Proclaimed by Ralph Lauren to be “one of the most knowledgeable experts on men’s fashion,” Alan Flusser has had quite the expansive career: as a men’s style writer, as a custom clothier, as a designer of men’s volume-priced fashion, and as a costume designer. Award winning actorMichael Douglas proclaimed that the clothes Flusser created for him in the 1986 movie Wall Street “elicited the most attention and applause of any costume design done for any of my films.”
Flusser is also an impromptu consultant in home design. His recently expanded apartment on upper Fifth Avenue and a second home in the Hamptons are sensational in opposite ways: NYC being ultra-contemporary with stunning modern art and expansive views of Central Park whereas the South Hampton house is charmingly eclectic and elegantly beach-y.
Winner of both Coty and Cutty Sark awards and author of four iconic books on men’s fashion (Dressing the Man has sold 240,000 copies and is for many the industry ‘bible’), Flusser is friends with not only Ralph Lauren and Michael Douglas but also Jay Stein (they went to camp together, thus Flusser’s 20-year partnership with Steinmart), Phil Miller (which led to Flusser’s custom clothing shop at Saks Fifth Avenue), and numerous industry luminaries. Here, he gives MR his take on where men’s fashion is now, where it’s headed and how men can “master the art of permanent fashion,” a goal more relevant than ever since the current obsession with sustainability.
Whatever first sparked your interest in men’s fashion?
Definitely my dad. He was in the real estate business and a dandy of sorts whose role model was Fred Astaire. My first book, Making the Man, was dedicated to him, a man who truly loved clothes! (Incidentally, I just learned thatMaking the Man is now selling for $140 on the internet; it was originally $18…”)
Editor’s note: The book’s dedication reads: “To my father, whose wonderful esoteric wardrobe first whetted my appetite for French lisle, hand-clocked socks, striped English suspenders and garters, Brooks Brothers button-down shirts and alligator tassel loafers, and whose memory is never far from mind when in my travels I happen upon some exquisite legacy from his time, an item crafted by artists and altogether elegant.”
Other than your dad, who or what inspired you?
I learned the most from studying the dressing styles of the sartorial greats on the big screen – Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, David Niven, Cary Grant etc. plus their principal style provocateur – The Duke of Windsor.
But it’s hard for a man to learn how to dress well today as there are few avatars plus little help on the retail floor. When I spy some one who appears to know how to put clothes together, I will sometimes (if convenient) go up to him and inquire how he came to such a skill-set.
When men ask me about how to dress better, I shuttle them to my Dressing The Man and a few similar treatises. To begin with, like art or wine collecting, it starts with certain basic information and then you can move on.
Of course, working with Pierre Cardin in the late 70s broadened my view. And Ralph Lauren has had a major influence on my career from the beginning; I own so many of his designs and feel truly honored that he chose me to write his most recent book.
It seems that independent men’s stores are selling more tailored clothing these days. Are men ready to dress up again?
I’ve probably sold more clothes (one on one) to men than any other fashion designer if one considers my wholesale years doing PAs at upscale retailers like Bergdorfs, Wilkes Bashford, Britches, and Louis Boston. Add to that my custom clothing studio that I ran for 37 years and my collection at Steinmart (where I did six or seven PA’s a season for almost 20 years), and it’s evident I’ve spoken to a lot of men about how to dress. And what I’ve learned is that very few men don’t want to dress better. If we give them the tools, if we provide information that makes sense to them, they’re eager to elevate their wardrobes.
That said, there are only two physical factors that truly matter when it comes to creating a wardrobe with longevity: a man’s proportion and his coloring. The relationship between the shirt collar and the man’s face, the jacket length and the man’s height, the skin tone and the most flattering shade of gray. I was once a pro golfer and I’d often see guys spend hours practicing their swing but never improving because they were building on the wrong foundation. It’s the same with building a wardrobe: you need to first understand physical proportion and complementary colors.
What’s the biggest obstacle to inspiring men to dress well?
Ironically, it’s actually more comfortable to wear a suit nowadays with today’s comfort features, stretch and lightweight fabrics and less inner construction. The challenge is teaching men how to dress casually and still look professional.
Most menswear retailers blew the dress-down, casual Friday opportunity by one, letting the designer look monopolize their offerings, and two, not having anyone on the floor who knew how to coordinate casual wear pieces in a manner that projects a business-appropriate look.
What’s next on the agenda for Alan Flusser?
I’m working on an app that uses a shopper’s physical traits to design the perfect outfit. I’m also creating a direct-to-consumer collection of iconic and timeless menswear items: the perfect cotton knit polo, linen shirt, lightweight jeans, soft espadrille. It will be my taste level but at affordable pricepoints. It doesn’t cost any more to design with longevity in mind rather than a passing trend. The correct width lapel and proper height gorge cost no more to design than the latest fashion whim.
What’s the best advice you might give to menswear retailers today?
Ideally, there should be at least one skilled dresser/salesman on the floor to inspire and direct men’s palettes. That sounds easy but to find such a fellow these days has never been more of a challenge. I mean, if you can’t employ someone who knows his way around a bow tie or a properly cut pleated bottom, why should you expect the customer to be able to appreciate those items that take a little initiative to pull off well.