Yale Homecoming: Gant on Returning to New Haven

Last month Gant returned to its New Haven birthplace with the new Campus Store at 268 York Street, right next to J. Press and a stone’s throw from Yale University. Gant’s return to New Haven drew much press attention for good reason: The brand, which is now owned by a European company and boasts stores in 73 countries, began in 1949 as a shirt manufacturer in the Connecticut town.

New contributor Eric Adler recently spoke with Gant USA CEO Ari Hoffman about the company’s return to its roots.

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IS: What’s the historical significance of the York Street building?

AH: The building was founded in the early 1900s as one of the original fine men’s department stores. At that time New Haven was a bustling industrial town.

Our choice was based on the location and look of the building. That location is a pillar of retail for New Haven and the Yale campus. In terms of New York City, it’s like the 5th Avenue-57th Street corner. We also based the location on the fact that you can’t help but fall in love with the building.

IS: When collecting memorabilia for the Campus Store, what were you looking for?

AH: The main Gant memorabilia in the store are the shirts from the ‘60s that have the Yale Co-op label. Finding some shirts with the original Yale Co-op/Gant Shirtmakers label was the most important part. We also found photographs that go back to the ‘50s and ‘60s of our facilities in New Haven. As I went deeper into this project, I began to discover how much it meant for New Haven to have all these Gant factories — how deeply involved Gant was in New Haven in terms of industry. So it’s fantastic to have photographs of the factories and the New Haven landscape.

We also have original Gant advertising that goes back to the ‘50s and ‘60s. We’ve surrounded this Gant memorabilia with memorabilia associated with the Yale/Ivy League/preppy lifestyle — everything from rowing equipment to cups and saucers from Mory’s, to vintage catalogs and a very old football helmet.

IS: Although Gant has a long history with New Haven, it never had a retail store in the city. Why now?

AH: That’s an interesting point. Well, I can tell you how the whole idea started. When we celebrated our 60th anniversary, this included rediscovering our Gant history. So I took a group of around 70 executives for a tour of New Haven, in which we found all the old Gant factories. It triggered us to say, “Wow, we have so much history in this town.” And of course the era of the factories is over, let’s face it. So, why not come back with a store and re-stake the ground here? And that’s what we did. We came back, not in the shape of a factory, but in the shape of a retail store.

IS: So it’s still a homecoming.

AH: Yes, and it’s been so nice since we’ve opened. In fact, we decided to let customers in the store sign in. We have people coming into the store who used to work in the factories. For instance, some of our Gant Rugger shirts have a tail on them that was stamped with an original New Haven label. An older gentleman came into the store and told us that he was the one who stamped the earlier versions of these shirts. So all kinds of stories have come along with the opening of the store.

I’ve recently reconnected with the daughter of Elliot Gant. Bernard Gant founded the company, but his two sons, Marty and Elliot, were the ones who really built it as a brand. I told Elliot’s daughter about the opening of the store in New Haven, and I asked her what message she would like to convey there. She is from New Haven herself, and when she was young she worked in the factories. I said to her, “Isn’t it nice to have this homage to your father and your uncle?” And she said, “You know, Ari, I would like to think of it as a tribute to all the men and women who worked in these factories. The patternmakers, the buttonhole-makers, and so forth — this is a tribute to them.” It sounds very idealistic, but the store is a tribute to the hundreds and hundreds of people who worked in the factories.

IS: A lot of brands these days are trying to offer a more youthful version of Ivy style clothing. What makes Gant unique?

AH: Well, everyone claims to be unique. We are trying to be Gant. We have a long history, so we are not trying to be anyone but ourselves. And that’s our uniqueness, perhaps. How many brands of modern men’s sportswear are there today that go back as far as we do? Just a few, like J. Press and so forth.

We have a very rich history, yet it is not just rich in terms of the story itself, but in terms of patternmaking, fabricmaking, etc. To bring this history to the modern world with a modern vision — that’s what makes us what we are today. There’s a reason why we are in Barney’s and Saks Fifth Avenue and other chic stores in America. They recognize that we are a brand with great heritage and are very relevant.

IS: Can you tell us about the forthcoming Yale Co-op shirts? Will they be proper dress shirts, or will they be more casual?

AH: The Yale Co-op shirts will be based on the historical shirts. Though we are going to update them to some degree, they will be based on the colors, patterns, and specifications of the original shirts. They will of course have a Yale Co-op label. In fact, they’ll be co-branded: Yale Co-op and Gant. They will be more casual shirts. They can, however, certainly be worn with a blazer and a tie. We don’t do hard-press dress shirts; that’s not Gant.

IS: Will the shirts have specific neck sizes?

AH: No. They’ll be sized small, medium and large.

IS: Do you have any plans for the second floor of the Campus Store?

AH: We’re in the process of playing around with different ideas. But let’s leave that to next time, when I can be more precise. I don’t want to say anything that may not play out. So how about we just leave it at that?

Eric Adler is an assistant professor in the classics department at Connecticut College. He lives in New Haven.

13 Comments on "Yale Homecoming: Gant on Returning to New Haven"

  1. I stopped by on Saturday and was pretty disappointed with the shop as a whole but especially the employees. They didn’t seem to know much about men’s clothing or the Gant product. I felt like I knew more just from reading a few blog posts about the brand. Everything in there is 30% though in case anyone is interested.

  2. Please delete my previous post… screwed it up man — sorry.

    “It triggered us to say, “Wow, we have so much history in this town.” And of course the era of the factories is over, let’s face it. So, why not come back with a store and re-stake the ground here?”

    I hate this statement! Gant isn’t an American company anymore, so they have no interest for the American worker or “made in the U.S.A”. Offshore crap sold at high prices is what I’m hearing. I wish though, that I could get my hands on some of the shirts from the 60s – . Nice YALE and New Haven artifacts though.

  3. St. Michaels' | December 20, 2010 at 12:49 pm |

    The era of factories is over? What, do shirts make themselves now? Perhaps it would have been more accurate for Mr. Hoffman to say that ” the era of American garment factories is over.”

  4. I don’t think that any shirts that come in sizes small, medium & large are going to be anything special.

  5. Bill Stephenson | December 20, 2010 at 3:11 pm |

    Mr Hoffman obviously knows how to run his business, and I don’t. However, once you get past the charm of the retail location, it is impossible not to wonder who will buy the product.

    Yale Students? Seems unlikely,when campus garb is generally t shirts, cargo shorts, flip flops, and a neo homeless approach to dressing.

    Customers that frequent J P next door? Prduct made where you can’t drink the water, and sized SML? Doesn’t seem likely.


  6. This is a very nice interview. I wore, and loved, the original Gant made in New Haven shirts from 1962 to the sale of the Company to all those who ruined Gant after the family sold it. So, I like and appreciate that someone[Ari Hoffman] once again actually cares about the Gant name, history and product even if it is not exactly the same or made in the USA. I look forward to visiting the New Haven store. Perhaps, Gant will decide to make some shirts in the USA again. I wonder what Seymour Shapiro, son of co-Gant founder and Sero founder, Morris Shapiro, thinks of the revival of the Gant brand. I wore Sero shirts also and they were the equal of Gant so maybe that brand will get revived too. Mr Shapiro has a facebook page so maybe Eric Adler could interview him. Just a suggestion but an interview or article about the history of Sero would be a welcome addition to Ivy Style.

  7. I don’t really want to reiterate what most commenters have said, but wouldn’t the most fitting tribute to these factories be some sort of resurgence/reopening? Seems more like rubbing their noses in it, to sell them back something no longer made or even sold there.

    All these great old shirt-stamp-stampers, at some point, lost their jobs, right. It’s like inviting a Chinese person to a Chinese restaurant in China, but where they make all the food in America and then you’re like, “hey, you made this same food once, but this is good too, hey?”

  8. If they’re so enamored of all the old factories, why don’t they open one back up? Its sad that is
    such a non-option.

  9. and YES i promise the buy the first made in USA gant oxford,

  10. Interesting analogy, Theo. A rather chilling way to think about US-China trade.

  11. I visited the New Haven store a couple of weeks ago. While the vintage Yale props and artifacts are, indeed, cool, the assortment was lacking. Only a VERY small portion of the Michael Bastian + GANT collection was represented, and even though it’s a two-story space, only the small ground floor is used. I expected to find a fuller assortment and was disappointed. While the young man who was working was nice enough, he knew NOTHING about the history of the brand or the upcoming Co-Op collection. The flagship in Manhattan is much more impressive. To be quite honest, this came off to me as a pure PR effort to get the brand in the press. The associate even confessed that as of about noon, we were the only customers who had come in.

  12. http://bit.ly/hsENEw
    Thought you might enjoy this uniquely New Haven link.

  13. Fighting Proletariat | October 9, 2013 at 10:37 am |

    Douchebag gear.

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