There are few American menswear designers with an aesthetic as recognizable as Joseph Abboud. Although his celebrated career has given him a diverse resume (Louis Boston, Lord & Taylor, Hickey Freeman, Tailored Brands), his passion for soft neutral colors, contrasting textures, classic pattern mixing, and styles that gently trace the male body is consistent in all his designs. His namesake store on Madison is perhaps the pinnacle of this aesthetic, an emporium of luxury menswear that’s modern, cohesive, and timeless.
That said, the important message of this fabulous store (beyond its elegant rustic decor and attention to detail) is the harmonious mix of clothing, sportswear, outerwear, and accessories. One category flows seamlessly into the next, as if any piece you pick up will complement any other. Other success secrets: exclusive fabrics from top Italian mills, oversized swatches, a focus on custom in everything from suits to shearling outerwear (available in 7 days), compelling windows that tell stories (the history of linen, the legacy of Carlo Barbera), an international clientele (generating 50 percent of store volume) and a fabulous new shop-in-shop for unique accessories and gifts.
“Our best-selling categories are cashmere, woven shirts, custom clothing and soft sportscoats,” says Abboud. “Custom is 30-35 percent of store volume and sportscoats are 50 percent of tailored units. I view sportscoats as the bridge between tailored and sportswear; our stance is aggressive patterns; we’re not about navy blazers.”
Asked how he can offer his level of luxury and style at relatively affordable pricepoints (opulent cashmere sweaters are $295-$495; sportscoats, $895 to $1495; suits, $995 to $1500), Abboud is (as always) candid. “My friends at multi-brand specialty stores won’t want to hear this but I believe you need to be vertical to give this kind of value. There are so few stores left for designers to sell because the wholesale to retail model is archaic.”
Preparing for his annual runway show, Abboud shows me photos of the hard work that goes into it: the decades of archives, the sketching, the endless hours of cutting and sewing each individual look. “It’s worth it,” he maintains. “A billion impressions over the last three shows opens doors. But not all runway presentations make sense to me. I take exception to silly looks on the runway; I’m offended by it. Especially since men are literal and don’t know how to extract the message the way women do. My response to these guys is: Get the Message! Understand it, embrace it; don’t be so literal!”
We talk about how runways are increasingly dominated by streetwear. “Why is today’s fashion focus on streetwear? Because tailored clothing is hard to do. A $2,000 sweatshirt with a big logo: that’s easy! I’ve always believed that “great menswear is defined by great restraint.”