Matt Breen and Brian Trunzo are the duo behind the Crosby Street based Carson Street Clothiers in New York’s SoHo district that has become one of the central menswear hubs. Roommates who transitioned to attorneys, they ditched their corporate careers and dove head first into retail, setting up a unique space that caters to both ‘old men with young souls and young men with old souls’. Here, they rap about launching a business from a ‘fan first’ perspective.
First and foremost, who is the Carson Street Clothiers customer? What’s he like? What are his interests?
An NFL quarterback– we believe it was Joe Montana–was once asked, “Who is the hardest hitter in the NFL?” His response was “anyone who is left unblocked.” That quote really resonates to us as retailers as we’ve found out in the last few months, our customer is generally anyone – women, too – who appreciates luxury menswear and the lifestyle appurtenant to it. Whether it’s an old man with a young soul or young man with an old soul, we believe that our casually tailored and dressy sportswear brand roster appeals across demographics. We do see a core group of younger professionals championing the shop, but that doesn’t mean their fathers, and even their kids, are not also a part of what we consider our target customer. Finally, there’s the tourist traffic flowing from the Mondrian Hotel and Crosby Street Hotel along with the creative professionals who live and work in the neighborhood–we truly get a wide smattering of customers.
You were law school roommates and corporate attorneys before ditching the world of law and heading into the fashion space. Why?
It just got to a point where we couldn’t bring ourselves to work at our respective firms anymore knowing that we’d much rather be doing something else, namely, selling and designing clothes. We definitely experienced a lack of excitement and stimulation as midlevel corporate attorneys, something we have yet to experience as menswear retailers. We approach the business from a “fan-first” perspective, which really fuels our desire to continue to bring new product to the market, find new brands and keep the Carson Street brand interesting to customers. This is the kind of excitement and stimulation we knew we could never experience in the world of law, and we are so grateful to be able to call 63 Crosby our home away from home.
What’s behind the name Carson Street Clothiers?
Carson Street is the name of the block in Manayunk, Pennsylvania we lived on as law school roommates. Many hedge funds, private equity firms and other financial institutions name their firms after seminal streets that resonate with its founders. So, for us, we felt that by naming our shop Carson Street Clothiers we’d pay homage to our past profession and remove any doubt as to what we do as retailers; the word “Clothiers,” we think, makes that pretty clear!
The space is quite interesting – both sophisticated, masculine yet industrial. What does the space say about your brand?
When we started our build out, we envisioned the shop as an updated, more sophisticated version of your grandfather’s haberdasher. There are elements of yesteryear in the layout, for sure, from the reclaimed wood to the industrial lamps and salvaged courthouse banisters throughout the space, but we wanted to keep the space a bit more wide-open and soften such heavy materials where possible. So you’ll see orchids, glass shelving, sleeker ironworks and white paneling complimenting these heavier elements throughout Carson Street. In the end, we wanted to create a luxurious, yet unassuming space in which a man of just about any taste could feel comfortable.
Besides a highly edited selection of brands, you also have your private, in-house label. What’s the design process like?
The process begins with what we did right and wrong that you know of in the past. You have to plan so far in advance now that this can be difficult to do, but you have to learn from your experiences. We take our daily lives as inspiration, from the music we are listening to and the places we go, to the people. Half of the design for this Fall/Winter ’13 collection was done with Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album in mind, which is one of our favorites. For Spring/Summer ’14, we looked to photos from the mid-1960s for our inspiration; the clothing in the photos is incredible and the colors kill it.
Once we find the fabrics, we move them around and see what is working with other fabrics we have. If it doesn’t fit or we don’t love it, then we toss it to the side. Most importantly, if we can’t find the value in it, then how can we tell our customer that we loved it enough to put our name on it and put it in the store?
For fall, you’re also expanding your CSC label. How so? What can we expect?
In fall, we flipped the script quite a bit. For shirting, we added a 3mm Mother of Pearl button and a butterfly gusset. We sourced some of the finest fabrics from England, Italy, and Japan. We really focused on what guys need and from there added some pieces we thought were cool. We decided that if we wanted to do ties and pocket square, we wanted to give people the best. Our pocket squares are all cotton/linen from a factory in France that has been doing them for centuries. They are definitely your year round, last for as long as you want them pieces. The hand rolling and stitching on the edges is amazing. Further, we spent more time on ties than most things because we wanted to give our customers something of true luxury that looked and tied great. They are all hand-made in Italy or England.
We also brought our blazers to Italy, which gave us the ability to craft a softer, lighter construction, which we believe is very important to maintaining its shape through the years. We also wanted to introduce guys to fabrics that will last, for instance we took a fabric that has cashmere in it and added linen to keep its durability up.
Finally, by the time the holidays roll around we will be adding a wide range of bench-made shoes from Italy.
For those that haven’t had the pleasure (yes, pleasure) of checking out your store yet, there’s also a seating area towards the back of the space. Why was this something that was important to include in the shop?
The lounge! Oh yes, this was always something we believed to be very necessary to the shop. We really are committed to making our customers as relaxed and comfortable as possible, and what better than some leather chairs and couches, an LED television and drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) for customers to take a load off? Well, we can’t think of anything else, so that’s why we went with the lounge! But seriously, the lounge has become customers’ safe haven, a place where they can relax and not think about buying product so poignantly. Shopping should be a pleasurable experience, and we just thought the inclusion of the lounge would help make shopping at CSC just that.