by Karen Alberg Grossman

I recently took my first trip to Rochester N.Y. and was delighted by the unexpected charm and sophistication of this city in upstate New York, which I knew mostly for Kodak and Bausch & Lomb.

First stop: Lunch with industry icon Lucky Nahum, where we reminisced about the good old days; Lucky also shared some exciting plans for the future, which you’ll be hearing about soon…

Lucky Naham

Next stop: the three-story Adrian Jules factory, where I met with Arnie Roberti and his beautiful daughter Alexa who recently joined the company. Arnie’s brother Peter and nephews Peter and Matthew are also involved in the business, which was founded in 1964 by Arnie and Peter’s dad Adriano. This talented craftsman (in framed photo) had been a tailor in Italy until he was recruited to Rochester by Hickey Freeman. At age 27, he left HF to open his own tailored clothing facility with a partner, a dream and considerable drive.

The dream and drive are alive and well over 50 years later, thanks to 80 skilled craftspeople and managers. The company is well known for beautiful custom clothing made from the finest fabrics; they do a nice business with sports stars, corporate execs, and three of the past four U.S. presidents! Suits (about 7,000 are produced annually) open at $1,995 retail, and average about $2,500. (The factory also runs a nearby retail store where I tried on some gorgeous women’s suits!)

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Next stop: the famous Hickey Freeman factory, which has been running without interruption since 1912 (and has been recently renovated with all the latest machinery). We met here with clothing icons Chris Linares, Roy Nicholls, Paul Farrington, Sasha Smits (production director) and many of their 550 employees. There are 23 different languages spoken on their factory floors! We were totally impressed with the amount of handcraftsmanship that goes into their products (it takes 180 steps to make a coat; 57 for a pant) and with the fact that America still represents opportunity for so many workers from so many different cultures.

Many other things impressed us here, including Hickey’s testing lab. With blended fabrics, yarns may not shrink at the same rate, so the lab does extensive sponging to minimize shrinkage and stabilize fabrics to reduce buckling during the sewing processes. We were also intrigued by the number (about 80) of pressing and molding operations involved from beginning to end, building shape into their full canvas and even modified canvas garments at numerous stages of production so the suit takes on the shape of the wearer. Other points of interest: Hickey is about to reinstate a training school to attract young workers; they’re doing a lot of work with Polo; and their custom business is booming. (Garments are completed in 15 work days.)

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On to The Red Barn, the upscale apparel store in town. The founder, Ed Rhoda, is a wonderful man who, with his son Eddie, has built a very strong menswear business. (According to Nikky exec Ali Khatami, Rhoda sends his vendors home from trunk shows with snack bags of fresh sandwiches and drinks that he has waiting for them in their cars. Who does that?)

The store, which was established in 1964, is quite impressive: it’s open and airy and well-merchandised with great men’s brands ranging from Canali, Eton and Gimos to Robert Graham, Robert Talbott, and St. Croix to Agave, AG, and Citizens. Co-owner and president Don Rhoda’s wife Pam has merchandised a fabulous women’s department with lots of sophisticated, well-priced European labels.

What’s hot in men’s? According to Don and Ed, it’s been rich plaid sportcoats (Canali, Jack Victor, Talbott), micro-patterned shirts (Eton, Stenstroms), outerwear vests (a quilted herringbone vest from Waterville at $595 retail has been a home run), Lone Pine leather jackets, Hiltl and MAC stretch chinos, Gran Sasso and St. Croix knits (“the finest knitwear in America: the collars don’t curl under”), neckwear and fancy textured belts. With trunk show season in full swing (and Rochester snow season yet to hit), business has been healthy!

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A final note: don’t leave Rochester without stopping at the Wegmans flagship: it is product presentation at its best!

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