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Wardrobe: Style and the Man

William Kissel

In the 1964 Rat Pack musical Robin and the 7 Hoods, 1930s-era Chicago gangsters played by Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra plan to open a swank nightclub. Upon realizing that their financial partner (Bing Crosby) dresses more like a schoolteacher than a sophisticated saloon keeper, they drag him to a chic men’s haberdashery. There, they serenade him with the snappy song “Style” as he is retrofitted in a series of dapper ensembles.

“That song should be the theme of the men’s fashion industry,” says author and clothing designer Alan Flusser, who included the classic film scene in a compilation video that has been in heavy rotation in his New York custom shop since it opened last fall. Flusser, who has penned four books about men’s fashion, has a personal predilection for the song’s lyric: “You’ve either got or you haven’t got style.” Flusser has it. In fact, many of the movie’s snazzy Jazz Age pinstriped suits appear as though they could have come from the 58-year-old designer’s current collection.

Those familiar with Flusser’s previous retail venues (the latter of which at Saks Fifth Avenue closed in 2002), will recognize his signature look, which is not so much a throwback to the past as it is an homage to great men’s style throughout history. He refers to it as “permanent fashion” in his latest tome, Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Fashion (HarperCollins, 2002). “We’re talking about clothing that aspires to last over an extended period of time,” says Flusser, whose English-looking, American-made suits start at around $3,000.

Quietly tucked away on the fourth floor of a Midtown townhouse, the Alan Flusser Custom Shop is a true destination. “Our kind of customer doesn’t like crowds,” says Mark Rykken, who has worked on and off with Flusser since 1989 and now operates Flusser’s new shop. The somewhat theatrical, clubby space is an intimate series of rooms decorated with orange striped walls, emerald velvet drapes, and a French Art Deco burled wood and marble bar that transports one from the gritty streets of modern-day Manhattan to what Flusser calls “the not-too-distant past when male elegance was still a priority.”

Elegance always takes precedence for Flusser, whose encyclopedic knowledge of menswear, both past and present, has become his calling card. “To get the right information is increasingly difficult because the level of service knowledge in the men’s business is at an all-time low, while the merchandise and prices are at an all-time high,” says the designer, adding that most salespeople have never been taught the fundamentals of color, pattern, and shape as they relate to the wearer. “Whether you buy ready-made or custom, being able to access information about style that literally applies to you should be the highest priority one puts on shopping.”

Alan Flusser Custom Shop, 212.888.4500

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Photo by John Pangilinan
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