Shopping, at least in the context of this column, is a kind of performance. It has little to do with satisfying a need, or a curiosity, and more to do with cramming at the library: You take the text as it is, not as you would like it to be, and you try to take all of it in and assess it on its own merits.
Done correctly, this allows for an evaluation of a store at its platonic ideal, not as an attempted solution to any specific needs or problems of this particular shopper. I may happen to buy something, but rarely a thing I woke up that morning setting out to find.
Occasionally the needs of this particular shopper and the Critical Shopper overlap, and unlike on most of my excursions for this column, I entered Drake’s, a British clothier, last week with a specific mission, or hope: to find a suitable pair of trousers for a wedding I need to attend.
Ideally, they’d go with a particular salmon Isaia sport coat I want to wear. I know, I know — Neapolitan and English tailoring might not seem from a distance to mix, but I find that for my frame, Neapolitan up top and British below the waist can be an optimal combination.
Besides, if you’re going to mix and match, Drake’s would be where you start. The company is four decades old but feels both older and younger. It specializes in neckwear — cashmere, tussah, knitted silk and more — and pocket squares and scarves in extravagant prints, and has expanded in recent years into something approaching a full-service clothing line. It is inspired by classic British style, but not burdened by it.
Drake’s began its presence in New York last year, with a temporary store in the old Olive’s space on Prince Street, followed by a pop-up at C’H’C’M’, on Bond Street.
This space, which is permanent, is part of what is perhaps the third iteration of Crosby Street’s men’s wear era. (R.I.P. Carson Street Clothiers.) Fashion-minded men, the same ones who were agonizing over soft shoulders and double monks, are at their least tailored in a decade. The arrival of Drake’s is either too late, or ahead of the revival curve.
One of the other side effects of these many cycles of the New York men’s wear scene is that there are fewer secrets than ever. Where once there were only rookies, there are now veterans. Maybe that’s why, for only the third time since I began writing this column seven and a half years ago, I was made during this shopping expedition — the six degrees of the city’s men’s wear community functioning more like one or two.
I was spotted by Kevin, whose brother used to work at C’H’C’M’, a store I happily frequent. Anonymity blown, I introduced myself to his salesclerk partner, Chase. When I was in the fitting room, up from the basement came Alex, whom I’d met at the C’H’C’M’ pop-up over the winter. During that trip, I’d lingered over one of the Drake’s elephant-print handkerchiefs, and bemoaned that there wasn’t a scarf available in the same pattern.
With covert action not an option, I instead opted for an open conversation about whether a store more interested in tailoring than athleisure could thrive in this marketplace. This, while flitting in and out of the fitting room trying on pants, wavering between two colors, navy and rust, in cotton trousers that felt casual enough to wear with sneakers but rigid enough for a wedding ($ 325). (A week later, I returned to buy the navy.)
If the wedding weren’t in California, I easily could have assembled a worthy head-to-toe outfit here. I tried on a spectacular forest green tweed blazer ($ 1,425) that was 80 percent rigor, 20 percent insouciance. That same balance came in a teal tartan button-down shirt ($ 195) that had a sensual heft.
And the ties. Oh, the ties. Would that I had the occasion to wear more ties. When you navigate the neckwear selection at Barneys or Bergdorf, you imagine a customer who has to wear a tie, and therefore wants to wear an impressive one. Here, you cotton to the ties so quickly that you attempt to invent circumstances in which you might need them. The wool ones are burly, the knit ones cheeky, the basic foulard ones still peppier than most.
These, and the pocket squares and scarves, are Drake’s raisons d’être. The pocket squares with whimsical patterns, like hockey players ($ 85), and the scarves luxe and colorful, like portable tapestries. There are also artist collaborations, like the pocket square that illustrates the “enemies of the gentleman’s wardrobe”: olive oil, Texas barmaids, lilies and more ($ 85). As men retreat from tailoring at every turn, this sense of humor, experimentation and breeziness is almost certainly the only way to hold the fort.