An Experience with Suitsupply (in Paris)

Hugo JACOMET

An Experience with Suitsupply (in Paris)

Gentlemen,

If you’re interested in classic masculine elegance, then you may already know that Suitsupply has taken the big step of opening its doors in Paris, an event many blogs and forums have already covered in recent days.

The least we can say, is that the famous Dutch company has entered Paris as a “big fish” situating itself  in a 6000 square foot building located on the grand rue de la Paix—the same street address of  many luxurious brands from around the world (and the address I recall in the game of Monopoly, when as a child, I had to relinquish all my bank notes–to the delight of my little sister, who “owned” the property).

For about 10 years, we’ve followed and reported on the progress of Suitsupply, but today we want to go further than commonplace editorials on the company’s planetary success, formidable product offerings, great price/quality, which is information you likely already know.

But what you may not know is that in 2019, in Paris, the number of MTM salons now exceeds the number of RTW stores selling Italian crafted off-the-peg suits. These MTM boutiques are often run by well versed entrepreneurs, many who have for years, read our columns, as well as other blogs such as Bonne Gueule. Needless to say, for these MTM makers to watch this mammoth company named Suitsupply enter and situate itself in the French capital, halfway between the Opera and Place Vendôme, an air of uncertainty is created, in terms of how to perceive such a change in the Parisian sartorial atmosphere.

In previous years, Suitsupply took the savvy approach of trimming real estate costs by taking the brilliant countermove of installing stores on roadside “destination locations”, far from the hustle and bustle of Main Street merchandising.

So, it came as a surprise to many in more recent years, when Suitsupply began behaving differently, causing sartorial tremors by installing their brick and mortars directly on hotspot Main Street locations around the world—with the formidable conglomerate often situated directly alongside MTM and ready-to-wear boutiques.

This recent installment in Paris has set off alarms of concern for smaller boutiques, when the immense Suitsupply located in one of the  most prestigious streets in the capital (within this new context of  yet another countermove, ignoring the current appetite for small salons making made-to-measure). But when you know a little of the story of this institution founded by Mr. de Jong, you begin to comprehend that the “art of the countermove” is a signature of the company.

As another example of challenging paradigms, at one time, the idea of selling suits online was considered a heresy and not possible—with no future in the menswear market : a dire prediction which Suitsupply proved the reverse. First formidable countermove!

Next, the perception existed that online merchandising lacked the possibility of real customer service. After all, digital shopping in itself is impersonal. However, from the get-go, Suitsupply provided exceptional service, unheard of at the time, with an unparalleled return policy with return packaging and postage included (at a time in French culture, where return policies in menswear were unreadable…and even hostile, with the apparent goal of NOT satisfying the customer). Second formidable countermove!

Finally, at one time, it didn’t seem plausible that a remote roadside clothing store would have a decent selection of menswear (the roadside store existed for those in a desperate situation who did not have the chance to shop in the city center). This counterintuitive decision went against every marketing school teaching—which shouted to students that the three secrets of successful retail are location, location and location. Yet Suitsupply’s destination locations proved to be stunning success and saved them enormous overhead costs, enabling their business to grow beyond imagination. Third formidable countermove!

Although those countermoves defined the early days of Suitsupply, 19 years and 110 boutiques later, the company finally decided to step into the big swimming pool and locate alongside high street brands in prestigious locations like Madison Avenue and today, rue de la Paix in Paris.

The answer to why Suitsupply has been so successful is clear. The company made itself accessible to the heart of metropolises spanning the globe, not limited to discreet roadside locations, while maintaining a strong online presence—without a substantial hike in prices, keeping solid price-quality ratios, and not foregoing top notch service. In fact, the compilation of these feats could place Suitsupply in a class of its own.

The numerous brick and mortar stores has made it possible for the “majority” of men to offer themselves the luxury of a pure moment of aesthetic pleasure and disconnection from the digital world. To my own surprise, upon entering 18 rue de la Paix in Paris, I noticed a glaring absence of connected objects like computers, tablets and mobile phones, and later it occurred to me that this gesture must have been intentional. Again, a more discreet countermove and brilliant act of subtlety for a such a pure kid of the internet.

David Versus Goliath?

Click images to enlarge

We arrive now to the question which has been concerning me since the announcement of the opening of the Suitsupply boutique in Paris. Will the installation of the store in the heart of Paris put in danger the dozens and dozens of made-to-measure salons which have been opening in the capital of France in recent years? Or to be more precise, will the Goliath of accessible beautiful suits, kill the great number of quality “David boutiques” which are so important to the expansion of our community and its values of aesthetics and elegance?

Of course at first glance, we could say such a big opening of the flagship near Place Vendôme will have an immediate impact on the survival of a number of made-to-measure companies within the city. But this reductive first-degree vision can be viewed through different lenses. After taking the time to dissect the subject in my mind, and connect with the pulse of our trade (which I’ve been doing for more than a decade), I believe on the contrary, that the set-up of Suitsupply can be good news for clients and entrepreneurs alike, in the sartorial world.

Why? Because the company of Fokke de Jong is participating to the revival, if not the resurrection of the interest in classic men’s style, specifically in regard to the younger generation.

Perhaps the company is among the few institutions able to conquer and convert a new clientele, once uninterested in the universe of classical elegance—simply through making good and stylish suits readily accessible with a no-risk buying commitment, as returns are granted upon request. Suitsupply may also be the company working the hardest to reach a “once disinterested” intercontinental public now willing to rediscover the joy and pleasure of wearing a great jacket or a beautiful suit. In this respect, our community owes a debt of gratitude to the Goliath whom, whether intentional or not, has sparked an interest in menswear which has paradoxically helped fill the shops and increase the sales of its competitors.

Moreover, I have in mind that the thousands and thousands of our readers, friends, subscribers to Facebook/Instagram, YouTube viewers, Patreon members—and now hopefully our podcast listeners, have made their first move into classic men’s style with the very company whom is the subject of this article. In addition, with Suitsupply acting as the contagion, many of the most-unlikely-of-men, have evolved to enter the world of traditional made-to-measure and even bespoke tailoring.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the clients of Suitsupply today, may tomorrow be the clients of a Parisian made-to-measure boutique, Stark and Sons, Camps de Luca, or Cifonelli. To illustrate this phenomenon (and instead of repeating the 155 other articles singing the praises of Suitsupply, which you’ve already been reading 20 times in the last few weeks), I’ve decided to share a real-life story, involving myself accompanying/observing a man selecting his first ever store-bought suit, at Suitsupply in Paris.

The star of the story is the famed Parisian photographer Andy Julia, who photographed the illustrations for both my books, “The Parisian Gentleman” and my next ambitious book on contemporary men’s shoes.

SUITSUPPLY: Andy Julia’s First Suit ever

Despite the fact that Andy has been a men’s style photographer for years, with amazing talent and flair for his art, he paradoxically never bought a suit in a boutique. Andy previously sourced his clothes from vintage locations, owning what I would describe as a chic rock-and-roll vibe, taking care to put thought into what he wore, but still being far from ‘classical’ sartorial elegance.

When I cautiously proposed to Andy to visit Suitsupply for a suit, he immediately responding with, “Okay, let’s give it a try”…

Soon after, we went together (accompanied by another photographer) to rue de la Paix, with the objective to find his first boutique-sourced suit! I felt a little insecure about imagining Andy in a traditional blue or grey suit, being keenly aware of his affirmed strong personality and need for a sense of artistic expression. To say it differently, I was really wondering how we would find a garment to respect his definitive personality in a store where likely 90 percent of the clientele is looking for a classic garment for business or formal purposes.

Yet, one of the strengths of Suitsupply is its capacity to offer not only classic suits and jackets, but also pieces with strong personalities, unlike many other boutiques focusing strictly on classic style, which again, makes the majority of sales turnover.

But back to the visit. After trying numerous suits, and taking time for discussion to learn about different cuts and styles, we began to reduce the sauce, as we say in France. As pictures speak louder than a long and involved discourse, I invite you to appreciate the transformation of Andy Julia in a three-piece suit of his choice, which we have to admit, is marvelously convincing.

At last, we managed to put our hands on the suit, which not only respected Andy’s style, but moreover, will cause him say, “I feel so good in this suit, that I have the impression to be a new man!”

 

The cut is the “Havana”, the fabric a wool, silk and linen blend and the pattern a brown gun club check. By the way, what is impressive in the photos is that Andy, not being a seasoned sartorialist, commits the small mistake of wearing a similar pattern on the “same size scale”. Note the following article for an explanation.

Two Quick Rules for Suiting Pattern Combining

Yet as he has softened the patterned look with a white shirt, the result exceeded our vision of the outcome!

This is an opportunity for me to say that sartorial art is not an exact science, and encourage you to give yourself the possibility to break the rules, as Andy just did without even knowing it, with some natural talent.

A great experience. A beautiful store. Products very well made and accessible (this exact three-piece suit is offered at 429 euros, before alterations).

And a company which is actively participating towards the revival of men’s style.

Respect.