San Francisco retailer Wilkes Bashford once vowed he never would open a store in any location where he could not be accessible in person to his clientele. So when he took over the former Saks Fifth Avenue space in the center of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif., last year, Bashford purchased a second home within walking distance.
“My philosophy is that good service is not a standard thing,” says the 74-year-old clothier, who knows most of his customers by their first names and frequently assists them with their custom orders. He even will help make dinner reservations or obtain opera tickets. “I always tell people that each member of our staff is a personal shopper, as opposed to stores that have a designated personal shopper on staff.”
Bashford’s attentiveness to his clients also influenced the store’s design. “The climate and natural environment are very important to the people of Carmel,” he says. “You have the trees, the ocean, the sand, and the blue skies, so it was important that the store fit into this more bucolic setting.” To that end, Bashford instructed architect David Ebert of San Francisco–based FME Architecture + Design to create a shopping environment that was warmer and less intimidating than the milieus of Bashford’s San Francisco and Palo Alto stores. “It’s contemporary, but with a nod to nature,” Bashford says of the 10,000-square-foot space, which features painted walls and textured carpets in natural sand tones, milled maple tables with glass tops back-painted in sea blue, and fixtures made of wood veneers that are bleached to resemble driftwood. Downstairs, Bashford built what he calls the Blue Room, an area devoted to premium denim jeans, which he suggests pairing with a tweed blazer, a cashmere sweater, or a leather jacket.
“Our Carmel customers dress in a quieter, gentler way, but they are still very sophisticated and love beautiful clothes made of soft fabrics,” explains Bashford, who offers business and cocktail attire as well as sportswear. He also peppered the assortment with handmade footwear, eyewear, leather accessories, and grooming essentials.
Bashford believes that living locally gives him a better perspective when conceiving items that will be unique to his Carmel store. Such offerings include a collection of formal cuff link and stud sets that he commissioned from local jewelry designers Kathleen Dughi and Ezmaralda Gordon. The pieces are made of white gold or platinum with onyx or mother-of-pearl.
Bashford also works with Belvest, Borrelli, Brioni, and Oxxford Clothes to design models that are exclusive to his stores. “Everyone knows Oxxford Clothes makes the best suits in the U.S., but I always thought their suits didn’t have a contemporary, sexy feeling,” says Bashford, who collaborated with Oxxford president and CEO Mike Cohen to create the store’s Crittenden suit, which features a jacket with soft shoulders and a well-defined waist. “Wilkes’ standards are what everyone’s should be,” says Cohen. “He never compromises by saying ‘that’s close enough.’ That’s why he has such loyal repeat clients.”