporium that mixes classics like HSM, Talbott, Scott Barber and Allen Edmonds with more contemporary brands like Kuhl, Victorinox, Paige denim and Rufus.
And at A.K.Rikk’s, we saw what is probably the most beautiful new store the industry has seen in years, right up there with Boyds, Wilkes Bashford and Stanley Korshak. Rather than attempt to describe it (I couldn’t possibly do justice to 25,000 square feet of antique fixtures and furnishings, custom cabinets, amazing rugs and wall coverings, artwork, sculpture, magnificent bathrooms plus 5,000 square feet of event space), let me suggest that you get to Grand Rapids and see it yourself. Jim Murray would be delighted to discuss their upscale mix of 70 percent men’s, 30 percent women’s luxury and contemporary apparel, featuring all the best brands from Zegna, Isaia and Cucinelli to Etro, Eton and Rag & Bone. He’s equally knowledgeable about the origin of the crystal in a handcrafted chandelier or the design sensibility of his local metal smiths. (But hold on to your wallet: almost everything is for sale and much too tempting!)