From before Don Draper’s time to today, men have been buying suits on Madison Avenue, in the exalted made-to-measure tailor shops and off the racks at tony Brooks Brothers and Paul Stuart. Now comes My.Suit, an upstart on New York’s stylishly conservative men’s row that has raised more than a few venerable eyebrows with the burning question: Does cutting-edge technology have a place in the time-honored art of made-to-measure style?
The 3000-square-foot flagship between 45th and 46th streets uses technology, minimalist design and a bit of visual irony to announce the “new way to buy a suit,” offering a bespoke outfit for $495 that is more than worthy of the “Mad Men” mystique.
Designed by Ji Rook Kim, founder of New York design firm UnSpace, the store is divided into two sections. The first is where clients freely explore and experiment with the different options available to build their one-of-a-kind suit. A series of strategically positioned computer stations, equipped with monitors and projectors, prompts customers to develop their custom specifications electronically. The second section, in the back half of the store, is where consultation, measurements and fitting rooms are located. Here, the customer can work with a professional to select lapels, linings and buttonholes.
The “fabric bar,” a metallic wall festooned with fabric-covered magnetic blocks, or “pods,” provides an irresistible tactile draw for customers entering the store. The design also allows customers to easily remove and handle the pods to feel the weight and texture of the fabric. It also offers maximum flexibility to change and adapt the fabric assortment to the season. A grouping of four glass vitrines is positioned in front of the wall, offering trim options from threads and buttons to under-colors and stitching.
The store references the Japanese design sensibilities Kim learned working for minimalist artist/architect Itami Jun. Kim recalls his mentor having him brew tea each day in preparation for a future design project. Without knowing what his design challenge would be, Kim dutifully carried out the assigned task. “He wouldn’t even drink the first few pots,” says Kim. Only after three months, when satisfied with the quality of the tea, did Jun ask Kim to design a portable teahouse that could be built in 10 minutes and then moved to another place. Kim learned the economy of line and holistic approach to design that defines the My.Suit environment. For example, modular wall units, evocative of a Japanese shoji screen, are hung throughout the store on French cleats. The units can be moved to new configurations to change the look of the environment.
A ceiling drop, supported by four sizeable black columns against an overwhelmingly white interior, separates the experiential area from the more relaxed, lounge-like consultation area. This detail frames a ceiling-mounted mural painted by graffiti artist Ivan P. (also known as Mr. Mustart). A second mural in the rear of the store, painted by the same artist, communicates the attributes of the brand and draws customers into the space.
Vintage TVs in the store window – from 1940s Tele-tone and RCA Victors to Panasonics and Sonys from the ’60s and ’70s – are stacked vertically on old dressmaker stands and broadcast the My.Suit concept from retro-fitted monitors out onto the busy street.
The Madison Avenue store will serve as a prototype for future stores and the retrofitting of the retailer’s two existing locations, in New York’s Herald Square and the Westchester Mall in White Plains, N.Y. Going forward, says Kim, mannequins will be replaced by vertical video monitors featuring “walking suits.” The presentation will pause at the click of a mouse to provide detail and inspiration for suit-building. It allows the retailer to go beyond merely showing merchandise to demonstrate the suit-building process in the most simple and direct way.
Design: UnSpace, New York
Architect: A. Giannopoulos Architects, Astoria, N.Y.
Audio/Visual: Innovative, New York
Fixtures: Fleetwood, Leesport, Pa.; Amuneal, Philadelphia
Furniture: Uhuru Design, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Flooring: Ann Sacks, New York; Architectural Systems, New York
Lighting: Jesco Lighting, Queens, N.Y.
Wallcoverings and Materials: Aimee Wilder Designs LLC, New York