by Brian Lipton
VK Nagrani
Vivek Nagrani

Vivek “VK” Nagrani says his new flagship store, located in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it space at 87A East Houston Street, was designed to highlight a “child-like sense of discovery.” And indeed, everywhere you look in this two-level space, designed in conjunction with architectural firm Hecho, there’s another amazing detail to be found: a vending machine that dispenses one pair of socks at a time (at $40 per pop), safe deposit boxes that double as “lockers” for your cellphone, a working slot machine (using tokens during the day, real coins during parties), library-style ladders. You name it.

This “clubhouse for grown-ups” is a space that’s only fitting for the iconoclastic, Indian-born designer, whose personal inspirations are two fictional characters beloved by children and adults alike: wealthy millionaire Bruce Wayne (aka Batman) and candy king Willy Wonka. And like those men, who face down all those who challenge them, Nagrani has long been determined to handle the men’s fashion industry in his own fashion.

In the case of the shop, which opened earlier this summer, it’s no different. While most passersby are allowed to browse the top floor, which contains a heavily curated collection of Nagrani’s clothing and accessories, only those customers who meet with his personal approval gain access to the larger downstairs space, where everything Nagrani makes or buys can be found, along with a large custom shop (which account for much of his business).

The suits, the shirts, the jackets down there are all spectacular – from supple leathers to gorgeous linen-blends – subtly boasting the Nagrani label inside and displayed without price tags. (Essentially, if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.) While sizes do range the gamut from small to XXL, each piece is made in very limited quantities (no more than 50 pieces per model), and might easily not be available on your next visit. Of course, you could spend a week’s salary just on the amazing accessories, from handcrafted shoes to Nagrani’s signature neckwear, underwear and socks, to nail clippers that look like pliers and leather pouches containing “hangover kits.”

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Unsurprisingly, top-level customers get the truly specialized treatment, including a cask with their name on it featuring their favorite alcoholic libation. In addition, Nagrani has also begun to search auction houses for antique watches that a particular customer might request or want, and then refitting them with a new, perfectly matched strap. And vintage valet stands are displayed with complete outfits that are often created with a client in mind, showing him exactly which pieces he needs to look his best. “My philosophy for all my customers is simple,” he says. “Be everything to someone, not something to everyone.”

Fortunately, as much as he openly disdains the current retail climate, primarily because most department and specialty stores all sell the same brands, he is working with a few selected specialty stores to allow his message to spread past NoLIta. “We’ve created a digital look book which we send out to these retailers. We encourage them to send them to existing clients or clients they might like to engage and tell the client to pick and choose which clothes interest them,” he explains. “Then, on one designated for each store, preferably one of their slower days, we set up one of those valets with the clothes on it. The client then comes in and tries them on, and only buys what he wants. And he will then be the only person in that town to have access to those pieces. And whatever he doesn’t want, we take back. It’s a great way to attract some new business to those stores.”