The WHITE Jacket.
In the 15 years or so that we made exquisite clothes for the well-to-do gents of New York City (and the world for that matter), we were very fortunate to have only had a handful of unhappy customers.
Mainly because we did everything in our power to make an item as good as it could possibly be, but also because we realized quickly that it seemed to be a certain type of person that was going to have an issue of some kind or another and we became pretty good at spotting them.
If we did spot them, we then did our best to discourage them from shopping with us, which was very amusing to watch. “What do you mean you won’t make me a suit?”, “I’m terribly sorry, but I don’t think we will be able to make you a suit that we are both happy with.”
Sometimes however, they were unavoidable.
On this occasion, a nice enough guy in his late twenties, quite humble and fairly middle-of-the-road in appearance, who had bought a few ready-to-wear pieces from us over the years, informed us that he had met his future wife online, that they were to have a beach wedding on the beautiful island of St. Barts and that he wanted us to design and make something special for the occasion.
He’d always paid with a Black Centurion Amex Card, which always surprised me as the usual bearers of those particular cards at the time tended to be more seasoned or less humble characters, but the fact that he had the means to carry one meant that he was obviously doing very nicely in his finance-related career.
Aside from creating something for his big day he also wanted us to make something for his father, who he said usually shopped at Brioni, the incredibly expensive Italian brand usually frequented by New York’s “old school lawyers” and Russian billionaires.
The design process for our client's outfit was simple enough. His incredibly glamorous fiancé had good taste, although she was quite opinionated, but she loved what we presented. We had listened to her brief and the outfit was to complement their color scheme of lilacs and purples.
Our client informed us that he would be bringing his father down later that week to meet us and that apparently Snr. was looking forward to us creating something a little different for him and that he was thinking about an ivory blazer.
Sure enough, father and son arrived one evening to discuss. The atmosphere was immediately less fun than it had been with the fiancé and it was pretty clear that father, a bombastic, self-assured New York City lawyer, was amused by his sons choice of tailor, but wanted us all to know that he could afford better and usually did so.
It was also very clear that despite his son's apparent success in finance, he had not lived up to his father's high standards and he took every opportunity to belittle him in front of us. Very unpleasant to witness and even more unpleasant for the son to endure on what was meant to be his turf.
The “red flags” were everywhere, but over the years, we had learned how to navigate all types of people and we usually knew how to win them over. We found that a good glass of Scotch usually helped the bonding process and in this case it seemed to work wonders.
A cream, lightweight fabric was selected and his son encouraged him to include some of our more playful details that were a signature of ours that would make this piece a little more special than the clothes he typically bought at Brioni. After all, it was his son's wedding and he wanted to be in charge of the aesthetics.
It was on his second or third glass of Scotch that Snr. declared that “This store really is very beautiful, you know, I’ve always fantasized about having my own haberdashery.”. We were a little surprised he thought running an establishment such as ours was so easy, but we were pleased to be winning him over and thought we may even convert him into a future client.
The second fitting came around and again he seemed to really enjoy not just the setting, the conversation, the Scotch, but also how nicely the piece was coming along.
We had instructed our tailor that the cut should be more on the conservative side, he was a big man and we knew that Brioni famously allowed its patrons a more “generous” fit, but he was liking the way he saw our other pieces in the store and in fact his son's jacket and asked if his piece could also be a little closer, “of course, that’s actually how we prefer to cut” Betty replied and she pinned it accordingly.
Very pleased with how things were progressing, it was all hugs and kisses as he left and was excited to schedule a time in a couple of weeks to come and pick-up.
With just a few days to go before the wedding, the lovebirds turned up to pick-up his outfit. They were ecstatic. He looked great and even the fiancé, who was well-used to being the belle of the ball, was a little surprised at the transformation.
He informed us that his father would be coming soon, but that he needed to get going as they had a lot of running around to do. He hurriedly settled his balance and almost seemed to run out of the door. A little strange we thought, but we saw grooms getting a little overwhelmed all the time as the big day got ever nearer.
Shortly after Jr. had left, father arrived. Kisses and hugs were again in abundance and there was of course a glass of Scotch on hand to keep the mood celebratory.
We brought out the impeccably tailored white jacket. Our tailor had done an incredible job. From the matching grosgrain detailing on the cuffs to the beautiful white mother of pearl buttons, it was truly a piece of art.
He looked astounded. He removed his big baggy suit jacket and we helped him into this majestic creation.
As the jacket found its place on his shoulders, I watched as his face, expecting to see a look of joy that I was commonly used to seeing as someone put on their tailored piece for the first time. But this one was different, he began to swell and suddenly took on the appearance of a hemorrhoid on an elephants backside. He was incredibly angry.
“I can’t possibly wear this!” he bellowed, “It’s too tight, it’s too short, it looks ridiculous!”.
It didn’t, it looked stunning. It was stunning.
Betty tried to calm the situation down and said that we could let it out a little, but that this was how it had been requested at the fitting a couple of weeks earlier.
I could see that the “New York City lawyer” had now fully overtaken this man's personality and that there was no way he was being told that he had requested it or that it was nothing other than a complete waste of his valuable time.
Very unlike me, I instantly said, “Not to worry, we will just refund you.”
Expecting a big argument/trial he was a little surprised at how quickly we had calmed the situation down and he begrudgingly handed me his credit card to refund (Black Amex, of course).
As soon as I finished the transaction, he had his suit jacket on and was stomping out of the store, no doubt cursing his son for yet another failure on his part.
No hugs and kisses this time.
A little shocked from the outcome of what we were expecting to be another convert, we sat down for a moment to rewind what had just occurred.
As we did so, the store phone rang, it was his son. I explained what had just happened and he rather timidly said “I’m so sorry about that, he always does this.” I was more angry at the son who had brought this opinionated bully into our fine establishment, but I soon realized that this poor boy had spent a lifetime being humiliated by his father and even at his own wedding, it was clear that he was not to be the man of the day.
We never saw either of them again. But thankfully, that’s not where the story ends.
As I have mentioned, cases of refunds for custom pieces were almost non-existent for us, but there had been a couple. Those pieces went to the back store room in the hope that one day we might be able to find a suitable candidate to sell them to and recoup our losses, but Betty and I both knew that this one was going to be a problem. Not only was this jacket made specifically to fit a large, irregular sized, bloated man, it was also white!
Over the years, the white jacket had become an in-store joke and I would occasionally emerge from the back room looking like a cross between an Ice Cream Man and Tom Hanks from the movie Big.
It always made us laugh, although I’m not sure at who’s expense, as I wondered, would I ever find someone to buy it?
Fast forward to a winters evening, several years later. It was a Saturday, just before closing and already dark outside when a rather animated gentleman in his early fifties came bounding into the store.
He didn’t look like our typical type of client, but in the world of online reviews I have learned never to judge and everyone gets my full attention and as much charm as I can muster at that particular time.
He was looking hastily at our blazer collection, but obviously was not seeing what he was looking for. “You have any seersucker in my size?” he asked. “I’m afraid not,” I replied “our summer collection isn’t in store for a couple of months and to be honest, I’m not sure our ready to wear pieces are going to fit you.”. He looked like he was probably about a 46R, but it was hard to tell as the combination of what he was wearing and his frenetic energy was throwing me off my game a bit.
He came straight over to me and began to launch into a story about how he needed to go to a big presentation in Alabama next week where his family was being honored for a big charitable contribution and that he needed to “look the part”. He also added that he didn’t even own a jacket.
He was a real character and had a way of talking that was part mad, part wonderful and always demanded full eye contact.
“You don’t have anything?” he almost pleaded. “I’m sorry,” I said, “if we’d had more time I could have made you something custom, but we can’t do anything in a week”.
As I said those last words, I suddenly had a flash of inspiration. I was famous within the store for selling just about anything. If something was in the backroom, it was like a thorn in my side, I had to sell it to someone, somehow.
“Hang on one second,” I said, “this is a long-shot, but hey, it’s worth a try”. I swiftly disappeared to the storeroom where hanging next to a couple of other orphan garments was the white jacket. It had been there that long that the plastic cover was beginning to disintegrate.
When I returned to the store, our new friend was deep in conversation with my manager and hardly even seemed to remember what he had come in for.
I managed to get his attention, which wasn’t easy, but as soon as I had, his eyes were locked on mine again as I explained that this probably won’t even fit, so rather than put him in front of the mirror, I’d just like to see him in it first. “Okay” he said, nodding enthusiastically.
Without taking his eyes off me, he hastily removed several items of winter clothing, leaving him in just a t-shirt as I took the jacket off the carrier and proceeded to help him on with the piece.
The jacket was now in place and I stood back to look at the fit. I couldn’t believe it. It was a perfect. Not just close, perfect!
I looked at him and expressed my joy. I said that he should go take a look at himself over in the full length mirror to which he replied, still with eyes locked on mine, “Do you like it?”, I said I did, “Then I’ll take it.” he said.
“You really should go take a look” I said, “No, I don’t need to, if you like it, I’m good” he said.
Shocked at not only his trust, but also the fit, I said that this was indeed his lucky day. That the jacket should have been $3,500, but that he could have it for $1,500 cash.
“Done!” he exclaimed and proceeded to pull out a bunch of hundred dollar notes that miraculously seemed to be exactly $1,500.
I was as giddy as he was by this point as we bagged up his new jacket and he asked for my email so that he could send me a picture next week.
We laughed, we shook hands, we hugged and he left.
Sure enough an email arrived a few weeks later from a name I didn't recognize with a short note saying he had never been so complimented on an article of clothing in all his life, that the day's celebrations had been a huge success and that I should see the picture attached.
Attached was a fantastic shot of him in the jacket, looking like a combination of Mike Myers and Robert Redford, he looked like million dollars, with a grin the size of Alabama itself.
I didn’t know this man well, but I could tell that the man in the picture had never looked that good in his entire life.
The "retail gods" had sent us an angel, evil had lost and good had prevailed, which is always nice.