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If you weren't looking for the Artful Gentleman on Market Street, you would probably miss it. Located on the second floor of the McRoskey Mattress Company, you have to walk through the mattress store to find the shop. But it's well worth the hunt. Inside, you'll find expertly constructed apparel from a trio of local labels. First, there's the shop's namesake, Artful Gentleman— an anything-but-ordinary custom suiting company that outfits both men and women. For more feminine options, there's Mansoor Scott, a womenswear line that's combining wearable leather pieces with gorgeous dresses and skirts. And then there are the underthings: Delicate silk and lace pieces from current Fashion Incubator label Evgenia Lingerie. While all three brands cater to different aesthetics, they are creating the kinds of cool pieces that people see in magazines and dream of wearing. And the designs are coming out of San Francisco.
For young designers, a brick-and-mortar retail space can be both a dream-come-true and a proverbial albatross. Operating a store costs money. Lots of it. A second floor, mid-Market showroom above a mattress store, however, is both quirky and economical. According to Artful Gentleman co-founder Jake Wall, "It's a very sweet story which is very San Francisco in its own way," and an example of the resources that small business owners can find in the city.
Robin McRoskey —the current president and CEO of McRoskey Mattress Co.— met Jake during a panel discussion for Small Business Week, and later offered to let him use the second floor of the building for his showroom. "This is the old sewing room," Jake explains. "The McRoskeys consider themselves bespoke mattress makers. We make custom clothing. It's the same space with different products."
After spending a few minutes with Jake, it's obvious that Artful Gentleman's success is based in large part on his drive and larger-than-life personality. Jake declined a portrait when Racked photographed the showroom, instead submitting an existing photo that shows him holding a bottle of bourbon. His business cards advise, "Have some f*cking self respect." And he landed in the suiting business, somewhat by accident, after leaving a job in Internet marketing.
Jake was traveling on what he calls an Eat, Pray, Love trip, though he concedes there was "not that much eating…and not that much praying. And probably not that much love either." While in Hong Kong, he wanted to have a suit made, and met tailors who had a "true Hong Kong, British-style tailoring business." Jake, a lifelong maker, convinced them to teach him the trade. When he returned stateside, he had a new skill set, and a new path.
That path led him to the Fashion Incubator of San Francisco, a local program that sets promising local designers up with studio space, a salesroom, and publicity. Jake was one of the 2013 designers in residence, and he met Mansoor Scott designers Bethany Scott Meuleners and Sabah Mansoor Husain, (2012 participants) and Evgenia Lingerie designer Stephanie Bodnar (2014 DIR), through the program. Soon, Mansoor Scott and Evgenia joined the Artful Gentleman's masterfully-crafted suits on Market.
Like Artful Gentleman, Mansoor Scott evolved from a global journey. The idea was born when Sabah and Bethany were still in graduate school at Academy of Art, where they double majored in knitwear and fashion design. After showing with Academy at New York Fashion Week in 2010, Bethany and Sabah agreed that they both wanted to start a line in San Francisco. Bethany left the city for a year to study textile design in Nepal on a Fulbright Scholarship, and the two formed their company after she returned in December 2011. Three months later, they started their term in the Fashion Incubator.
Bethany and Sabah took the traditional route into fashion and Jake followed fate into design: Stephanie's road falls somewhere in between the two extremes. While in college at Carnegie Mellon, Stephanie pursued writing for television, interning at news stations and the soap opera "Guiding Light." But her love for costume and apparel design —she's been drawing dresses since she could hold a pencil— kept nagging at her. At "Guiding Light", she recalls "I ended up hanging out in the costume room more than anybody else." With one credit left, she took a costume design class, and she was hooked.
After moving to the Bay Area, Stephanie worked at a lace shop in Berkeley, where she learned about different techniques of lingerie design. Stephanie was accepted into the Incubator with her first lingerie line, Honey Cooler Handmade, and shifted her focus to the more pared-down, historically-influenced Evgenia Lingerie after joining the program. Though Dark Garden, Heroine, and Dollhouse Bettie currently carry her line, Bodnar jumped at the opportunity to join the Artful Gentleman space.
"Once people know that I'm here, which is starting to happen, I think [business] will change. Having a presence where I can actually talk to people about the product in person is so different than selling retail to a store," Stephanie explains. "They may not know the whole story behind your product. But being here, I can actually fit people, so that will probably change the experience."
Jake's sharp tailoring. Bethany and Sabah's laser cut leather. Stephanie's delicate laces. They're all reminders —under one roof— that San Francisco has a growing fashion scene beyond the international labels like Gap and Levi's that our city is typically associated with. But the level of quality that these designers offer doesn't come cheap. Artful Gentleman's price tags are the most jarring: A custom suit can easily cost over $2000. Then again, it's a custom suit. Mansoor Scott's price points are on par with contemporary labels like Rebecca Minkoff. Evgenia Lingerie costs three times as much as a piece from Victoria's Secret, but it's made with silk and high-end lace instead of polyester. For the shopper who wants quality (and not a nationally-known status label), a store like Artful Gentleman is a must-stop shop.
Luckily, such shoppers exist in San Francisco. Jake describes his clients as people who want to have a relationship with their clothes. "If you don't really care what you wear, if you think 'I just need to have clothes on,' we're probably not for you because there's no relationship."
Bethany agrees. "I think in general our focus is women in their 30s and 40s. They want to have clothes they're invested in; clothes they're not just going to wear for the season. We do bring in trend aspects, but it's more dressing for those pieces you're going to hold onto forever. We're not super expensive, but we're a little more on the high-end. You want it to be a piece that people can see the long-lasting value in, but they can also have that emotional attachment."
And lest you think that hoodie-loving San Francisco is the wrong place for finer apparel, Jake will remind you that our city has a greater appreciation for quality than most. "We are the home of the of the craft cocktail. We are the home of the $6 piece of bread. We are the home of boutique coffee. If there is a finer thing in life that can be made out of, well, pretty much nothing at all, it is probably curated first and foremost here in SF. When you think of that person who buys that $6 piece of craft toast, it's because they want to have a relationship with their bread. There are a lot of people who do, and that's our customer."
· Artful Gentleman [Official Site]
· Mansoor Scott [Official Site]
· Evgenia Lingerie [Official Site]
· Slow Fashion Is the Future of Local Apparel Manufacturing [Racked]