Don’t let the small store-front fool you, Carson Street Clothiers is a veritable mecca of modern menswear. Located on Crosby Street (Carson Street is a nod to the street where the shop’s owners Brian Trunzo and Matt Breen lived together in Philadelphia), CSC instantly became a true “destination store” from day it opened its doors this past year, catering to a savvy clientele of style obsessives young and old.
The store’s stock nimbly melds forward thinking sportswear, with traditional tailoring in a style that has been endearingly labeled as “neo-geezer.” For all stores though the first year is a learning process, and for a store of Carson Street’s size both physically and in the number of brands, there’s a lot to be learned. We spoke with Trunzo about what he’s learned, where the store’s heading, and what it’s like find new brands.
ACL: Since Carson Street opened this past year you all have added several new brands to your roster, some of which are entirely new and some of which are just new to your shop, so what do you look for when buying a new brand?
Brian Trunzo: “Breaking” new brands is something in which we take great pride, but it is a tricky and even dangerous activity. Since we approach buying from a “fan-first” basis, the threshold issue is whether we love the product and find it intriguing enough to make it into our own wardrobes. This is a pretty easy threshold to cross, though, seeing how much amazing stuff is being produced every season, so then we ask ourselves whether we truly believe that the brand in question would add something new to our shop. Once we’ve answered this question, more questions need to be answered: would our customer be interested in this product? would this product potentially cannibalize the sales of another brand we already carry? does this new brand seem financially viable enough to deliver to us on time and not fold and disappear in six months? Once we’ve answered all these questions, then we can decide the brand or product’s place in our shop. Yeah, it’s an exhausting activity.
ACL: Do you seek out brands to fill a specific “role” within the overall aesthetic of the shop or is it more of a gut reaction as to simply buying what you all like?
BT: It’s kind of a combination of both. For instance, we set budgets for each category of product in the shop, and if each brand is performing very well then there is no need to supplant those brands with yet another. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Our decision can be particularly difficult when a new brand seemingly complements our existing brand roster. Questions always arise around the more moderately priced product: should we add a similar price-point brand, or should we add a more aspirational, high-end brand? More often than not, the answer is to add neither, seeing that too much choice can sometimes be stifling. We want our brand roster to read like a five star restaurant’s menu, not a diner.
ACL: Obviously, for a new shop, it can take some time to refine the overall vision of the store, so from when you guys began with CSC to now, do you see the perspective of the store as having changed? Or do you find yourselves closer now to the original goal that you had in the beginning?
BT: Our core values and vision stay consistent from season to season, but we cannot deny what inspires us as that consistently evolves. So it’s really a balancing act: add context to our company vision with new product that we find intriguing. Since the shop is a reflection of us, we don’t feel that we can ever stray too far off course–if a product makes it to our shelves or racks, then it fits the overall aesthetic and brand image we are trying to foster.
ACL: Buying for a store is really all about trial and error, so what’s the biggest thing you learned in the past year?
BT: There’s really no way to predict consumer psychology. We used to spend a great amount of time trying to figure out whether our customer would embrace a product in a particular way. We still undergo this activity, but now we place a much larger emphasis on presenting product the way we see fit–we don’t spend as much time trying to figure out what our customer will respond well to and instead try to give them styles we really love.
ACL: Particularly with the addition of brands like Missoni and Visvim (arriving in store next season) you all seem to be embracing the avant garde a bit more, do you find that your customers are more open to this style of design than you had anticipated? And what do you think that says about the state of menswear in New York overall right now.
BT: It’s really a combination of things, but it’s definitely a testament to our own evolving tastes coupled with the evolving taste of our customer. Not to be overlooked is the fact that our customer, in general, just really, really likes beautiful, quality clothing. Our customers range from 15-70 years old, and the one trait they all share is that they all love nice things. We get teenagers in blazers and older gentlemen in sneakers. It’s wild. And we think that our customer base will respond very well to these brands that stray a little left of center (notice how we say “little”–it is not our intention to start throwing knuckleballs out here!).
ACL: So, what’s new this season that you’re all really excited about?
BT: For fall/winter 2013, we added a couple of new brands, namely MAN 1924, AMI, The West Is Dead and our exclusive collaboration with Mother Freedom. Aside from our own excitement for the product each brand offers, each label also represented an opportunity to us. MAN 1924 fills a casual European tailoring hole we deemed present in our inventory while AMI fills a contemporary tailoring void we saw in our spring/summer line up. So while both labels offer blazers and proper dress trousers, for instance, the look and feel of each are entirely different from the other and from brands we carried at the moment we decided to take on those new labels. The West Is Dead and Mother Freedom, on the other hand, allowed us to expand our reach into the well-constructed, heritage-inspired Made in America genre. While the former excels at cut and sew and cotton basics (as well as some interesting outerwear, as seen in their waxed cotton varsity jacket), Mother Freedom excels in modern takes on classic outerwear, as seen in our exclusive down blazer, waxed cotton vests and field jackets. We’re really proud to be a stockist of these brands.