You should have received your J. Press fall catalog by now, and if you haven’t, give them a call and ask for one. The photo shoot (outtakes of which are featured in this post), as well as the merchandise, represents the growing influence of executive Robert Squillaro, who began his career at Brooks Brothers in the ’80s and joined J. Press a couple of years ago. Ivy Style recently caught up with “Squeeze” Squillaro to talk about the latest items. — CC
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IS: First off, what’s going on in New Haven?
RS: The structure of the building was compromised by Hurricane Sandy and a heavy snowfall. We were forced to take the building down, and it’s been a vacant lot. Nothing specific can be mentioned regarding our new store, other than we have exciting plans for a new flagship store in our original location at 262 York Street in New Haven. Details to follow!
IS: That catalogs have gotten fantastic. Multiple models and location shoots. It looks like quite a production. Tell us about the process.
RS: We start probably four months prior to shoot. We build the outfits, select the theme, scout out where we’re going to go, and put the team together. We rent a large van with the crew, clothes, hair and makeup, and pop around. Our theme for this fall-winter is highlighting a lot of what we do with Scotland. We’re having a Harris Tweed event in New York on October 3, and we wanted a country gentleman theme for one part of the book. And then we’re doing a tailgate jacket, so you see the guy by the football field, but it wasn’t easy to do the shot in summer and make it look like fall. The jacket is a soft-constructed sportcoat with more in the armhole to accommodate a Shaggy Dog, and is meant to evoke the feeling of going to a football game and putting on a sweater and jacket with a muffler and khakis or corduroys. We did lapped seams, patch-flap pockets, elbow patches and braided leather buttons. We did a Donegal, a brown houndscheck, and a solid navy. They’re easy to wear and versatile. We shot at the Hackley School up in Tarrytown.
The back end of the collection, where it’s a younger vibe, we did all Downtown at The Poetry Club and Tompkins Square Book. It was fun as Richard Press joined us. When the shots come in we start editing, and then position product shots to accompany them. So we rented a cottage to shoot those.
IS: And how many do you print?
RS: One hundred and eighty thousand. We mail them to our customer list, and then we do inserts with the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post.
IS: Tell us more about the Scottish theme.
RS: So there’s the Harris Tweed, and our Shaggy Dogs are made in Scotland. Later in the season we’ll transition to Scottish cashmere and tartans. The windows will show all that for the holiday, and we’re hoping to have someone from Scotland to do an event talking about tartan and how it’s made its way into fashion. And also someone from Johnson of Elgin’s to talk about Scottish cashmere and why its different from other parts of the world. And of course we’ll have scotch tasting with smoked salmon and oatcakes. There will be 40 tweeds available, and if you choose your size off the rack, we’ll make you one for the some price of $895, with about four weeks to deliver, made in Canada.
IS: Tell us about the Shaggy Dogs. How many colors this season?
RS: There are twenty. And we’re going to have our university stripe in eight colors in our trim fit. The one in our catalog happens to be the colors of Princeton. They’re colors we feel are very university inspired, colors that are collegiate and school-oriented. In bottoms, we decided to get really behind corduroy. We have 12 colors of corduroy trousers this season: there’s gold, bright blue, bright green, orange, olive and khaki. And in some you can put it all together and have a three-piece suit. Next winter we’ll probably bring in navy and chocolate brown. Our Magee Donegal Mist has some new patterns this season, and we rounded out the jackets with two gameskeeper tweeds, and two striped, muted rowing blazers. We weren’t looking to make it a retro thing, but they are like a university blazer of yesteryear.
IS: We did a post once on striped sportcoats from the heyday. You don’t see them much anymore, outside of your broken-bone Donegal Mist.
RS: I think we’re the last to carry them. They’re actually very flattering, because they do elongate the body. The rowing blazers are very dark and sophisticated, in English lambswool. We try as much as possible to use UK-based mills. Our stylings and patterns are timeless, and we want our fabrics to last. The pendulum moves back and forth, and I think right now Ivy has a resurgence. I won’t put prep in the same sentence, because I think people right now are mixing that with streetwear for the cool factor. Jack Carlson at Rowing Blazers is doing a great job for the specific market he wants. I do think you may look at that stuff 10 years from now, whereas this stuff you won’t, but that’s the fashion customer and they want to look on trend. We’re going after a guy who always wants to look appropriate, even if he wears one of our jackets with jeans. In knit ties we have 24 styles this fall, and you put them with a tartan shirt and they look great. We want to be the home for the classics, staples, and timeless styles, with good quality in the country of origin where they’ve always been made. An Irish fisherman’s sweater is made in Ireland.
IS: Are you noticing market change in regards to suits and ties?
RS: We probably sell three jackets to every one suit. Our sportcoat business is very, very strong. We carry very unique patterns; others are using the same handful of Italian mills, so they all look the same, from the low end to the high.
IS: Most of them are also responding to trend reports, with the mills supplying the taste for the fabric, whereas your style is directed from within, as Brooks Brothers used to be.
RS: That, and the fact that I can be very targeted to a specific customer. When you have 130 stores plus 130 outlets, I don’t know that there’s enough of a demand for the look that we all love and have always expected from Brooks Brothers. I think they’re trying to go with what they think they can sell to the masses. For better or worse, that has been coming for the past 30 years: American watered-down Italian fashion. From an obsolescence point of view it’s not the best business model: if someone buys a jacket and it lasts for 25 years, there’s no reason for them to buy another one. We’re hoping they realize the cost value.
IS: Where are we with shoulders? I believe they’ve been evolving.
RS: We’re at 18.5 inches point to point on a 40 regular for our sack model. This season we’ve introduced a slimmer two-button darted model. I wouldn’t call it a skinny suit. It’s appropriate for a guy of any age who wants a trimmer slightly modern look, but still has our details like hook center vent, and so forth. We have two factories, and one we think we’ve perfected; the second we’re still working on. I’d like to soften the shoulder another notch. I want it to hug the shoulder and upper arm.
IS: How will we know which is which?
RS: The made-in-USA is the one I think we’ve perfected. The soft-shouldered from Canada are there, it’s just the others we want to tweak a little bit more.
IS: Any changes with the buttondown oxford?
RS: Our iconic flap-pocket has no lining in the collar. Our regular chest pocket has the lightest lining you can have, because we felt more people would be likely to wear that with a tie and a suit. The oxford cloth today doesn’t have the same properties as it did 30 years ago. Without any lining I’m concerned that you get too much puckering in the collar when you wear it with a tie.
IS: Any advice for the tall and thin? There aren’t 38 longs anymore, and sometimes a 38 regular is too short while a 40 long is too big.
RS: I’ll let you in on a secret. We kept some fabric, and if you’re between a 36 and a 50 – regular, short or long — and we don’t have your size, we can make one for you exactly the same as off-the-rack — same buttons, no alterations — and we’ll charge you the same as off-the-rack. But it’s very limited: if six people come in and all want the same thing, then it’s gone. But we’ve also introduced a made-to-order in our shirt department. Choose your next, sleeve, body and collar, flap pocket or no, and we have 40 swatches available. And it’s the same $125 shirt that we sell off-the-rack. We’ve had an enormous reaction to it already: we probably sold as many of those as off-the-rack.