Mark Rykken has rather come full circle. He has been in the clothing business for 41 one years, but one of his first big jobs was opening a branch of Paul Stuart in Chicago. He started at Britches of Georgetown, in that area of Washington, DC, and that was where he first met Alan Flusser. He went on to open a branch of Alan’s custom tailoring shop in DC and introduced ready-to-wear clothing there. Later he rejoined Alan in New York and ran his operation at Saks Fifth Avenue, before leaving in 2008. After a little while pondering launching his own brand, he was tempted back to Paul Stuart – and 18 months ago, launched their custom tailoring. So almost full circle. With a lot of Alan Flusser in the middle.
Paul Stuart has not had a custom-tailoring department before, which may surprise you. After all, it has such a strength in tailoring and such renown for its men’s accessories, that custom would seem like an obvious step. But is, perhaps, another nice benefit of the renaissance of tailoring in recent years.
“The second floor of Paul Stuart is one of the great clothing rooms in the world,” says Mark, as we sit in his little balcony niche overlooking that floor. “And its range of furnishings – braces, hosiery, handkerchiefs – is unrivalled. But while Paul it has always been a great training ground for stylish guys, eventually they would drift away to seek out bespoke. They’d still come back for their ties and cufflinks, but they’d have suits made elsewhere. Now, thankfully, we’re seeing a few of those customers coming back.”
So what do they come back for? More of the Phineas Cole tight-and-high tailoring? Oh no. Custom tailoring at Paul Stuart will be based on Mark’s pattern, which is heavily influenced by Alan’s, which is an evolution of Anderson & Sheppard’s. This is a drape cut, with a few modifications that Mark thinks suit the American market.
“I’ve raised the notch a little and pitched the shoulder a little forward, introduced a full side body and increased the size of the upper arm a little,” he explains. “Overall the line is a little slimmer than a classic drape, to reflect contemporary taste, but those other changes make it particularly comfortable I find.”
Uniquely, his tailors put the trouser side straps not on the waistband (as most tailors do), nor on the seam of the waistband (as many others do, including A&S), but on the trouser material itself. This is partly because the interlining on the waistband is particularly thick, and so it is hard to cinch in. Mark is also particularly proud of his tailors’ felling on the buttonholes, which are certainly finer than some Savile Row tailors (though not as fine as the French or Milanese).
Mark does all the measuring and fitting, but the cutting and making is done by a workroom elsewhere in New York – the same one he has been working with for years. He is not a cutter, but this is full bespoke – the basted fittings hanging on the wall attest to that.
“I think we are among the best-value bespoke tailors in New York,” Mark says. Many of the old guard that have their own tailors on site charge $7,000 and up. Mark’s new outfit at Paul Stuart will be around $4,000 to $5,000.
Perhaps most illustrative of what Mark wants to achieve with the new custom line is his first window at the store. We wander out onto Madison Avenue to have a look. Set out before us are three dummies, all wearing bespoke suits made by Mark, styling inspired by Fred Astaire in the film Bandwagon. Key to this look is the use of pale yellow in the shirts. With otherwise conservative colouring elsewhere, that yellow glow brightens the whole outfit, adding a pleasing and citrus-fresh touch.
It’s a welcome addition to an already favourite haunt.