As we are all aware, the menswear market is growing like a wildfire in the Hill Country. Blogs are exploding, trade shows are growing and lines are launching quicker than one can say L.L. Bean. But the great thing about this resurgence is not only the new but the new appreciation of the old.
Established in 1885, Turnbull & Asser has dressed men from Winston Churchill and Pablo Picasso to Miles Davis and Charlie Chaplin as well as every James Bond since 1962. Even in the 1980’s T&A (don’t you love those initials?) had a boost when the Queen of England bestowed upon Prince Charles the right to grant royal warrants in his own name after his marriage to Diana. The first warrant he signed was to Turnbull & Asser for shirts.
Recently the company received another injection of youth when James Fayed took over operations of the company. Recently he moved the New York store into a new building (next to the old one) and gave it a major overhaul giving the whole space the feel of a swank but approachable gentleman's club with custom wallpaper, a shiny marble and silver formalwear department and an entire room dedicated to custom made umbrellas. On the day we were in there one of Charley Chaplin’s original canes was just resting in the corner ready for a twirl.
We sat down with James to hear more about his involvement, the state of tailoring today and his pride and joy- a wall embroidered with 18,000 pearl buttons.
Who were Turnbull & Asser?
Turnbull was owned by Sir Reginald Turnbull and Ernest Asser. It started as a producer or hosiery and gowns and evolved into a shirt and tie company over the years. Our manufacturing facility was under the store on Jermyn Street in London. Then that expanded and we bought factories outside Gloucester in the U.K. Just recently we moved everything back under one roof which has been fantastic and much easier on everyone.
Are there any Turnbull’s or Asser’s involved today?
There are still some Asser’s around but my father bought the business in the 1980’s.
Tell us how you got involved?
I’ve always been involved from the stockroom to shipping and even in design. My summers were spent on the shop floor in London as a kid. Then I studied fashion design in college and started on the shop floor here in New York and got back into operations after a while.
How are you celebrating the 126th Anniversary?
We have been stuck in second gear for quite some time so we are excited to bump it into third! We feel like now is the time with the new store and image. We had a massive party to celebrate the new store and the anniversary (you faithful editor attended and can attest, it was beyond posh and boozy).
I hear from many bespoke companies that it takes much longer to have things made today since the craftsmen are a dying breed.
The U.K. is lucky enough to hold onto what they have so I don’t think that is the problem in manufacturing but where we see the craftsmen diminishing is Saville Row. While Saville Row will never disappear, traditional companies are now looking for new ways to bridge the art of tailoring for today's world.
But on our end we have established relationships with John Lang who makes our cashmere who we have worked with for 50 years. Fox makes our umbrellas and Vannars silk is another one we work with. So we have been lucky to have great relationships with these people. 100% of this collection you see is made in England!
Tell us about the revamp of the 57th Street store. How did that come about?
The original store was in the way of a huge development going up right next to us so we were lucky enough to buy this building next door. We only gained 300-400 square feet but it makes a big difference. It is an absolute delight to work in this space. The lighting is incredible. We moved our suiting department and formal wear department into the same room as bespoke. I’m a firm believer that our made-to-measure wearer is also a suit client so why not put them together?
And now that we are bringing in a new fitted suit option we think that will appeal to some of the younger customers.
Who is your client these days?
Most of our clients are the Wall Street bankers. They are loving the new space. People ask why we moved since we are just next door- they are a bit confused but happy to see how great this store is. We really focused on fixtures here so there are more options to change things around at a whim. Lighter woods, curves on fixtures and crown moldings are just subtle touches to make it more familiar and cozy.
The formal wear room is one of my favorite rooms. It was inspired the El Morocco club that used to be in New York back in the ‘40’s. You just want to have a martini there!
Our sleepwear room has 18,000 mother-of-pearl buttons on the wall. It was made by Tracey Kindle out of London who does lots of interesting wallpapers. She even has one of post-it notes. So she made our wallpaper with all of our buttons. She wasn’t too thrilled when we sent her a huge box of buttons but it looks great.
I love how you have curated the art in the new space.
We used to have what I called the ‘pizza parlor wall’ of portraits of famous clients in serious portraits mounted side by side. So I found more amusing images of our clients in motion and I mixed them with oil paintings that I hoisted from my mom’s house in London.
What is the difference between your U.K. and U.S. customer?
The British are so very patient! That is why they queue all the time (laughs). But Americans want to see new all the time and they are more fashion driven. We have done well with that. Americans buy spontaneously. They like to come in, see something, buy it and walk out with it. They aren’t as responsive to made to measure as those in the U.K.
What is next for Turnbull?
What really is next is brick and mortar. We want free standing shops. The U.S. is an amazing market for us. We are 126 years old but here we are still kind of new. We have a Beverly Hills store that is up and running. Also, wholesale is expanding wildly in Asia. It’s been an amazing response.