Boston Globe breaks the Sidney story

by Janelle Nanos, The Boston Globe

For over five decades, Mr. Sid has been a haven for the well-heeled men of Boston, catering to customers who might drop several grand for a well-made suit. But now, the store is hoping to attract a new clientele: Women.

This month, Stuart and Barry Segel, the second generation brother-owners of the store, which has locations in Newton Centre and the Seaport, unveiled Sidney, the company’s first line of made-to- measure suiting for both men and women.

The company launched Sidney with the aid of Barry Wishnow, the former chief executive of Hugo Boss who’s now consulting with the brand. And if its elegant suits and jackets seem like they’re cut a bit bolder than the store’s more traditional offerings, that’s entirely the point.

To survive in the challenging menswear industry, which has been laid waste by business casual dress codes at the office, the company has to attract a younger, more diverse audience, Stuart Segel said. Creating their own line of custom-made clothing — one that also taps into the trend of more structural, tailored looks for women — helps the brand reinvent itself and stay relevant, he said, and gets to the heart of what Mr. Sid has always tried to offer.

“A specialty store should have things that are special,” he said.

In the brutally competitive world of retail, maintaining that special place in a customer’s heart seems to get exponentially harder every year, as online offerings proliferate and e-mail inboxes overflow with the latest bargains. Mr. Sid, though, has always seemed to hold its own.

A step ahead of the many brick-and-mortar retailers scrambling to retain shoppers by crafting in- store happenings, the Segel brothers have fine-tuned the Mr. Sid experience. They sell made-to- measure suits from Brioni and Zegna over a splash of whiskey at one of the store’s several bars.

JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Need a shave? Wander downstairs to the Newton flagship’s grooming parlor. They host charitable events in that store’s subterranean lounge, and on Saturdays, they often put out sandwiches, which drew longtime customer Ken Jaffe in last week.

“I love the place,” Jaffe, a 64-year-old real estate agent, said. “For me it’s a place where I don’t feel stress for a few minutes during the day.”

After kibitzing with the brothers over lunch, Jaffe said, he soon found himself picking out fabrics for a new made-to-measure suit. “I just have to sell four or five homes this week to pay for it,” he joked.

Mr. Sid isn’t the only independent men’s clothier in Greater Boston, of course, but its success has been a rarity in the men’s clothing arena, said Karen Alberg Grossman, editor-in-chief of MR Magazine, a national menswear industry publication that named Mr. Sid its retailer of the year last summer. She said the brothers have reported double-digit growth over the past four years, and the opening of a second store in the Seaport two years ago was a coup.

“That’s really unusual today,” Alberg Grossman said. So many men’s boutiques have closed in the last few years, she said, she can barely cobble together a list of the top 100. And the demise of fashion mainstays like Barneys has been a “tremendous loss” for the industry.

Mr. Sid’s continued growth also caught the eye of Wishnow, who had developed the menswear line at Yves Saint Laurent and held executive roles at Calvin Klein as well as Hugo Boss. Wishnow had been a longtime Mr. Sid fan — the Newton native had worked as a salesman there as a teen,
and he followed the store on Facebook from his home in Nashville, where he’d had a bespoke design studio for the last decade. Long frustrated with what he sees as a lack of imagination in the retail industry, Wishnow spontaneously reached out to the Segel brothers, congratulating them on their continued success.

When they got his note, however, the Segels were feeling some frustration of their own. Many of the menswear brands they relied on were offering styles that “didn’t resonate with our customer, like wearing sweatpants with a sport coat,” Stuart Segel said with a shudder.

And they wanted to expand their reach. “In a community where I believe there’s plenty of diversity,” Stuart Segel said, “we haven’t seen much in the way of lesbian or gay clientele.” The store had attempted to sell women’s clothing back in the ’70s, but it hadn’t worked out.

It started a conversation that evolved into giving Wishnow a consulting gig with Mr. Sid, and the idea for the Sidney line began to take root.

“I just think it’s time for great stores — and there aren’t many left in the world — to start developing their own name again,” Wishnow said. In an era where personalization and high quality are some of the key drivers of successful brands, he reasoned, shops that have been operating in the made-to-measure milieu should be owning the moment.

It was time for Mr. Sid to make its own clothing.

In May of this year, Wishnow gave up his Nashville pad for a loft in the Leather District. And for the last six months, he’s worked alongside the celebrated designer Agnes Schorer to develop Sidney. The label will be direct-to-consumer, offering trunk shows throughout the country to help drum up a younger customer base who might not be as inclined to buy custom suiting.

In addition to Sidney, the company has launched a new service, Monogram, which will offer in- home or in-office styling sessions for its customers. And in an effort to raise its profile, the store has signed on to sponsor the upcoming exhibit in Peabody Essex Museum’s new wing, “Made It: The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion,” which will open in May.

Mark-Evan Blackman, a menswear professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, commended the brothers for taking on the challenge of launching their own line. Although the growth of menswear spending is now outpacing that of womenswear, he noted, the luxury market has been challenged by cheaper online made-to-measure clothing.

“Identifying a new customer base is found money if they can do so successfully,” he said. “But women are a completely different species from a fashion perspective.”

MR Magazine’s Alberg Grossman concurred. While she thinks the Sidney line is “fabulous” she said “it remains to be seen how women will relate to the experience of made-to-measure.”

Then again, she said, “No one knows tailored clothing and made-to-measure as well as Barry Wishnow.”

So far, the Sidney line is small: a dozen pieces equally divided between men and women. Pricewise, it isn’t cheap — suits cost $3,500, and blazers go for $2,500. But the brothers say women have already begun buying.

“In a lot of ways, women have been shortchanged because fashion moves so quickly,” said Barry Segel. “This speaks to a level of quality and fit and a feel that I don’t think women have experienced.”

Wishnow says he hopes the brand will also educate younger men about investing in great tailoring. Like the young doctor at Beth Israel he met recently.

“He shops online at J.Crew and hates it,” Wishnow said. “Why does he do it? Because he doesn’t know.”

Janelle Nanos can be reached at janelle.nanos@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.

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