Man About Town

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Man About Town

07/21/2015
This is the first in a new series of dispatches from New York-based men’s wear writer Christian Chensvold. A longtime Apparel contributor, Chensvold is the founder of Ivy-Style.com, a contributor to The Rake, The Wall Street Journal and Ralph Lauren Magazine, and is the author of "The Stylish Life: Golf."

Stepping into the recently opened Joseph Abboud flaghip on Madison Avenue, you may not be sure where the store fits in among its neighbors, and surely that's a virtue. Nearby are legendary stalwarts such as Brooks Brothers and Paul Stuart, discounters such as Men's Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank, and young upstarts including My Suit. The new Abboud store, which opened in late spring and is the only freestanding Abboud retail store, seems to need its own category.

Why? For starters, the namesake is into European style, and the muted colors and crinkly scarves might have you thinking a more affordable Americanized Brunello Cucinelli. "My palette has always been more mensy colors, definitely not preppy," says Abboud. "Our blues are more indigo and our grays are warmer. The store is very serene, and the paint, architectural elements, and of course the clothes all have a very warm, neutral, zen feel — an environment that keeps the customer in."

That customer isn't likely to be sporting the so-called "American Boardroom" look of dark worsted suit, white shirt and random shiny tie — basically what every politician and newscaster wears these days. "I want to get the business guy," Abboud says, "but I'd like him to be a little more sophisticated and less predictable."

Less predictable means linen over year-round wool, as the Joseph Abboud store is absolutely packed with the textured fabric. Tailored clothing is made in a New Bedford, Mass., factory that goes back to the days of Abboud's partnership with Italy's Gruppo Finanziario Tessile, or GFT. The factory currently boasts 800 employees devoted exclusively to making Joseph Abboud apparel. This vertical integration enables prices 30 percent lower than competitors, he says. Half-canvassed sportcoats made in the United States of Italian fabric are a steal at $495. This fall, look for cashmere sportcoats for $895 "that anywhere else would be $1,500," says Abboud. "Nobody can beat us at this game, it's a huge competitive advantage."

As a result, don't expect to see big discount signs marring the store's zen vibe. This isn't about big volume and fast turnover. Instead the store is "curated" with distinctive accessories and a table of carefully chosen luxury coffee-table books. "We're trying to bring back the lost art of the great men's specialty store," says Abboud. 

Born in Boston to Lebanese Catholic parents and having studied at the Sorbonne, Abboud was associate director of men’s wear at Ralph Lauren before launching his eponymous collection in 1986. The name and trademark are currently owned by Men's Wearhouse, where Abboud has the title of chief creative director.

Recently Abboud was in the store (where his daughter Lila is working her way up, unassisted by nepotism), and was pleased to oversee a sale of two linen jackets to a couple from Milan. "They could shop anywhere back home in all those great stores, and we got them to shop in our store. I had to chuckle and say to myself, 'You know, that's pretty cool.'"