Jeffrey Kalinsky

Jeffrey Kalinsky, president and founder of Jeffrey USA, and vice president and designer fashion director of Nordstrom Inc. next year will celebrate the 30th anniversary of his independent store. At the WWD Men’s Summit, he fielded questions on topics such as the future of streetwear, tailoring’s burgeoning comeback, and influencers, in a conversation with WWD editor in chief Miles Socha.

A fan of streetwear’s comfort and statement-making ability, Kalinsky sees no sign of the juggernaut slowing down. “Streetwear means different things to different people,” he said. “As we become a culture that’s a little more casual, there’s no one way to dress for work anymore. The options for guys are easier. Comfort has a lot to do with it, and it’s fashion. It’s an easy way to be cool and to look cool.”

Streetwear has become an “interesting alternative, even for women’s brands. To be able to sell hoodies, a category that never existed, and be able to sell them for $2,000, is never a bad thing,” Kalinsky said.

Asked whether tailoring, which is showing signs of life for fall, will usurp the streetwear trend, Kalinsky said, “No, it’s not going to sweep away sneakers and hoodies — ever. If you come into our store on 14th Street, you can nary find a shoe. And that’s not good. I hear from customers, ‘I came into your store and I wanted a loafer, and if I didn’t want a Gucci loafer, you didn’t have a shoe for me.’

“There’s been an absence of tailoring in stores and the customer has an appetite for it,” Kalinsky said. “It’s nice to swing back a bit, but is it going to kill a hoodie sale? No, you still need a hoodie.”

Being reminded that Goldman Sachs recently relaxed its dress code, Kalinsky’s said his own wardrobe has also become more casual over the years. “I started my life on the retail floor. I used to have to wear a shirt and tie to work. When I opened my store in Atlanta, 29 years ago, my dad wanted to wear a tie. I couldn’t wait to tell him, ‘I am not wearing a tie.’ The next thing I knew I was wearing jeans and then T-shirts. We’re judged on our substance, not on the way we dress.”

Still, Kalinsky said there will be a marked shift in assortments come fall. “It will be noticeable,” he said. “You’ll be able to buy a combat boot at my store, and we’ll carry more suiting for sure, more overcoats, and more sartorial types of offerings.”

Kalinsky said the personalities men look to for influence these days are “sports stars, music stars, and fashion stars like Virgil Abloh have been so influential. There’s Demna [Gvasalia, designer of Balenciaga and Vetements], and Pharrell Williams. If you’re a guy, and you look up to some of these music legends and they’re on stage wearing a designer, even if it’s just a sneaker, they’ll look for it right away. Everybody wants to be like that person.”

Social media has made life easier for him as a buyer, Kalinsky admitted, with Instagram saving him the job of scouring newspapers and magazines. As a merchant, however, there’s a negative impact. “You see the same sweater on so many people’s Instagram feeds that you don’t get the surprise of discovering it on your own,” he said. It lacks the impact after you’ve seen it 100 times. By then, you may not even want it anymore.”

Striking retail gold is much harder these days, although it can still happen on a much smaller scale. “Big brands want stores to basically carry the same things,” Kalinsky said. “They’re not allowing us to be as individual as they used to allow us to be.”

He is clearly not afraid to go out on a fashion limb if he believes in the product. Take the Rick Owens high heel boots for men, which he bought and sold out to the pair. “We just bought our first stiletto for men for fall designed by Francesco Russo. I bet we will sell every one that we bought. Sometimes I can get carried away. Look, I try to be OK with mistakes. As long as I love it or we love it, I think it’s OK. We have to stand for something. Without that excitement, why bother?”

The Jeffrey founder has always operated his locations with an “If you build it they will come” mentality, and “Thank God they came.” His newest store, a six-month-old Palo Alto unit in Silicon Valley, has been an education. “It’s a different market, it’s a university town and it sits in the middle of Silicon Valley. “We have college and even high school students coming in a lot. They’re so interested in fashion. There’s a real awareness in Silicon Valley about clothing and style and presentation.”

Kalinksy finds industry buzzwords, such as experiential, humorous. “What’s experiential retail? You’re going to show a film in the store, and that’s experiential? It’s the experience you have in the store that’s unique and can’t be duplicated anywhere else.”