I recently stood with a group of menswear colleagues, including a couple of industry veterans, on the sidewalk of 45th Street near the corner of Madison Avenue. We were admiring the always dazzling window displays of Paul Stuart, the storied New York luxury house celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.
As we peered at the mannequins bedecked in the Phineas Cole collection’s daring colors and patterns — like the bold and challenging harmonies of serious modern music — we wondered just who the customer was for these audacious duds, for which the term “dandyish panache” hardly does justice.
None of us had the answer, which goes to show you how uninformed insiders can be.
In truth, the fictitious Phineas has been like a dashing new prince that has reinvigorated the house of Paul Stuart. Debuted in 2007, the bold collection’s sales and influence grow each month. It was created “to put some sex appeal into the brand,” says designer Ralph Auriemma. Not only has it put the ‘ooh’ in Paul Stuart, “It’s become the fastest growing catagory in the company, just phenomenal business, and a huge influence over the rest of the brand.”
The success is a combination of consistency of form with caprice of content. The Phineas Cole suit consists of a slightly shorter jacket with an hourglass silhouette, plus high armholes and natural shoulder. Moreover, 99 percent of the designs feature a single-button stance with peak lapel and double vents, and flap hacking pockets plus ticket pocket. “It’s given us our own look and identity,” says Auriemma, “as it’s a jacket you really can’t find in the marketplace.”
The look has an Old Hollywood flavor to it and conjures up terms like ‘man about town’ and ‘dandy Savile Row.’ In an age when so men are happy to wear suits without ties, the Phineas look is “as dressy as possible,” says Auriemma, with most suits coming with an optional waistcoat, usually double-breasted. Manufactured in Canada with plenty of handwork, the suits are surprisingly modestly priced at $1,600-$2,500.
For furnishings, the Phineas look consists of shirts with high cutaway collars and French cuffs, while neckties are updates of Art Deco motifs. Auriemma’s design inspirations are the Duke of Windsor and Silent Screen matinee idols from the era when peak-lapelled single-breasteds were at their peak. “But we’re certainly not a costume shop,” he says. “This is not a Cary Grant movie. It’s about slapping a bunch of different things together and voila, that’s Phineas Cole.”
Phineas Cole has always drawn inspiration from the English tradition, but for fall/winter 2013 Auriemma looked more to Old Hollywood and screen idols such as John Gilbert. The collection prominently features chalk-striped flannels in brown, grey and blue, which are contrasted with black, silver and purple ties with Art Deco-inspired motifs. Topcoats are sleek and lean with single-breasted button stances and fly fronts.
In his research, Auriemma found a community in Bel Air called Eastgate that was an exclusive enclave for Hollywood royalty. Historic photos provided Auriemma with the idea of combining equestrian elements via riding cloths such as cavalry twill and moleskin, which are mixed with tattersall shirts and extra-heavy paisley ties.
The evening collection is especially eclectic. A chocolate brown velvet dinner jacket with tartan trousers is a key look for the season. “I was trying to mix sportiness with elegant evening ideas to give another viewpoint on evening,” says Auriemma. Other ensembles include a deep purple velvet Nehru jacket with evening trousers, and a black velvet double-breasted shawl-collared dinner jacket paired with grey flannel trousers with black grosgrain striping.
As for that mystery customer, he’s somewhere within the wide parameters of 25 to 65 and could work in finance or show business. “You’d be surprised the number of guys out there who are looking for something fresh,” says Auriemma. “The young punks on Wall Street want to say, ‘Here I am.’ They’re cocky guys, they think they know the market and the next move. They also go out at night, so for them Phineas is perfect.”
And there’s more to the collection than bold suits. Sportswear includes suede military and motorcycle jackets, plus a subtle ‘British in India’ influence in belted-back casual jackets combined with cream trousers. Phineas Cole’s bold cuts have also endeared it to the monkey-suit crowd, including actors who walk the red carpet on awards night. There are gorgeously rolled shawl-collared dinner jackets in both single and double-breasted models, fabrications of mohair and velvet, high cutaway formal piqué shirts and evening topcoats. In short, everything to make you want to fill your social calendar to capacity.
Paul Stuart’s 60,000 sq ft flagship emporium is located in Midtown Manhattan, and the brand also operates in Chicago and Tokyo. Phineas Cole is available online at PaulStuart.com, and brand heritage and the company’s anniversary are celebrated at the micro-site PaulStuart75Years.com.