In an age when fashion trends seem to change at the drop of a hat, it is comforting to find a brand that refuses to compromise its integrity. For 75 years Paul Stuart has been the essence of style and elegance with a philosophy that has remained consistent throughout its history.
by Matthew Hernon
“We don’t try to be everything to everybody,” Paul Stuart President Michael Ostrove told Tokyo Weekender, “We just want to be the best at what we do. I think many companies don’t really know who they are, they just seem to follow what is popular at the time. We are different, we don’t need to go to every market. Some people might see our way as a little old-fashioned, but our longevity has proved that it is the right approach.”
A Family Affair
According to Ostrove the company “never puts out inferior products,” and that is something that won’t change even as it enters a new era. Mitsui bought 100% of the company’s shares at the end of 2012 with the intention of elevating the brand to a new level, while at the same time protecting its heritage. Because of this Paul Stuart will in essence remain a family run business with Michael Ostrove continuing to control operations from New York.
It was his Grandfather, Ralph, who founded the company during the Great Depression, naming it after his son Paul Stuart Ostrove. He was succeeded by Clifford Grodd (his son-in-law) in 1958, who transformed the brand with a style described by one fashion critic as a blend of “Savile Row, Connecticut living and the concrete canyons of New York.”
Championing the soft shoulder look, Grodd wanted clothes that were unique but at the same time not overly flamboyant. He seemed to strike the right balance as Paul Stuart became known as one of the sleekest fashion establishments in the US, attracting high profile customers like Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Mel Brooks, Fred Astaire and Paul Newman.
Not only did Grodd have an eye for fashion, but he was also a great businessman. He was one of the first leaders in the industry to realize the potential of the Japanese market, setting up shop here as early as 1975, well before many of the brand’s competitors. More than anything though it was his attention to detail that set him apart from the rest.
He micromanaged every aspect of the business with precision and that is something that his nephew, Micheal is determined to emulate.
“It is a small-run business,” says Ostrove. “I do the budgets, pick the ties etc; we don’t believe in delegation here. I think our customers really appreciate the personal touch that goes in to the clothes they wear. They know we will bend over backwards to try and satisfy their demands. We are currently working on a raincoat that a customer bought 25 years ago, finding the material required is proving very difficult as many of the factories have closed down, but we won’t stop until we get it.”
Evolution not Revolution
Delivering a quality of service that goes above and beyond what is expected of a typical retailer, Paul Stuart has gained a loyal, even devoted following down the years. One problem they have had at times, however, is attracting new, younger customers. Some critics have accused them of being overly conservative and not moving with the times.
In an attempt to modernize the brand somewhat, Paul Stuart launched Phineas Cole in 2007, described by Ostrove as “the heir and nephew of Paul Stuart.” Targeting a more youthful, slimmer, slightly edgier shopper, it has thus far proved a success.
“With Phineas Cole we wanted to shake people’s expectations without straying from who we were,” says Ostrove. “We have always been about evolution not revolution. This isn’t some new direction we are going in, it not about us trying to follow a trend, it is a natural progression that we have taken that goes very well with our more established collections.”
Throughout its 75 year history, Paul Stuart has been a company that has always stuck to its guns, more interested in maintaining its integrity than chasing huge profits. Nothing too flashy or in your face, just a graceful, charismatic brand with staff that go out of their way to make sure their customers get what they want.