Sinatra, Matthau and some West Coast Ivy

Mr. Carroll and wares.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE:  On the Facebook Group we are exclusively clothes oriented, but we also find the history fascinating.  If you don’t know about WaterhollowTweed, it is a very small, eclectic online shop that offers a few Ivy Grail finds a week at very reasonable prices. The purveyor, James Taylor (every time he comments on one of my music videos I swear I still check to make sure it isn’t…) posted this fantastic history of Carroll & Co., the resource for West Coast Ivy, and other members joined in, I thought it would make an interesting read over here too.  Thank you to WaterhollowTweed, Roy R. Platt, and Doug H. for your permission and contributions.
CARROLL & CO…… CLOTHIERS TO THE STARS!
Richard Carroll, a publicist for Warner Bros. in the 1940s, disliked having to drive all the way into downtown Los Angeles whenever he wanted to purchase a OCBD or jacket from Brooks Brothers. But in the immediate post-War period he had little option–there simply weren’t any traditional men’s clothing stores in Hollywood or Beverly Hills.
So in 1949 he opened one.
N. Canon Drive, with a Bijan car parked.

 

Roy R. Platt next to the same Bijan car. Coincidence? I think not. Brooks Bros. suit.

 

As a Hollywood publicist Carroll knew the importance of looking good… and he also knew just where the post-War fashions were heading–the relaxed, East Coast look known as Ivy Style, with a particular California twist.
Carroll & Co. were at the forefront of the carefully crafted, elegant, sporting look that defined Hollywood after the War–indeed, a lot of the post-War look of Hollywood came straight out of Carroll & Co.. Other stores might claim that they catered to the stars, but Carroll & Co. did.
Small plate from the collection of Doug H.
Fred Astaire, Clark Cable, Steve McQueen and Cary Grant all wore clothing from Carroll & Co. (A jacket that Carroll & Co. made for Cary Grant to wear in *Monkey Business* was sold for $8000 in 2013.) Frank Sinatra once sent a personal thank-you note to Carroll for a suit he especially loved–“it swings!” he enthused. (When Sinatra was in the store only his music was played in-store.) Walter Matthau once tried to swap his 1967 Oscar for a whole load of sweaters… Until the Academy noted sternly that that was not allowed. The famous violinist Jascha Heifetz bought his suits from Carroll & Co., giving impromtu performances while trying them on to make sure that they would feel right while playing.  Eisenhower wore Carroll & Co. shirts, and Jimmy Carter delivered his State of the Union addresses in Carroll & Co. ties.

 

So famous was Carroll & Co. that they are credited with making Rodeo Drive–a sleepy retail backwater when they opened a store on it–the retail center that it is today.

 

This being Beverly Hills Carroll & Co. was also known as luxury. Vicuna and cashmere were everyday sales at its Rodeo Drive location… and for a more robust clientele it stocked a full range of British tweeds, many of which were exclusive to Carroll & Co. The company also offered hand-tailored Savile Row jackets and suits, primarily from Chester Barrie. Not surprisingly, it was also know for being expensive–jackets started at a mere $1,200 and prices moved quickly upwards from there.

 

A Carroll coat.

 

John Carroll took over the store from his father in 1996. One of his father’s last acts as President was to move from Rodeo Drive to N. Canon Drive–a move motivated by the opportunity he had to purchase the Canon Drive location.
The N. Canon Drive location, vacated, assumed by Brooks Brothers, and when that didn’t work out, the Brooks info was painted over. Courtesy Roy R. Platt

 

Every shirt painted here was a 16.5-34.  Courtesy Roy R. Platt
That proved the store’s undoing…. Not because it wasn’t on Rodeo anymore, but because the book in LA property values meant that Carroll & Co had inadvertently moved out of the clothing business and into the real estate investment business….. at which they did very well indeed.
In 2019 the store closed when they received an offer they couldn’t refuse for the building. As John Carroll put it, it would have been impossible for them to sell enough clothes in his lifetime, or the lifetime of his children, and their children, to make the money they were offered to sell up.
So, sell up they did.   And now Carroll & Co–the store that dressed the Golden Age of Hollywood–is no more.

30 Comments on "Sinatra, Matthau and some West Coast Ivy"

  1. RIchard E. Press | October 27, 2021 at 8:28 am |

    The correct spelling of his name is Walter Matthau whose clothier throughout most of his Broadway career was J. Press.

  2. George T. Snoothound | October 27, 2021 at 10:36 am |

    “When Sinatra was in the store only his music was played in-store.”

    Sinatra famously hated listening to his own records after they were made, so he must have found this excruciating.

    Richard Carroll also received a Warrant of Appointment from Prince Edward, a fact which I am surprised does not appear here, although when one sees that this post misspells the name of its own subject several times, perhaps incomplete research is to be expected.

    Hey George. (1) it isn’t an autobiography, it’s a post. Take a beat. (2) Sinatra LOVED the sound of his own voice well into his later years, where there is one anecdotal incident about him demanding that his stuff be turned off. NOT a trend, and not back then. (3) Misspellings are my fault, and fixed. (4) Perhaps learn CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. There. See that? That was constructive criticism. – JB

  3. Carroll & Co. was one of the many Grieco Bros. / Southwick outposts of days-gone-by. I fondly recall the latter portion of the Grieco Bros./Southwick Heyday (when the Douglas model was the Warwick and the Andover model was distributed to retailers aplenty), which, with due respect paid to Brooks and the New Haven Boola, Boola crowd, may, along with Norman Hilton, be the best not-yet-chronicled story of Ivy style.

    What would the following stores have been without Grieco Bros./Southwick?

    – ELJO’s
    – Max’s Men’s Store
    – H. Stockton
    – Bill King
    – Cable Car Clothiers
    – (early) Ben Silver
    – The Andover Shop
    – Langrocks

    They all relied (heavily) on Grieco Bros./ Southwick.

    Since Brooks relied so heavily on Southwick for a long, long while and the best-of-Press throughout the past twenty years was Southwick-manufactured, it’s a story worth telling and hearing (reading).

    Fantastic! I am on it. Wanna work together? – JB

  4. Other Grieco Bros. / Southwick bulwarks:

    – Hillhouse
    – Arthur A. Adler
    – Davidson’s
    – Larrimor’s

    The list goes on-and-on. Some overlap with Norman Hilton.

    The Southwick designs have migrated to another (great) American manufacturer–where, I am pleased to note, the unpadded, natural shouldered sack beats against the current of fashion, borne back ceaselessly into a glorious past.

  5. Other Grieco Bros. / Southwick bulwarks:

    – Hillhouse
    – Arthur A. Adler
    – Davidson’s
    – Larrimor’s

    The list goes on-and-on. Some overlap with Norman Hilton.

    The Southwick designs have migrated to another (great) American manufacturer —
    where, I am pleased to note, the unpadded, natural shouldered sack beats against the current of fashion, borne back ceaselessly into a glorious past.

  6. Trad folklore, drenched in mythology,
    wrapped in legend, folded into a whisper-of-a-rumor:

    Norman Hilton introduced the Hampton in the 50s. It was, for the better men’s store owners, a revelation. When Norman approved the ad copy “Doing One Thing Well,” he, (by God!) meant it. The tailoring was tantamount to custom, with special attention paid to nuances of stitching and fit. Unpadded and soft, with some shaping through the middle. Norman nurtured Scottish weavers who specialized in very lightweight blankets of shetland and worsted cheviot. Meanwhile, Brooks and unnamed others persisted with too much padding and too-heavy cloth–more suitable for New England than North Carolina.

    With this, he won over the South. (I’ll bet a younger Sid Mashburn spent his allowance on a few of these).

    Did Grieco Bros. respond? Uh, hell yes. You bet your Scottish shetland tweed jacket they did. The mid-60s swatch offerings included 9 oz. shetlands– airy, porous, and featherweight. I forget the model name (not Warwick/Douglas), but it mimicked the Hampton’s slope. Dozens upon dozens of Dixie retailers responded with a wholehearted “Yes, please.” The next thing you know, Chapel Hill and Charlottesville and Oxford are (far) better dressed than Yale alums.

    The legacy continues–to this day. Quietly.

  7. Addendum:
    The modern-day Canadian manufacturers and better-known U.K. tweed weavers: the former can’t (seem to) make a Heyday natural shoulder, and the latter peg away with tweeds in the 14-20 oz.. range.

    Too much padding; too much weight. Tweed season now comprises a few weeks in January, so this approach won’t stand the test of time.

  8. For me, reading about Carroll & Co.is a walk down memory lane. Thank you for acknowledging what used to be a superb west coast clothing store. As I mentioned in a previous post, my parents took me to Carroll’s, and, as a young lad, my first 3 piece suit came from there, as Carroll’s had a department for juniors.

    My father worked at Warner Bros in the international publicity department and, yes, over the years I found myself being fitted for items like herringbone jackets next to Cary Grant and Steve McQueen. Everyone was friendly and joking around.  Definitely a fun place to shop.

    Another excellent shop was Lew Ritter. Billy Wilder, the director who brought us such classics as Double Indemnity, The Apartment and Some Like it Hot, was a consistent customer. There were quite a few other first rate shops such as Phelps-Terkel which became Phelps-Wilger and finally simply the Wilger Co. Now, sadly, all gone.All were bastions of the classic “ivy” look.Now it seems Hollywood’s clothing mantra is “paint it black”
    Ah well… 

    Hey – that sounds like a good childhood. I grew up in Caldor’s – different kind of thing – thanks for the thanks! – JB

  9. Strotmeyer & Epps in Richmond was one of the largest sellers of Southwick.

  10. Gary Glazer | October 27, 2021 at 4:56 pm |

    I shopped at the store once in 1978 on a visit to California. Purchased a classic pair of loafers which I wore for many years. The store was the essence of West Coast ivy-their customer list is not surprising. Great store-great products-great service. Their closing-great loss.

  11. James Taylor | October 27, 2021 at 6:06 pm |

    Thank you, JB! And thanks, too, to Richard Press for his sharp editorial eye–I’ve corrected my mistake! 🙂

  12. Certainly J.B. I should also thank you for the admirable article profiling your very well dressed friend, Evan. I just read about him today. Apparently Evan is very popular,so he has that going for him.
    Cosmic pot luck has at times dealt me a good hand and I am pleased, grateful and fortunate to have acquired, over the years, all but four of the items on Evan’s excellent list. One of the items I’m lacking is the tweed cap. I’m not much of a hat guy. Must be the weather.
    Anyhow, I would say to Evan, “Enjoy all of those fine items in good health”.

  13. Norman Hilton, and the later Hilton fits and starts, have been well chronicled here, though good to see a devoted fan. Hilton now doesn’t “do one thing well”, but that’s the peril of being a retail merchant. Have to appeal to New Jersey, after all.

    Would be very interested to hear from someone inside Southwick, or who was inside Southwick, about their models and sales process to many of the retail merchants listed above. Sadly, our one Southwick stockist went the way of, well, Southwick.

  14. David Knatcal | October 27, 2021 at 7:28 pm |

    I’ve lived only about 5 miles from Carroll and Co. for many years and before that not much further. Granted it’s over a mountain but it might as well be a world away. So I didn’t make it in very much. Beverly Hills and the San Fernando Valley are very different places despite being so close yet separated by a mountain. They are two different worlds. Earlier this year in Florida I was talking to a gentleman and his son who were on vacation from New York City, specifically Staten Island. How they described it, Staten Island is as different from Manhattan as the San Fernando Valley is from Beverly Hills. Close yet separated by a larger gulf than a mountain or a waterway. Needless to say I now regret not going more often. Currently the only thing I have from Carroll is Royal Briar Cologne.

  15. JB,
    I too grew up in Caldor’s (properly “Caldor”), and I can assure your readers that it was possible to get khakis/chinos and OCBDs there, although both were cotton + polyester. We looked spiffy in them, worn with our Worthmore penny loafers from Florsheim.

    You are right! Caldor. And also right, you could get serviceable clothes there. I didn’t, but you could 🙂 – JB

  16. My late mother-in law, who passed at age 100 in 2010,lived a block from’
    C and Co. In the late 90s and early 2000s I visited C.andCo regularly.
    By then they had nothing RTW which would qualify as natural shoulder
    let alone Ivy. Boxy, conservative tailored clothing. Their ties and accessories
    selection was broad and well curated. I still have a cable knit sweater from them
    that is over 20 old. Still looks great.

  17. Off topic: Traveling to Portland next week. Searched for the John Helmer post. So nice to have the images full size on a laptop!

    Can we go back to full size images in the posts? Would be great to have good image optimization along with the good writing. Some of us do not read on iPhones. (Constructive?)

    Hi! Totally constructive and yes! We are doing a complete redesign, and full size images will certainly be incorporated. – JB

  18. A few tweed and English woollen weavers persevere in lighter weight cloth that’s nonetheless robust: Breanish and Fox come to mind. The other U.K. weavers haven’t yet caught up to the 21st century, including climate change. Norman Hilton sourced lightweight 9-10 oz. shetland tweed for his “country jackets.” And they were so comfortable–unpadded. Very different from the padded, bulky tweed jackets–ubiquitous. Just say No to Harris Tweed, with the exception of the rare Superfine, which is still relatively heavy at 13/14 oz.

  19. Charlottesville | October 28, 2021 at 10:22 am |

    S.E. – Spot on, regarding Southwick in the south. It was the maker of choice for good tailored clothing not only at Eljo’s here in Charlottesville, but also in the small men’s shop in nearby Staunton, where I grew up and first encountered the brand, along with Sero shirts, silk foulard and wool challis ties, etc. It was called, appropriately enough, The Men’s Shop. In relatively recent memory, J. Press had some of their better suits and sport coats made by Southwick as well.

    Can you let us know the name of the US heir of Southwick’s designs you mentioned? Is it Hickey Freeman? The owner of Eljo’s told me a while back that some of the Southwick people were moving to Rochester.

  20. @Charlottesville, do you still patronize Eljo’s? I was shocked to see how far it has declined when I was in recently. Our (smaller) town in the Piedmont has two superior options – and had a third pre-pandemic.

    Agreed re: Fox for lightweight tweeds. I’ve used a beefier Harris Tweed as the base for a car coat with great success.

  21. Poison Ivy Leaguer | October 28, 2021 at 1:13 pm |

    #S.E. and don’t forget Brooks Brothers’ “346” Department. I would be surprised if BB wasn’t Grieoc’s largest customer.

  22. AtlantaPete | October 28, 2021 at 1:27 pm |

    Another store in the list included in the Southwick ads that ran in the New Yorker in the 1960s was Arch Wilson in downtown Springfield, Illinois, where I worked during college Christmas vacation. Wilson’s was the classic old time men’s store where customer’s hung out to drink coffee, smoke, and shoot the breeze. It long ago disappered when the mall arrived and virtually all of the downtownk retail died. Last time I was in Springfield in 2010, the old Arch Wilson site had become state offices.

  23. Charlottesville | October 28, 2021 at 3:11 pm |

    Rake – Eljo’s is still there, and the owner, Miles, is still on the premises at 76 and counting, along with his son, Trent. However, as you say, the off-the-rack tailored selection has declined substantially. They still do a good custom business (formerly using Southwick as well as Empire), but as with so many other old-school spots, the volume of business is not what it was. However, I buy what I can there (mainly socks and sweaters) and my wife buys birthday and Christmas gifts for me there, most recently an ancient madder bow tie and a silk pocket square, both of which are lovely with a tweed coat.

    Poison Ivy Leaguer – Thanks for the reminder of the old 346 Department at Brooks Brothers, before 346 became a cheap outlet brand. The 346 clothing was not “Makers” because not made in Brooks’ own shop, but it was very high-quality at a good price, and made in the USA. I think the 346 line was a casualty of the sale of BB from Garfinkle’s to Marks & Spencer, but it may have held on until The Italian Job. I have a very hard-wearing navy 3-piece 3/2 sack with the BB 346 label, and it is still going strong. Very Churchillian when worn with a spotted bow tie.

    AtlantaPete – Your description of the old-style men’s shop as a combination lounge, club and kaffeeklatsch is exactly right. Nothing like it today that I know of, although Charlottesville had at least 2 up into the 90s: Eljo’s when it was on the Corner, and The Young Men’s Shop’s original home on Main Street, where my father bought some of his suits a long time ago. Eljo’s is now located in a shopping mall, The Young Men’s Shop’s former home is now a pizza place on the downtown pedestrian mall, and my old Staunton men’s store mentioned in a comment above is now an Italian restaurant. Sic transit gloria mundi.

  24. Roy R. Platt | October 28, 2021 at 4:44 pm |

    The construction fence is around the former Carroll & Company location on Canon Drive. The current Carroll Custom store is next door.

    Brooks Brothers was going to move into this space, but never did and the Brooks Brothers graphics have been painted over.

    Befopre moving to Canon, Carroll & Company was on the southeast corner of Little Santa Monica and Rodeo. When Carroll & Company moved to Canon this building, and the two next to it, were torn down and a large two story Tommy Hilfiger store was built. When Tommy Hilfiger moved out Brooks Brothers moved into the space.

    This building is still vacant. It is now owned by LVMH who had a Louis Vuitton historical pop-up exhibit in there during the summer of 2019. LVMH may build a hotel there.

    The picture of me and the Bijan car is from 2013. Since then there have been many (always black and Bijan yellow) cars. Also since 2013 Bijan Sr. has gone to the big men’s store in the sky and Bijan Jr. moved the store across the street to a smaller location.

    When Bijan moved, the Bijan yellow parking meter and Bijan parking space also moved across the street and the current Bijan car (a Rolls-Royce the last time I walked past on the way to the barber I have gone to since 1970) is now parked in front of the Bijan store.

    Beverly Hills made a documentary “100 Years, 100 Stories” for the centennial. A hundred old folk (including me) were rounded up and interviewed in front of a green screen for an hour each. At the premiere, during the part where I was discussing the evolution of retail on Rodeo Drive, when I described what happened as “the labels moved from inside to outside”, it got a big hand and lots of cheers from the audience.

  25. AtlantaPete | October 28, 2021 at 4:59 pm |

    Charlottesville, when one of my daughters was touring UVA, which would have been about 25 years ago, I visited the Young Men’s shop and bought an on sale (I recall for less than $100) silk glen plaid sport coat that I still wear. Sic transit gloria mundi indeed.

  26. The first Baracuta G-9 jacket that I ever saw available in a shop, and immediately attained, came from Carroll’s.
    I’m curious to know if the G-9 was a Carroll & Co. exclusive in L.A.
    Does anyone know if other west coast stores offered them (circa 1960)?
    I ask because I perceive some very ivy knowledgeable people at Ivy Style who might know

  27. John W. Matney | October 29, 2021 at 8:42 am |

    In Asheville, North Carolina, we are blessed with the excellent mens clothier, Hunter & Coggins, 28 North Spruce Street, Asheville. This store sells Southwick, Alan Paine, Barbour and other fine merchandise. If you are in the area, this shop is worth a visit. I’ve been happy with everything I’ve purchased here.

  28. On a practical note to the editor, it would greatly enhance the articles if the photos included were larger/higher res.

  29. Poison Ivy Leaguer | October 29, 2021 at 3:42 pm |

    Charlottesville – The thing I liked most about the old BB 346 Dept. was the selection. In the late 60’s/early 70’s I was a 43 Medium Long. The local Southwick shop (John Mazzo, Reading, PA) might have one 43 ML in stock; Brooks had every color and pattern available in my size.

  30. Henry Contestwinner | November 5, 2021 at 3:55 pm |

    Living on Kasual Kalifornia’a Central Coast, I occasionally encounter items from Carroll & Co. in my local thrift stores. While I haven’t been fortunate enough to find any tailored clothes in my size, I do have a few ties with their label.

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