MRket is a massive, sprawling menswear trade show:
It includes well over 350 different menswear vendors, selling everything from suits and sport coats to shoes, denim, sportswear, hats, ties, leather bags, belts, jewelry, accessories, care products, cuff links -- you name it. It's always beautifully merchandised and decorated, and some of the booths are incredibly elaborate...and it has a cash bar (I really should've made better use of that). I won't bore you with a blow-by-blow of over eighteen hours of meetings, but check out the highlights:
Paul Betenley is a relatively new line with us...we started with them this Fall season, and we're continuing with the line, because they're an amazing vendor. They provide stunning tailored clothing (suits and sport coats) that rival even Jack Victor in terms of quality. They're a fully integrated company, so they own the sheep, they spin the fibers into threads, turn the threads into fabrics, construct the garments and do it all themselves -- they even have their own Italian wool mill. Half the fun of this appointment is also getting to chat with our rep Gene, who is as much a salesman as a friend. Over the age of 70, and he still reps several different lines. When we sit down to this meeting, we're really looking for something special that we can't find with any of our other clothing vendors -- unique patterns, unusual fabrication, we're trying to sniff out the good ones (I mean, they're all good, but you know what I'm getting at). Here's what we looked at:
Edward Armah is one of my favorite lines, and favorite people in the menswear industry. As I was chatting with one of the line designers at Will Leather Goods, Edward walked through and gave me a hug on the way to his booth. The designer turns to me and says "I've seen people walk up to him and meet him for the first time today, and within twenty minutes, it seems like they've been best friends for life." That's the kind of guy Edward is...his charisma and infectious energy are matched only by his raw talent and brilliantly creative mind.
The first time I saw Edward's booth, it was half the size of a traditional booth at MRket, and it was decked out from wall to wall with finery, most notably with the pocket rounds and boutonnieres we love so well. The second time I saw him, his booth had doubled in size, as had his offering. It looked like this:
Suddenly he's making hats, wallets, money clips, neckties, bowties, pocket squares, leather bags -- and when I saw him just a few days ago, and he's expanded all of his lines, and gotten into something totally unusual...umbrellas. Full wood-and-leather construction, these bad boys are actually made from bolts of tie material that's then treated and waterproofed, affixed with contrasting fabric to a rugged frame, and these things mean business. They retail for around $248, so I brought in one for myself just to have around the store...more on that when it's in. Take a peek at Edward's booth this time around:
Jack Victor is one of our favorite tailored clothing lines, excelling in their suits and sport coats...they're all made in Montreal, Canada and they've been doing it for 100 years. Amazing. They're also a family-owned business -- Alan Victor (I had the pleasure of meeting him this time -- very nice gent) now runs the business, which he took over from his father Herschel, who took it over from his father Jack Victor. JV is our high end stuff, so we're look for some really unique pieces when we sit down to this meeting. They have to be more adventurous than your standard solid basic suit, but they can't be too far out on the edge, either. We try to always strike a careful balance with Victor, and the quality of their garments speaks for itself. Here's what we saw from them:
Barbara Blank is one of the very best tie makers out there. All of her silk, wool, cotton and blended fabric ties are hand made in Manhattan in their showroom. While we love some of our lines because they pair down their efforts to a hand-picked grouping of ties, Barbara presents you with hundreds and hundreds of potential ties. Some of the patterns are favorites from previous years, some are brand new, and they come from all over -- England, Italy, the States. We saw some incredible fabrics, from prints to wovens...and pocket squares too. (We even convinced her to include a series of paisley ties back into her line that she was going to cut out.) Barbara herself is a riot! She's full of energy and drive, and has a deep, abiding passion for ties...and it shows. She gets so excited about certain patterns or at my reactions (I gush over ties a lot), and we always have a good time and a ton of laughs. Some of her stunning ties:
Tallia Orange Shirting is an on-and-off line for us, but I'm hoping to switch that to "on" permanently. Their shirts are unique in pattern, fabric and fabrication. They have such unusual shirts with a careful attention to small details and fun accents. Our rep here is a wonderful man, a true Midwest gentleman from Detroit who knows his stuff. He knows that line inside and out, loves to talk about how different shirts are performing for him, which ones are selling quickest, which ones will be the national ad pieces...he's excited about what he does. Check out these shirts!
House of Domonique is a spin off line from Edward Armah, and just as impressive. A little younger, a little hipper -- the ties are slimmer and the pocket squares are brighter...and they're doing the umbrellas, too. While I was putting together another small order at the booth, I started chatting up the young man at the table, Benjy. Just 22 years old, he'd already served as the sales manager for a large clothing company, had a business or two of his own, was in the process of purchasing property in Brooklyn, had his sights set on Cuba...this young guy has some amazing ambition. He had a severe undercut with long, floppy hair on top and a wonderful English accent a la Tom Hardy. Now he's also working with Edward to expand his Domonique line in new creative ways.
Will Leather Goods is made in Eugene Oregon, and is a wonderful line. We're excited to get them back into J&C, because it has been a while! Will is all made in America, and each piece is guaranteed for life. A family owned company, Will Adler got his start in modeling and acting, but moved into the garment business in the early 80's. After he got going in LA with wholesale and retail, he moved to Eugene and started making belts, bags, accessories, and it took off. It's easy to see why. His styles are handsome, rugged, timeless and truly built to last. We're bringing in a leather and canvas traveler duffel, a handsome leather messenger, and a couple other smart surprises.
Jackson & Connor is proud to announce that we're expanding our own tie line! This Spring season, we're introducing our own J&C ties that are printed in Como, Italy on Italian silks with CAD-assisted silk printing technology. We're going to have wool/silk ties, as well as silk twill and satin. I met the owner who prints up all the ties, and he told me a little about the remarkable process. They design the prints and patterns on the computer, print them onto large blankets of fabric, and then they put it in a steam chamber where they spray steam and solvents onto the fabric to fix the dye. Next, they'll run it through a series of rollers and into a high-heat, high-power steam box to dry the blankets. Then they'll cut it into the correct size, wrap it around an interliner, stitch it up, and you've got a tie (yes, I'm condensing it quite a bit). Check out some of these patterns:
So, in case you've ever wondered, this is what our buying trips are like...the abridged version. Do that 9am-6pm without stopping for two days in a row, and that's really what it's like. It's frantic and a ton of work, but I'll be damned if there are few things more fun and exciting than looking at brand new product for next year.
Curious about how the Las Vegas buying trip is? Team J&C is headed out there on Saturday February 14th, and we'll be posting pics and great stuff from LV here and on our fb page. Stay tuned!