Unruffled By Change: The Story Of Langrock Owner Alan Frank

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In a 1973 issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, Richard K. Rein wrote about P-Town’s legendary clothing shop Langrock. “Princeton’s oldest and most successful men’s clothing store,” he wrote, “is a curious mix of effete snobbery, highbrow intellectualism, and small town warmth and personal service that remained singularly unruffled by the sweeping sartorial changes occurring about it.”

A decade earlier the shop across the street from Holder Hall dominated the local prep and undergraduate market. So prevalent were student shoppers that they were banned on Saturdays so businessman could shop in peace. But by 1973 undergrads were scarce. Campus fashion had changed and Langrock’s prices had become too high for many student budgets  The least expensive item in the shop was $4.50 socks, and that quickly escalated to $325 for the base model made-to-measure wool suit, and $750 for the self-indulgent luxury of the muskrat-lined alpaca overcoat. Langrock, however, was still serving its original clients, who came of age before bellbottoms. It had a staff of 30, including 12 tailors, and was conducting a brisk mail-order business. In fact, it was doing $1 million in annual sales.

Behind it all was owner Alan G. Frank. He was born in New York in 1912, and it was in Manhattan that he was introduced to the textile industry. He moved to California in 1930 and worked in aircraft manufacturing during World War II. His postwar attention turned again to the east and clothing when in 1948 he became an investor in Langrock, the family business of his wife Joan. Frank came to Princeton in 1952, taking over management of the Nassau Street store. He would move his family from Hamden, Connecticut, in 1954, becoming a permanent resident of Princeton. Langrock would continue to be a fixture on Nassau Street, albeit in different locations, for 31 more years before downsizing and moving into the Princeton University store in November of 1985.

The last Nassau street location was at Number 16, and Frank in part blamed his longtime nemesis — parking problems — for his move into the U. It also appears that Don Broderick, manager of the university store, made the veteran retailer a financial offer he could not refuse. The student newspaper states that Broderick bought the rights to the Langrock name. Broderick pointed out that Langrock was a corporation and that Frank was still an owner. What the arrangement was is not exactly clear, but what was certain was that Frank was to remain the face of Langrock.

Langrock operated out of a 10 by 14 foot section of the second floor of the U store for 10 years. Frank’s atelier was decorated with antiques and vintage furnishing from Langrock. During those years the Langrock shop would offer special orders, custom and made-to-measure clothing, along with shirts, ties, braces, pajamas, underwear, and formal shirts and accessories. Frank closed his shop and retired to Naples, Florida, in September 1995. He died February 21, 1996, at the age of 83.

Frank was a member of the Nassau Club and the Springdale Golf Club. During his merchant years he was actively involved in community affairs, which included Rotary and Chamber of Commerce, where he was president for three years in the ’60s, the Princeton Borough Merchant Association, and the mayors Economic Development Committee. A survey of the Town Topics newspaper is full of grainy photos of Frank presenting checks to worthy causes and awards to notable community members, plus photos of himself being recognized for his community affairs work. He said he was “blessed to have been able to do things for other people. I was taught this way by my father and grandfather, who both said you won’t be happy unless you do things for others.”

Tom Brophy of Lawrence Township penned a eulogy that ran in Town Topics on February 28, 1996. Brophy had worked for Frank as a teenager in the ’50s and continued to be mentored by him. “He was a man of enormous energy, tremendous marketing insight,” he wrote, “and made ever customer feel important. He was a beautiful man and role model. His idea of dressing down was long plaid pants (always cuffed) a dress shirt with an ascot, a sports coat and his black tasseled loafers.”

In a recent post on his blog, Nick Hilton paints a portrait of Frank as a Man of La Mancha sadly diminished in his decling years. Mr. Frank would have seen it differently. Richard Rein bore witness to Frank’s philosophy. “Perhaps the undergraduate body is a source of potential customers,” he recounted. “But in order to meet their current price potential, we would have to lower our standard of quality, which is something we won’t do.”

Frank had no regrets for not compromising on quality, nor for stubbornly adhering to the house style, nor for having less than a half a year of retirement under the Florida sun before departing this earth. Indeed “no regrets” sounds like his personal motto. Alan Frank was erudite enough to give it to you in Latin, but it may be best expressed in the appreciation of the customers he served for 43 years and the town he loved. To them he may truly have been the Paladin of Princeton. — CHRISTOPHER SHARP

24 Comments on "Unruffled By Change: The Story Of Langrock Owner Alan Frank"

  1. Mr. Frank is not the only one that sees it differently. Another great article Chris!

  2. Richard Meyer | July 25, 2014 at 8:52 am |

    RIP, sir. You kept the faith!

  3. But Charlie Davidson still around stoking fire at The Andover Shop.

  4. Great story here about sticking to your traditional principals and not caving into not contemporary pressures.
    Long live the look!

  5. The photo is of early 1970?
    Fantastic,none concession!

    Said this however a Ivy sack suit with more large (but yet proportionate) lapels could be done.
    In my opinion the ideal sack model for a Ivy league retailer in 70s had to look to sack suits of late 30s and 40s.
    There is no reason for freeze sack suit proportions to 1955 or so.
    This is the real mistake of Langrock.

  6. NaturalShoulder | July 25, 2014 at 12:40 pm |

    Quite an enjoyable read. Great looking shoulders on the jacket worn by Mr. Frank.

  7. Very well researched and written. Thank you.

  8. Boy..a shop with full bespoke,made on measure and special order…still in early 70s!
    Was the paradise!
    We live “after the fall”.

  9. Great research, this makes the N Hilton blog post seem even stranger and completely misleading, but towards what end?

  10. The story of 20th century attempts at replicating Brooks soft tailoring is the story of Grieco Bros./ Southwick. As with many narratives, the circle was completed with Brooks’ purchase of Southwick a few years ago. The partnership extends back decades, and it’s safe to say that any remaining Ivy-leaning shops remain such because of Brooks Brothers–because Brooks saved Southwick. Brooks, in a very real sense, saved Ivy in its various forms. Of course.

    Consider the (very) few shops that continue to carry a certain take on Ivy style. O’ Connell’s, Cable Car, and The Andover Shop. The latter of this trinity began stocking Southwick way, way back in the 50s, when all of the Ivy shops worthy of mention carried Southwick. We now speak of Hillhouse, Van Driver, House of Walsh, Robert Kirk Ltd. (now Cable Car), H. Stockton, Arthur Adlver, The Young Men’s Shop, Eljo’s, and…well, on and on.

    “Superflex” was the phrase that caught the eyes of the gent flipping the pages of the alumni magazine. “Southwick Superflex. “The remarkable pliancy and weightlessness of our Superflex construction are the most difficult (and satisfying) achievements in the art of tailoring.” Indeed.

    One wonders. Well, I wonder. Did Langrock rely (mostly) on Grieco Bros./Southwick all those many years? With a nod to the other makers who came and went, whether Linett or Norman Hilton or…, Southwick is still around. A few years ago they introduced a jacket model that rivals any jacket by any maker of any era. The Cambridge.

    Ivy done well is here. Maybe here to stay. Because of Brooks–the outpost that started it all. It’s a great story.

  11. @S.E.

    That is a marvelous way of telling it. You give Brooks Bros a softer side in light of the criticism they frequently receive here, and it makes me happy.

  12. As usual, irony reveals itself to be the most powerful force in the universe. Because Southwick profits from other “updated traditional” models, most notably the Dorset (2b darted, natural shoulder), they can make and sell the Douglas and now the Cambridge to the three or four shops in the country that keep a healthy floor stock.

    It’s because Brooks profits from a lot of admittedly not-so-Ivy clothing that they can keep Southwick alive and kicking.

    Did Updated Traditional save (what’s left of well done) Ivy? It seems so.

  13. NaturalShoulder | July 26, 2014 at 10:16 am |

    I plan to do my part to help keep Southwick going by ordering a Cambridge MTM suit or, possibly, jacket this fall.

  14. S. E. — I need some clarification. I looked up the Cambridge model on the Southwick website — it’s way too short and looks indistinguishable from a Thom Browne model. I wouldn’t have thought you would praise it.

  15. I agree. The Cambridge as seen on the website is too short.

    With made to order/measure, all sorts of adjustments can be made, including the length of the hook vent, lapel width, shoulder width, and jacket length. The buyer may also specify the degree of shoulder slope and lining (full, 1/2, or 1/4).

    I have two older Southwick jackets. Circa the Superflex era. The Cambridge is as well tailored, and as comfortable. Kudos to their designers and tailors, who, one might guess, used the 50s era model papers.

  16. S.E. — Got it. You’re talking about the quality, and the adjustments that need to be made can be made.

    More details about the “Superflex”?

  17. NaturalShoulder | July 26, 2014 at 3:58 pm |

    RJG – I have seen pictures of people wearing Cambridge jackets and they look nothing like what Southwick has on its website. I think all of the models on the Southwick website look like they are wearing a jacket at least one size to small.

  18. Reactionary Trad | July 27, 2014 at 12:21 am |

    @NaturalShoulder

    How right you are about the models wearing a jacket AT LEAST one size too small. That is also true about the Brooks Brothers site. Unfortunately, many men today won’t buy a jacket if they can button the front button and automatically buy one size too small.

  19. Delighted my Tripler 42 Reg sport coat from 20 years back is so chic today bursting on my 44 reg frame.

  20. “Frank had no regrets [about not] having less than a half a year of retirement under the Florida sun before departing this earth.”

    How could you possibly know that? Was he able to foresee his own death with a calendar?

  21. The rest of the post was an interesting portrait.

  22. A.E.W. Mason | July 28, 2014 at 3:14 pm |

    In the 1950’s, photographer Philippe Halsman published what he titled “The Jump Book.” It was exclusively photographs of famous people jumping in whatever way suited them. In the attached photograph, J. Robert Oppenheimer is shown jumping. At the time, he was Director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. It may not show up so well in this photo, but if you look carefully, you can make out the Langrock label on the inside right pocket of his suit. According to his biographers, he had his cloths custom made by Langrock, and the store displayed a signed photograph he’d given them.

    http://russelldavies.typepad.com/planning/images/2007/10/27/opp.jpg

  23. @Carmelo photo is from 1975. I am guessing Frank is wearing a suit that is 10-12 years old. No store that I know of as completely escapes their time and place. The ready made coat that Langrock offered mid to late 70’s had wider lapels but keep the three button dartless front.

  24. @Reader first let me say thank you for the compliment. Now I will try to address you questions. No man knows the time and date of his appointment in Samarra. That does not mean that one does not have a sense that it is imminent. A man does not retire at 83 thinking he is going to have a 25 year retirement. I firmly believe Frank would have been happy to have died on the sales floor our at the club doing the cross word puzzle which was part of his routine. He was also devoted to his wife and family. I am sure some consideration to them was paid in his decision to retire. He told Rein that he had no regrets I believe that he carried that belief to his last day. It might be a creative liberty I took but I do not consider it a great leap. Tom Brophy wrote “To imply he was cheated or robbed of his retirement is not to know the man” He also says “He lived his life the only way he knew”

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