Fairfield Clothiers: Speaking of bespoke…
In 1988, Hollywood alchemy turned the unlikely pairing of an autistic savant and his selfish brother into box office gold in the hit movie, Rainman. Audiences who chose to stay at home and watch the boob tube could pick from Cosby, Roseanne or Cheers. Welcome relief, I suppose, since the evening news had announced both the unveiling of the Stealth Bomber and the introduction of Prozac -- another match made in heaven.
Also in 1988, a gentleman named Naresh Mansukhani, via a circuitous route through India and Spain, arrived in the United States with a mission in mind. He would, in his own humble way, teach American men the proper way to dress.
Fairfield Clothiers is situated a few doors down from Borders bookstore in the town center. Just inside the door, the din of the Post Road fades quickly as one enters a hushed cathedral of fine fabric. A barely perceptible whiff of sandalwood perfumes the air. Against the walls, suits of fine wool and other sumptuous fabrics hang in precisely spaced rows. Tables draped in rich paisley cloth hold stacks of swatch books that open to reveal the finest fabrics in the world. This is a place where choices are made with great deliberation.
Naresh is a tall, handsome gentleman with a stately bearing and a quick smile. Today, he wears a superbly tailored Glen Plaid jacket, a carefully chosen striped shirt, dot-patterned tie and a contrasting pocket handkerchief. His clothing makes a crucial statement about the man. He is wearing the clothes. They are not wearing him.
A lovely young woman joins us from the rear of the store. This is Magdalena, Naresh's wife, also a first generation immigrant, she from Poland. They met in his inaugural Bridgeport store in 1989. She runs the business behind-the scenes and the store's Internet site. Magdalena is cuddling what appears to be a tiny lion in her arms. This is the couple's beloved Pompoo (that's Pomeranian/Poodle) with the entirely appropriate name of Button.
"Fabric is in my blood," Naresh said as he spoke of his childhood in the largest city in the State of Gujarat, India. "They called Ahmedabad the Manchester of India," he said, in reference to England's great textile center. "My father, who was a textile engineer, took me shopping once when I was six. He allowed me to pick my own shirt, then told me I had made an excellent choice, and then said, `You should be a tailor.' That was that," Naresh said.
Fairfield Clothiers offers three distinctly different levels of men's suiting. First, the ultimate: bespoke. In this process, the customer is in total control over the fabric used, the features and the fit. It's expensive -- and worth every penny. Think Prince Charles and you won't be far off. Second, there's made-to-measure, which begins with a pattern but can be highly customized, approaching bespoke if done well. Naresh knows how to do it well. Finally, off-the-rack. A fine choice if you're not an unusual size or body type, or if economy is a factor.
I asked Naresh to cite examples of his idea of well dressed men. Reaching to a shelf behind him, he produced two coffee table books, one on Fred Astaire and another featuring Carey Grant. No argument there. He turned to a page with a quote by American author, Gore Vidal. "Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn."
"Some customers ask me what people are wearing these days," Naresh said. "I say, to hell with what other people are wearing. Wear what you look good in."
Over the years Naresh has distilled his sartorial philosophy into two clear concepts.
"If people follow these simple rules," he said, "they will never go wrong."
"First, truly know the image that you want to project to the world. Second, be consistent. Buy only clothing that fits this image."
I noticed that not once, during our entire afternoon together, did Naresh mention money. But at one point, I did, saying that price must be a factor to some customers. Naresh gently, almost bashfully, replied, "My best customer is the gentlemen who likes to dress well -- money is not a factor. I have learned over the years that money means nothing."
And he glows with gratitude when talking about his and Magdalena's American experience. "This is an amazing country. The generosity of Americans always surprises me. Magdalena and I don't have parents here. We started with nothing."
He tells a favorite story. One day a gentleman came in the store and introduced himself to Naresh, saying, "I'm your neighbor across the street. I have been observing you for years. You keep your windows clean, your store impeccable, and your mannequins up-to-date."
The man asked, "Do you own this building?"
Naresh said he didn't because prime Fairfield property was too expensive. The gentleman said, "Any time you come across a property you like, come to me and I'll co-sign for you."
The gentleman's name will not be mentioned here, but suffice to say, he is a world famous entrepreneur. "This was out of the blue," said Naresh. "It totally floored me. This is America."
On my way home, I thought about how happy and content Naresh and Magdalena are. One of the last things Naresh said as I was leaving was: "Character is whom you are when no one is looking. I was born to serve, and I just love it." Magdalena smiled lovingly at her husband and added, "Do the right thing is his motto. He doesn't care about money, he just wants his customers to look good."