MAVERICKS & LEGENDS SERIES: ROBERT STOCK, DESIGNER/ENTREPRENEUR

by Karen Alberg Grossman

“THERE ARE GREAT COLLABORATIVE EFFORTS OUT THERE COMBINING THE ENERGY OF THE YOUNG AND THE EXPERTISE OF THE OLD.”

Robert Stock confides that he got into the fashion business for two valid reasons: 1) he wasn’t a good student, and 2) his father (who owned a gas station in the Bronx) truly appreciated men’s fashion. “He’d come home from work each night, take a hot shower, and then show up for dinner wearing a beautiful shirt, custom made for him at a men’s tailor shop on the Grand Concourse…

“I’d go through his closet and study the designs. This fascination led me (at age 19) to work in men’s specialty stores, where I first met Ralph Lauren, who was in the store selling ties. We kind of connected so when he opened his first office (a tiny space in the Empire State Building that he shared with Phil Feiner), he invited me to check it out. I went there, he asked what I thought, and I told him it looked great but where was I going to sit? “Not yet, but soon,” he promised. Shortly after, I went to work at a “mod” pants company that produced patterned bell bottoms. From there, I launched Country Britches, at which point Ralph approached me and asked if I wanted to start a moderately-priced pants line with him. Since so many companies were knocking him off, he decided to do it himself. And that was the beginning of Chaps…”

And the journey continued through the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and into the 21st century, with Stock never failing to build money-making collections, including a line of silk shirts that became a $100 million business in the ‘90s. His pride and joy however: Robert Graham, a shirt-turned-lifestyle collection that was a true game changer for the menswear industry. Within this brand (launched in 2001 with Graham Fowler), Stock established a Collector’s Division of pricey, intricately patterned and decorated men’s shirts with a large and loyal following.

Aside from the five major fashion awards he’s received (including the Coty, Cutty Sark, and American Image), Stock is grateful for all the people he’s worked with over the years, most proud of the family he created with his wife of 39 years, artist/designer Nancy McTague-Stock, his longevity in the business (currently a consultant and collaborator) and the lessons he’s learned from Ralph Lauren. “He taught me perseverance and hard work. To stick to your vision and always be yourself. To strive for perfection, never settling or getting discouraged no matter what obstacles you face.”

On our industry’s future, Stock is optimistic. “There are great collaborative efforts out there combining the energy of the young and the expertise of the old. Everyone is experimenting with new approaches, from sustainability, TikTok and A.I. to the explosion of online influence in sales and marketing. While the past two years have been crazy, scary and unprecedented, the pandemic gave people the ‘think time’ needed to plan and revamp, realizing that there’s a place in this industry for tailored clothing, joggers, elevated street wear and even a new American jean revolution. Despite pandemic challenges, it’s an exciting time for the industry to rebuild and reposition itself. I’m trying a few new things…”

Rest assured we’ll be watching!

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