Paul Stuart has a secret.
Tucked away behind the scenes on the third floor of its Madison Avenue flagship, 23 tailors quietly produce ultra-luxurious robes and sleepwear for men and women.
Up until now, the collection has been available only in Paul Stuart’s own stores, but on Monday, the company will begin selling it wholesale. Paul Stuart has taken a booth at the Curve New York lingerie and swim show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and will bring its Made on Madison collection for men and women to a wider audience.
This is just one of the many moves made by Paulette Garafalo, who was brought in as chief executive officer in the middle of 2016. The men’s wear veteran has spearheaded a renovation project of the 60,000-square-foot flagship, updated silhouettes and hired Jarret Kerman, former vice president and commercial director for the Americas for Brooks Brothers, as senior vice president of strategic growth initiatives to oversee the wholesale launch.
Garafalo said that just before she joined, the company had quietly eliminated its robe and loungewear business. But she immediately rehired the tailors, headed by master robemaker Florinda Ahumada, and got back into the business that had established a loyal customer base over many decades.
“What do we do that nobody else does,” Garafalo asked. “We make robes, pajamas and loungewear in-house, and we’ve been selling a lot of them in our stores and on the web. We sell them so quickly, we can’t keep track.”
At Curve, women’s robes in bright patterns and colors will be the primary offering, but men’s products will be included as well. Most are made of silk, but cashmere, wool, linen and cotton will also be available.
They’re not cheap: the women’s robes average $595 retail, with cotton versions about $100 less and cashmere selling for $1,295 and up. Men’s robes are marginally more expensive.
Garafalo knows that the prices may put some stores off, but believes the robes are different enough to justify the price. They’re all made by hand and feature unique piping and trim. And because Paul Stuart is primarily a men’s wear retailer, it has expertise in tailored clothing manufacturing so the robes all have set-in sleeves. Additionally, products can be customized for each retailer.
Garafalo hopes that if the wholesale attempt is successful, it will help bolster the company’s business. She said sales in December were “terrible,” although November was up in the double-digits and January was strong. The renovation project did not produce the expected bump in business, nor did the company’s enhanced digital presence.
“In classic men’s and women’s wear at our price points, it’s a challenge,” she said. “But we’re not going to give up trying. We know it’s hard to break into the wholesale market but we’re going to cast a very wide net and see where the opportunities are.”
She said Paul Stuart hopes to begin wholesaling its shoes in May and is also contemplating bringing its Phineas Cole younger-skewed men’s collection to other retailers. “But it’s a very crowded niche, and brick-and-mortar is severely challenged right now,” she said. “Things haven’t leveled out yet, so we’re not ready to leverage our resources to try to hit a moving target.”
Paul Stuart operates two stores in Chicago and one in Washington, D.C., in addition to its New York flagship. There are also more than 100 in-store Paul Stuart shops in Japan, as well as two flagships in Aoyama and Ginza in Tokyo.
Mitsui & Co., the company’s longtime Japanese licensee, purchased the business from the founding family at the end of 2012.