It's about time men's fashion got some attention. If the growing number of modern barber shops and menswear blogs is any indicator, soon enough men will be outshining women. Well, maybe not. But it's happening and men can finally shop the way men are meant to shop, which is very different from the way women shop. If anyone knows this, it's Hil Davis, the CEO of J.Hilburn, whose rapidly growing menswear business brings the luxury of the Italian mill to the masses.
J.Hilburn is web-only, with the exception of style advisors who help costumers shop. While you can order ready-to-wear items from the e-commerce site, it's a visit from an advisor — most often a woman — who can help a man completely revive and customize his wardrobe. In this interview, Davis provides insight into the growing menswear industry, what J. Hilburn's best and underdog sellers are, the five things every man should have in his closet, and, since this is an article about men's style, George Clooney.
Why did you decide to start the J. Hilburn Independent Style Consultant program?
We started the program for two reasons: (1) We knew we could sell the same men’s apparel as Zegna and Ralph Black Label and Purple Label for half the price because we could cut out the retail mark-up. It's like buying a Porsche 911 for a Porsche Boxster price. We are using the same Italian mills and the same factories as the brands mentioned by going direct to the consumer. (2) We knew most guys do not want to shop, but they also do not want to measure themselves, so we needed to create the role of a style advisor who would go and meet the guy in his office and take the measurements.
What do you think is the main difference between the way men and women shop?
Men shop based on need and are very practical. They want a quick and easy process, while women shop emotionally and enjoy discovery and browsing. In other words, men are solving an immediate need and women are creating an experience. We believe men want a better fitting product while women are seeking a close-to-perfect fit. Also, men tend to stay in the middle of the fairway when it comes to style and colors, while women search for more fashion and interest. In other words, menswear is more evolutionary and womenswear is more revolutionary. We have found that once a man finds it easy to buy, they become highly habitual and loyal, while women seek out different experiences more regularly.
Would you consider applying the J.Hilburn business model to womenswear?
We have considered it, especially given how quick our baby cashmere sweaters sell out in small sizes as women purchase these sweaters for themselves. We get a lot of requests to get into womenswear as women truly understand and appreciate luxury fabrications and the value we offer relative to the leading luxury brands.
What are the J.Hilburn bestsellers? What are some J.Hilburn dark horse items you think are winners?
Custom shirts have always been our best sellers, but since we launched suits and sport coats this summer, we have seen a huge increase in those. Our dark horses tend to be classics with a modern twist, like our seedstitch sweaters and multi-check blazer, and our entire accessory line–especially the custom belts.
Bowties, barbershops, bespoke designers, what's the next big thing to happen in menswear?
We think it is two-fold. The first big thing is the personalization of products and the second is the customization of apparel at mass market prices. Guys want a hand in designing their products and they are more aware of fit then they have ever been. Guys are becoming more enlightened that buying off the rack means buying a product that was meant to fit as many guys in one size as possible, and that this is not who they want to be. The key is now taking the luxury of custom that was only available to a select few and making it affordable and therefore within reach for everyone, without sacrificing the quality of the fabric or the make.
Who do you consider to be iconic, well-dressed men? Either from history or modern times.
A man who is comfortable in his own skin and knows the basic rules of dressing and what works for his body type and look always looks great whether he’s a recognized icon or not. George Clooney is a perfect example: he’s always tasteful, understated, and pays attention to the details. Other iconic dressers are Cary Grant, Tom Brady, and Paul Newman.
What are five things every man needs in his wardrobe?
A handful of custom fit shirts, gray or navy suit, great fitting pair of jeans, a classic pair of khakis/chinos, and their own tuxedo.
Many people confuse personalized and custom. Can you clarify?
Personalized is taking a ready to wear fit and making style changes, where custom is made to customer’s measurements and personalized. The complexity of custom is 10-fold personalized, but everyone uses the buzz word custom, even though 99% of the time it is personalized.
What exciting developments we can expect from J.Hilburn in the next year?
On the product side, we are excited about launching unlined sportcoats, formalwear, a partnership with a major footwear brand, and growing the core lines into more styles and options. We are spending a lot of time and effort building out some really cool technology from the customer and style advisor side that will include recommendations and quick looks for a guy to wear based on his purchasing history. Since we know exactly what our customers like and what they buy, we can build personal closets and looks for him. No other retailer can do this in the way we can because of the technology we are building wrapped around the personal relationship of their style advisor.
Samantha Durbin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a California lifestyle writer who honed her blogging skills as Editor of FabSugar.com. Samantha graduated from The Fashion Institute of Technology, and also writes for 7x7 Magazine and Gilt City.