Talking Shop: Suitsupply
- Najib Benouar
We recently caught up with Suitsupply’s vice president, Nish de Gruiter, to talk about what he’s digging from the spring/summer collection, the story behind that fantastic pool party lookbook, iconic tailors and more.
Here’s what the Cucinelli alum had to say...
What’s new for spring/summer 2014? We’re using a lot of lightweight luxury fabrics. For instance, you’ll see the windowpanes that are usually found on wool fabrics. We recreated that look with linen, so you get the dressiness of a windowpane suit but the light summeriness of linen and cotton.
We’ve also done it in a double-breasted, which is something we’re doing a lot of this season. It’s not your dad’s double-breasted, it’s an updated model. The jacket’s cut a bit shorter and trimmer, the lapel is a bit wider, and we gave it patch pockets so it’s a versatile piece that works with a suit or alone.
And my favorite thing from our new collection is the double-breasted waistcoat. It’s something you can use to easily update a look. Instead of buying an entirely new suit, you add a detail like the double-breasted waistcoat—the checkered one for instance—and layer it under a jacket. Or mix it in with a navy suit and it’s a totally updated look.
How does it all come together? What’s the design process like? We have our design team in Holland. And every year we start in Japan to get a feeling of the market. It’s not just clothes—we’ll find inspiration in architecture, food, shops. Then it’s over to Milano Unica where all of the high-end Italian mills show their new collections and debut new fabrics. And we take what we like back to Holland and start from there. We take everything we saw on our travels, at the trade shows and in magazines, and build a mood board.
So it’s all very “of the moment.” Yes, and then the moment the collection has taken shape, our CEO and founder, Fokke de Jong, whose hobby is photography, he heads down to South Africa. With no set plan, really. He’ll just rent a place down there and then bring the design team down, with the samples, and while they were at it, in that creative spirit, they came up with this season’s beautiful campaign.
Ah, yes, the “wet dress shirt” campaign... Yeah, it’s a big pool party. You know. You’re dressed well, surrounded by beautiful women and having a good time. And you’re wearing something that makes you look good and feel confident. We don’t hire an agency for these things, it’s part of the creative process with each new collection. So that campaign is the message of this season’s collection.
Who is the Suitsupply guy? He is a guy who wants to stand out in a crowd and likes wearing a high-quality suit that has a perfect fit. But it’s not just one guy. It’s the guys who are designing the suits, it’s the guys who are selling them, it’s our CEO. We make things that we want to wear. Something I want to wear is a bit different from something our designer likes. And our CEO feels comfortable wearing another thing. It’s a collaborative effort. We all get input. For instance, a few of us travel a lot. And we deal with wearing a suit on a plane. So we’ve introduced a few travel fabrics that stay crisp even when you roll them up and stuff them in a bag--then you step off the plane without your suit looking all wrinkly.
So you’re already wearing stuff from the new collection, I take it? Oh, yeah. I’m already wearing a lot of it [laughs]. The traveler jacket, I’ve been wearing that already. I really like the Copenhagen cotton suits when I go to warmer climates. The deconstructed cotton suits just perform really well. With a cotton suit, you can make it casual with a polo shirt or dress it up with a linen shirt and knit tie for the office.
I also love the shirts with the contrasting club collar. Those are new. And I’m really enjoying wearing them. Then there’s the new outerwear. It’s a great way to spice up a navy suit: throw the yellow or the green raincoat over it. The suit is still serious enough to wear to work, but that extra bit of color makes it stand out.
Speaking of rainwear, which is something new for you guys, do you have more non-suiting on the horizon? Yes, since we shot the last campaign in a pool, we got the idea to launch a swimwear collection. And we’re going to do some tailored shorts as well. Which will be available a few weeks from now—to really get the summer vibe going. Like with everything, we’re focusing on sartorial details like side-adjustment tabs on the swim trunks. The shorts will be tailored. It’s not suit pants, but you can throw a polo and a jacket over it and still get away with.
You worked at Cucinelli, who is a menswear deity at this point. Are there any other iconic labels you admire? I used to live and work at the Cucinelli headquarters in Italy where it all happened. Which was a great experience. I’m also a big fan of Kamoshita at United Arrows in Japan. But then I also like RRL from Ralph Lauren. It’s just a fantastic label that’s executed very well. He really understands selling an image.
What about iconic tailors? Attolini in Naples. They’re one of my favorites. But it’s all about taste. It’s like whiskey. Some guys like Japanese whiskey, some like Irish whiskey. But the flair of Attolini... there’s a romance behind it. They make a great product, but there’s also that feeling of romance to it that sets it apart, for me.
How does that translate to Suitsupply? Has the business of menswear changed? When I was working at Cucinelli—selling a thousand-dollar sweater is a hard thing to do, unless people understand the philosophy and story behind it. And from a marketing perspective, that’s how a company positions itself in the market. But my friends couldn’t afford the sweaters. Nor could I—and I was selling them.
So when I moved to the US, I couldn’t find a suit that was as nice as the ones in Italy, but back in Holland, Suitsupply was making such nice suits. All out of Italian fabrics. Half-canvas and full-canvas jackets. And it was so affordable. Which is because the company is vertically integrated—the design is in-house, the factory is company-owned, and then the suit goes straight to the consumer. No middlemen taking a cut.
We have modernized our business model. We’re not on 5th Ave, or spending millions on global ad campaigns. Our shop in New York is on a second floor. In Chicago, we’re on a rooftop. We’ve created destination retail. And, ultimately, guys who wear our stuff look good. So other guys, in the office, or wherever, want to know where they can get that suit. And that’s how we’ve grown our business, organically.
We’ve found a nice foothold in the American market. And we’re finally expanding west. With a shop-in-shop in Dallas and Scottsdale opening this summer. Then we’ll be in LA and San Francisco by year’s end.
It’s that concept of well-priced, well-informed menswear that makes Suitsupply a great place to start for a guy just getting into menswear. What sort of guidance can you give that guy? For the more business-type guy, I would recommend the Napoli cut. And for the guy looking for a bit more flair, I would go with a Havana cut. Patch pockets, soft shoulder. It’s my favorite fit, especially the Havana in light gray. You can wear a light-gray jacket in so many ways. Layer it with a crewneck sweater. And cotton cargos. Or you can go with a dark charcoal pant and crisp white shirt. Then you can add little things. Like the suede crepe-sole loafers or the braided belt. It’s not necessarily about buying a whole new suit. Once you’ve got your basic navy suit, you can add a checked jacket to wear with your navy suit pants. And it’s a whole new look. It’s about putting the right things together.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that Nish de Gruiter held the position of creative director. In fact, he now holds the position of vice president.