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Wardrobe: Dutch Master

William Kissel

When Richard Kessler, chief executive of the Kessler Enterprises hotel group, placed the winning $3,000 bid on an Auke Hempenius wool suit at a recent March of Dimes auction in Orlando, he did not realize the outfit he secured for a third of its retail value might one day become a collector’s item. After all, the suit is among the very first to bear the name of Hempenius, the Florida retailer-turned-menswear designer. In gratitude for the vote of confidence in his design, Hempenius is silk-screening a color photographic image of the hotel magnate’s Colorado ranch development onto the suit’s silk lining.

 

“I travel around the world to purchase my clothing and prefer to buy Italian, especially when I am buying custom-designed suits,” says Kessler, who is also an art collector. “But Auke’s designs supersede many top designers in terms of quality, detail, and fit.” Kessler was so impressed with Hempenius’ enthusiasm and artistry that he ordered a navy blue velvet tuxedo with a custom silk-screened image of his newest hotel, the Mansion on Forsyth Park in Savannah, Ga., adorning the lining.

“It was quite an honor, because this man can obviously buy clothing anywhere he wants,” says Hempenius, a high-spirited entrepreneur who has evolved from managing his posh men’s shop, Milano’s Clothier in Winter Park, to developing his first signature collection.

The boyish 42-year-old designer, who hails from the Netherlands’ Freisland province and integrates a Friesian horse into his logo, has an all-encompassing debut collection. The 50-piece line includes everything from shawl-collared velvet formal wear, superwool suits, and lightweight cashmere blazers to elegant cotton dress shirts, custom Jacquard neckties, and silk-screened pocket squares, all crafted in Italy. There is even a signature collection of cuff links and Goodyear-welted footwear, which Hempenius previewed for private customers last summer at a spectacular event in the Frank Lloyd Wright suite at New York’s Plaza Hotel. He has since adopted a subtler sales approach, showing his spring line exclusively through two Florida shops—his own in Winter Park, and Cravats in Sarasota—as well as in a few other select shops in the United States and Europe and by appointment in homes and offices.

“I know it’s a cliché,” says Hempenius, “but I consider this real clothing as art, because it was designed with great emphasis on the details: full-skirted waistbands, oval-shaped pocket squares, contrast-seam stitching on shirts, custom leather shoe boxes lined in velvet.” Furthermore, he spent years locating the artisans who handcraft the collections, says Hempenius, whose frenetic energy has earned him the nickname Il Vesuvio Holandese, or the Dutch Vesuvius, among his Italian business partners.

 

Undoubtedly, the most artistic elements of the collection are the jacket linings—the standard Jacquard that Hempenius found in Florence and the custom variations. Using his proprietary ink jet technique for silk screening, he can transfer artwork or even photos onto his suit linings. “For the man who has everything,” says Hempenius, “this is the ultimate customization.” 

Auke Hempenius, available at Milano’s Clothier, 407.645.4983, and Cravats, 941.366.7780

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Photo by Ted Morrison