Paul Stuart is fighting back against the proliferation of low-cost made-to-measure men’s wear.
The upscale New York-based specialty retailer has quietly launched CustomLab, an initiative that taps into its 80-plus years of expertise creating and selling men’s apparel as well as the large fleet of on-site tailors at its Madison Avenue flagship.
“We’d been talking a lot about what we could do to compete with all the other retailers who have launched made-to-order at an opening price point,” said chief executive officer Paulette Garafalo. That includes companies such as Suitsupply, Indochino, Knot Standard, My.Suit and others. Even more long-standing competitors such as Men’s Wearhouse have embraced this popular category, with many offering customized suits for as low as $400.
“We felt we were losing momentum and wanted to continue to be relevant and give the consumer what he wants,” Garafalo said.
So the Paul Stuart team put their heads together and came up with the concept that brings the opening price suit in the store down to $995 with a three- to four-week turnaround. Also available are sport coats starting at $695 and shirts at $195.
An off-the-rack suit at Paul Stuart starts at $1,595 and most retail for $1,895 to $1,995. Bespoke garments sell for $3,500 to $5,995 and up.
“We equate it to the Tiffany silver bracelet with a charm,” she said of CustomLab. “It gets people into Paul Stuart and hopefully we will eventually put them into a custom garment.”
The CustomLab selection has been overseen by Ralph Auriemma, Paul Stuart’s creative director, and offers updated silhouettes, fabrics and detailing. There are two different fits and suits are available in either full- or half-canvas construction while tuxedos are offered in grosgrain and satin lapels.
“I like to call our style American sartorial, which means a little bit of Savile Row, a dash of Old Hollywood and a certain New York assertiveness for the guy who is the best-dressed man wherever he goes. The new CustomLab collection gives our customers a way to meet the brand at the beginning of their sartorial journey,” Auriemma said.
There are dozens of fabrics to choose from, as well as different pocket treatments, linings, buttons, collars and cuffs on shirts, and other customized options. Choices are more fashion-forward than in the core Paul Stuart collection and include bouclés, nubby and textured fabrics.
The fittings are done by one of Paul Stuart’s on-site tailors, many of whom have been with the retailer for decades. “That gives us a big advantage over our competition,” Garafalo said. The measurements are then transmitted to the factory in China that will produce the garments.
Garafalo said the initial thought was that this would attract a Millennial customer but since debuting last month, it appears to be appealing more to an older shopper who “knows Paul Stuart, but feel a price barrier and don’t want to spend $2,500 for a made-to-measure suit.”
CustomLab is also being offered at the company’s other U.S. stores in Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Overall, Garafalo said Paul Stuart has been having success with its higher-priced made-to-measure business, which is up in the double digits.
“Our traffic has been up double digits every month thanks to Fleischman’s [a new men’s salon that has been added to the store] and a lot of effort. Our first floor is doing extraordinarily well,” she added, pointing to the new offerings there including activewear and golfwear. “Sportswear is up 26 percent and footwear is up 40 percent in this store alone.”
She revealed that Neiman Marcus will be adding Paul Stuart shoes to 10 stores and Bergdorf Goodman has begun carrying its shoes as well as its robes.
Paul Stuart recently started wholesaling its Made on Madison collection of robes, scarves and pajamas that it creates on site at its flagship; footwear is a new addition. And she said that beginning for spring of 2020, the Phineas Cole younger-skewed collection will also be offered to other retailers for the first time. It includes both slimmer-fit tailored clothing as well as a larger selection of complementary sportswear pieces that are a “capsule collection” of the larger Paul Stuart offering, Auriemma said.
But despite these bright spots, business in general has been challenging, she admitted, as sales of tailored clothing — the longtime backbone of the business — have been sluggish.
“The retail world is a challenge and it’s difficult to operate in only brick and mortar today,” Garafolo said. “But we’re holding our own and we’re very optimistic about the future.”
Paul Stuart was founded in 1938 and has been owned since 2012 by Mitsui & Co., which had been the company’s licensee in Japan since 1975.