“Smoke Front: Workin’ Stiffs Custom Clothier”
LET’S FACE IT: MATURITY and success tend to have an effect on one’s tastes. Just as you’ve probably foregone shots of rotgut whiskey with a Milwaukee’s Beast chaser in favor of single malts and microbrews, there comes a time in most successful men’s lives when off-the-rack clothing just won’t cut it. That’s when the savvy dresser calls in an expert, like David Lance Schwartz of the upscale men’s boutique David Lance New York (DLNY). Schwartz, a snappy dresser from age seven, and voted best-dressed and most stylish back in high school (“I still have the awards!” he chuckles) uses an automotive analogy to point out the difference between what he does and traditional tailoring. “People don’t come to us as if we were a mechanic,” he says. “They come for us to design and build the car. And each guy is different in the amount of guidance he wants on his wardrobe.”
DLNY, based in Manhattan’s fashionable Upper East Side, caters to an affluent clientele, with custom-tailored suits starting around $3,000. But making the clothes is only a part of the deal; billed as a “complete wardrobe service,” Schwartz’s shop learns intricate details about their clients before ever threading a needle. What’s his profession? Where does he travel and how often? What clothes look and feel best on his frame? The results are meticulously scrutinized, exquisitely crafted investment in personal style. As for Schwartz, he’s now doing for a living what he’d always been called upon to do for free. “Friends used to ask me to go shopping with them, and pick out clothes,” he recalls. “I thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could do this for a living?” I knew I wanted to be in the men’s clothing industry [after graduating from the American Institute of Tailoring], and that’s where I found my niche.” It’s a niche that has proven to be quite lucrative as well: Schwartz assures us that those on the high end of this business earn “well into the six figures.”
Say you’re a clotheshorse yourself, and want to get in on the action. According to Schwartz, while formal training in tailoring is a starting point, what really determines success is an eye for style, and a head for fashion retailing. “Fifty years ago, it was all about apprentices,” he says. “Classical tailors would have their sons, nephews, neighbors working for them. That’s how you’d learn the business: in the cutting room, sweeping up scraps, working your way up. The reality now is you have to be smart businessperson, with style know-how that goes beyond just clothing… you need an eye for the overall look.”
Another incentive for aspiring high-end haberdashers is that custom clothesmaking, at least for the well-off, is a fairly recession-proof pursuit; it even survived the casual revolution of the dot-com-dominant 1990s. “Most of our clients never stopped wearing suits,” Schwartz assures us. “Of the 20 percent that did, they just bought more sports coats.” And with the much-heralded “return of the suit” in workplaces nationwide, DLNY and its temporaries seem to be a business – pardon the expression – tailor-made for healthy growth.