RIDDLE Magazine - A New Suit for an Old Soul: Alan Flusser Dresses Vintage Maven Sean Crowley

 
 
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By Andrew Yamato

Alan winces when I say things like this, but if there is indeed a renaissance in menswear today, he can claim a lot of credit for it. His books on classic style were Promethean texts for an entire generation of aspiring dressers who came of age in the khaki wake of the Casual Revolution, but before the internet made it easy to find and learn from each other. I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that Alan’s books, along with those of Bruce Boyer and perhaps one or two others, formed a core curriculum for the online menswear blogs and forums that started in the mid-oughts, which in turn spawned the countless Instagrammers of #menswear today. One of the most notable of the latter is Sean Crowley — the Flusser-weaned proprietor of Crowley Vintage & Antiques in Brooklyn — who recently joined the ranks of Custom Shop clients. The story of how and why this came to be captures much of what I think makes Sean, Alan, and this entire menswear moment rather unique.     

I first met Sean about a dozen years ago — on eBay. Long before Instagram was influencing anyone, The World’s Online Marketplace was connecting menswear dorks like us in a bare bones network of buyers and sellers. Sean was selling a Ralph Lauren Purple Label cream linen suit I coveted, and when I noticed the we were both in Brooklyn, I asked if I could pop over and try it on. He answered the door wearing Royal Artillery Prince Albert slippers, and we’ve been chums ever since.

At the time, Massachusetts native Crowley was working as a neckwear designer for Ralph Lauren, having been plucked from sales at the Rhinelander Mansion by Ralph himself. Prior to that, he’d spent his college years working at the storied Bobby From Boston vintage shop, traveling with owner Bobby Garnett on buying trips to England and building his expertise in the history, aesthetics, and minutiae of classic menswear. It had been Sean’s obsession since at least his school days in the 1990s, when the Granada adaptation of PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves & Wooster had first whetted his appetite for all things old and English.

After leaving Ralph Lauren in 2015, Crowley did a stint at menswear conglomerate Phillips Van Heusen, buying and selling vintage menswear on the side, before hanging his own shingle in December 2017. Sean’s discerning eye, affable personality, and social media prowess quickly established his gem-packed little shop as the vintage menswear destination in NYC. No less an authority than Alan himself offered the following glowing review in his monthly newsletter:

Motivated by his own love of the hunt, [Crowley’s] vintage store operates both in spirit and occasionally in stock of that rare and stylish wearable that might have titillated the tastes of a Bertie Wooster, Grenadier Guard, or Princetonian circa 1937. From vintage collegiate sweaters to military uniforms, hook-vent Ivy League 60’s tweeds to Anglo-centric tailored pieces, everything here reflects Sean’s educated and experienced taste level, translating into a purchase whose design standards are guaranteed for the long haul. It’s been a while since I could recommend a menswear experience featuring this array of high-brow, insider-privy, vintage merchandise, no less the thrill of being regaled of their colorful histories by the natty proprietor himself.

Despite having any number of closets bursting with the finest vintage clobber, by the fall of 2018, newly minted entrepreneur Crowley was feeling successful enough to indulge in the ultimate luxury for a secondhand collector: a new suit, made just for him. By his own admission a man of “champagne taste on a beer budget,” Sean immediately ruled out the lavishly expensive Savile Row houses whose bench-made bespoke garments he’s been trading in for years. On the other end of the spectrum, he was unimpressed by the many lower and mid-range made-to-measure operations that have sprung up in recent years to cater to the young devotees of #menswear; their trim-to-tight default styling has nothing to do with the softer, roomier drape cut he favors, and he found their make and materials sorely lacking. The answer lay somewhere in the middle — a sartorial sweet spot at the convergence of traditional make, classic taste, modern execution, and good value.   

When Sean asked me if I’d recommend Alan Flusser Custom’s made-to-measure program, he did so expecting my candid opinion as a fellow connoisseur and a friend. I had no reservations about my response: I consider our MTM to be the best option I’m aware of for those those seeking what Sean described as “Savile Row on a budget.” Having made a 24-part video and essay series documenting the “handcraft” process of Henry Poole-trained tailor Rory Duffy, I’m more familiar than most with the romance of full bench-made bespoke: the logic of every hand-stitch, and the reason for every shortcut not taken. I’m also aware that making a few strategic concessions to modern construction techniques (and not overly fetishizing the country of origin) can translate into a retail price point less than half of what it might otherwise be. Such is the bargain we struck — and the bargain we offer — with our made-to-measure garments. We accept that artfully executed machine-padded lapels can have a voluptuous “roll” almost indistinguishable from one painstakingly padded by hand; we respect the ever-growing expertise of Chinese tailors; and we believe there exists a demand for garments offering the highest level of taste and refinement at less than stratospheric prices.

Crowley was sold. We would make him his first made-to-measure suit — a classic grey flannel three-piece. Alan clearly enjoyed the consultation process with such a keen and knowledgeable client, enthusiastically dissecting the “trad” details of the old J. Press tweed jacket Sean had come in wearing, and regaling us with stories of a bygone world of New York menswear characters, of which he is among the last remaining. After settling on an 11-ounce medium grey woolen flannel from Vitale Barberis Canonico with a rich melange of “highs and lows,” Sean reeled off the details he’d literally been planning since at least high school: a half-lined, slightly draped, single-breasted jacket with broadly peaked lapels; pleated, full-cut, fishtail-back trousers with side tabs; and a scooped front vest.

 

A punchlist Crowley made in high school of the features he’d someday like in his dream suit. It didn’t change much over the next 20 years.

 

For all the specificity of his requests, the suit Crowley ordered was not far off our standard house cut, and for good reason. The foundation of Sean’s taste is the iconic 1930s aesthetic immortalized in old Esquire and Apparel Arts fashion illustrations: a masculine yet relaxed look of well-proportioned flannel, tweed, and linen that Alan was largely responsible for reintroducing to the world in his 1986 book Clothes and The Man. The wardrobe Alan assembled later that year for Michael Douglas’ corporate raider Gordon Gekko in Wall Street drew upon the same inspirations, effectively making a 1930s look — double-breasted suits, contrast collar shirts, braces, etc. — an icon of the go-go 1980s. Alan’s 2002 magnum opus Dressing The Man doubled down on classic Savile Row and Old Hollywood imagery. By the dawn of the internet age, Alan had became the patron saint of a new generation of menswear aficionados who took their cues from a sartorial past he’d done more than anyone else to curate.

That past is now effectively Crowley’s brand, and his shop does a brisk business in fedoras, spectator shoes, bold tweed suits, and other iconically vintage accoutrements. His core trade, however, is in quieter, quality elements that his on-trend clientele incorporate into more sophisticated, eclectic looks: a Hudson Bay coat here, an Oxford college muffler there. With his own day-to-day personal attire, Sean tends to eschew more flamboyantly anachronistic elements in favor of a more classically conservative Anglo-American presentation — one full of tasty details to a trained eye, but not out of place in 21st century Brooklyn. A typical ensemble might be a Shetland tweed jacket, surplus officer’s chinos, chambray buttondown, ancient madder pocket square, repp tie, and suede chukkas. It’s an understated, old-world look that suggests a comfortable continuity with the past rather than an awkward obsession with it — a sartorial philosophy very much espoused by mandarins of #menswear from Bruce Boyer to Patrick Grant to Mariano Rubinacci. It’s also part of our DNA at Alan Flusser Custom.

It’s axiomatic in menswear circles that “fashion is fleeting while style is forever,” but actual stasis is the enemy of true style. Apparel Arts itself perhaps the most revered of all menswear ur-texts — was originally conceived to help clothiers track the very latest fashion developments from London to Long Island to Palm Beach. Tailored menswear is a subtle game in which trends play out in inches and ounces; taste and tradition may temper these adjustments to even smaller fractions, but the game itself must be played, on pain of irrelevance. Despite being the man who coined the term “permanent fashion,” Alan has always been interested in making clothes which, for all their long-view styling, are very much of their times. In 2010, recognizing that the heavily draped suits that had made his name in the 80s and 90s were out of step with younger, leaner sensibilities, Alan tightened up his house cut: slightly shortening the jacket, narrowing the shoulders, raising the gorge, cleaning the chest, and trimming the trousers. These moderate adjustments resulted in our current “updated drape” cut, which retains the soft, comfortable essence of the classic drape while reducing its overall proportions. Additionally, our clothes are lighter than ever before, reflecting Alan’s lifelong penchant for comfort and his embrace of the latest Italian milling technologies, which every year improve their ability to produce lightweight cloths with the depth and richness of older, heavier cloth. This sort of stylistic change — conceived not as arbitrary novelty, but as deliberate evolution — is less about “fashion” per se than renewal, rejuvenation, and rediscovery.

And what is the ongoing vogue for all things vintage if not this thrill of rediscovery? A shop like Crowley’s may be selling old clothes, but to his clientele they are fresh and exciting, artisanal talismans rich with meaning and connection to an unexhausted, living past that seems more accessible than ever. A similar dynamic has been at play for at least the past dozen years in menswear more generally, with the rise of the countless forums, blogs, YouTube channels and Instagram accounts devoted to the making, buying, and wearing of classic tailored menswear — a category that not long ago appeared as doomed as answering machines. Whether or not a young #menswear devotee self-identifies as a “vintage” style aficionado, his newfound and unabashed enjoyment of fine dressing is itself a throwback to a nattier era. Today’s stylish men have quite literally pulled their pants up and embraced an ethos of fit, quality, and elegance that their grandfathers would’ve recognized.

After two fittings and some minor post-shakedown nips and tucks, the three-season, three-piece suit we ultimately delivered to Sean is an especially representative artifact of this moment in menswear, perfectly balanced between a traditionalist’s love of the past and a man-about-town’s need to keep it lively. Rendered in a supple grey flannel that looks heavier than it is, with a softer construction than ever left Frederick Scholte’s bench, and with mature, moderate proportions that conjure no single time or tribe, it is classic without being retro, substantial without feeling heavy, elegant without looking old. It is, in other words, as close as we can come (at the moment) to “permanent fashion.”

So pleased was Crowley with his suit that he immediately commissioned a second vest in matching flannel, this one in a rakish, double-breasted, peaked-lapel cut all but extinct on the RTW market. As such a unusual garment is (for now) beyond the abilities of our MTM factory, this had to be fully bespoke, made on premises here by our master tailor. More formal and certainly more dandified than the single-breasted vest, it’ll be just thing when Sean wants to push his suit up a couple notches on the swagger scale.

Crowley put his new suit into heavy rotation this winter at his shop, where it’s been making periodic and popular appearances on his highly amusing Instagram feed. We’re extremely pleased and proud to have made such a signature garment for such a singular dresser, and hope that it may help other secondhand hounds realize that however thrilling the hunt for vintage game, the finest classic dishes will always be best served fresh.  

 

Crowley’s bespoke double-breasted waistcoat, made on premises by our master tailor.