The sale of men’s formalwear needn’t be a dull affair, judging by Dutch retailer Suit Supply’s striking new store in the City of London
In the present economic climate, sales of men’s formalwear are likely to be tricky. Most suits, because that is what the term formalwear generally means, tend to be investment purchases and when times are tough, the temptation is to make what you have last just a little bit longer.
Key looks and merchandise mix
In any range of suits, the great divide is between single and double-breasted stylings. No such fissure exists at Suit Supply, where out of a total of around 50 styles for each major size (for which read 38-inch, 40-inch and 42-inch chest measurements) there is just one double-breasted style: in linen and aimed at the marginally more casual customer.
The 2sb suit is, in fact, the norm for the retailer, reflecting perhaps the thin, rangy and hungry City of the new world order, rather than the fat cat of popular imagination. And the interesting thing about this store is how relatively
inexpensive it is. In terms of design, location and the types of potential shoppers likely to be passing by its door, you might be forgiven for imagining that off-the-peg prices would start at the £300 or £400 mark and head on upwards.
In fact, the entry price for a two-piece suit is £189 and tops out at £399, cheap by local standards and designed to appeal to distress purchasers perhaps. For those minded to do so, there is a made-to-measure service, dubbed ‘Cut to the bone’, that begins at just under £400 and runs up to more than £1,000. As store manager Andrew Fadairo remarks, the price paid for this service depends entirely on the cloth used, as the make is the same throughout.
It is also worth noting that in spite of the name above the door, for those who are interested, two parts of the perimeter wall are devoted to ties and shirts respectively.
There is also a small range of smart Cityesque and man-about-town shoes that are not cheap when compared with the prices of the suits, but then the types hereabouts know that missing a couple of meals is probably worth it for the sake of being well shod.
There are really only two ways to sell suits: by size or by style. Suit Supply opts for the former as its modus operandi and the great bulk of the offer is displayed along the curving back perimeter wall. These run from a size 35-inch to a short, barrel-shaped 50-inch and the styles have been organised within each size on the wall to run from light to dark in terms of colour. This gives a pleasing variation as you scan the offer and means that the suit offer seems to run in a series of waves as colours go from light to dark to light, and so on.
And just in case there is any sense of boredom, the occasional very light-coloured jacket is mixed in with the dark colours, to maintain interest, according to Fadairo (or just possibly because a shopper has put a jacket back in the wrong place).
When the eye strays away from the suits, the tie wall and shirt wall are, in many ways, standard stuff, but they are at least as good as any of the many shirt and tie retailers that have set up shop in this part of town.
Finally, mention should be made of the mannequins found throughout this shop. These are positioned casually, occupying seats, standing in groups
and seemingly watching shoppers, or else staring moodily out of the three windows. As well as being well dressed, they come in three colours - red, grey or white(ish), and all of them are hairless, modern and slick, contributing to the expectation that this is a store in which you will spend more than is actually the case.
In the City and in men’s formalwear, service is central to the selling proposition. And this is what is on display by the shedload in Suit Supply. Fadairo himself is a barrister in training and his polished vowels put you at ease even before the niceties of pure wool Super 130 or maybe Super 150 suits have been discussed. Then there is the tailor, busy doing alterations at a contemporary-looking workbench located in the middle of the shop. Wherever you happen to touch this particular retailer, service would appear to be a major part of its appeal.
For those who wish to peruse the range undisturbed, the staff are equally willing to let them be - there is no sense of an on-commission basis to the enthusiasm with which you are greeted.
The thing that will hit any shopper standing just inside or just outside the store is a destination board hanging from ceiling. This is of the kind that you will encounter at an airport, except that in place of an exotic location there is the name of a customer (real or imagined, it doesn’t really matter), next to which is the estimated time of a style being altered and, beyond this, the time at which it was actually ready. It’s an easy and effective piece of theatre and sets the can-do attitude of a store that does same-day alterations, if required.
The rest of the store is about giving shoppers room, lots of it, to move, within a simple but modern setting. Practically, this means curving white panels that emerge from a red wall, each of which is shaped to give definition to the product category that is displayed. Green high-gloss mid-shop fixturing and perimeter light boxes featuring a designer-stubbled man modelling the product create an ambience of moneyed sophistication.
This is a store that is designed to empower, or at least to give the impression of doing so.
Would I buy?
For a change, this store is aimed at your correspondent and the answer to this weekly question is, yes, indeed I would.
The combination of a broad range of stylings, an upscale store design and prices that are affordable give this shop a strong case for loosening the purse strings.
The real question is whether there would be a cogent reason not to buy, if you were in the market for a suit.
In a sector of fashion that looks as if it might be continuing to shrink, Suit Supply has come up with a format that looks as if it might have legs, arms and a good body as well. This is a retailer that makes the mundane business of looking the part in a commercial environment more fun than it is elsewhere.
Address Lime Street, London EC3M
Opened February 2010
Most compelling feature A curving wall of suits at the back of the store
Other UK stores Vigo Street (London W1S) and Westfield London
Suit Supply trades in The Netherlands, Belgium and the UK. Its head office is in Amsterdam