Then and Now: The History of Paul Stuart

Then and Now: The History of Paul Stuart Header


The Modern Voice of Classic Elegance.

Paul Stuart is cut from fine but sturdy cloth.

For over seven decades, the Paul Stuart philosophy has remained remarkably constant; to be not the biggest but, rather, the very best purveyor of fine clothing to be found anywhere in the world.

Since it opened doors in 1938, Paul Stuart has been a leader in defining updated classic American style, providing the American man—and, more recently, his distaff counterpart—a level of sartorial confidence that always transcends the fleeting vagaries of mere fashion.

What has kept the company, consistently modern and timely, without ever stooping to trendiness? A simple core belief: That owning personal style is vastly different from adopting “a look. Moreover, to trust that its clientele, given the knowledge and correct sartorial tools, will choose to express their individuality with confident erudition and an elegant sophistication that is always appropriate.

An American Interpretation of our Roots

Paul Stuart gladly tips its hat to Savile Row—but the company has repeatedly redefined Savile Row and numerous other national traditions—in an American idiom. 

Over decades of menswear evolution—and more recently revolution—the southwest corner of Madison Avenue and 45th Street—where the flagship remains—has served as the American man’s guardian-angel valet, on call (seven days a week) to suggest, refine, direct, and define. The Paul Stuart approach has been to give its clients a pole star (“Restraint Without Constraint”) that defines, but doesn’t dictate what they wear; that allows, even encourages, dabbling in the Dandy; and that ultimately bestows on them the quality we love most about Cary Grant and Fred Astaire (both Paul Stuart clients, incidentally): A confident elegance that is always in style without ever being now. “The blazer can blaze anew,” as a Stuart ad once put it. 

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An Individual and Characteristic Voice

Paul Stuart has done this principally by engaging in a conversation with men who like clothes. You can hear it in the company archives. The characteristic Paul Stuart voice, as expressed in print advertisements penned for years by the in-house bard Fischl Currick has been compounded of breezy (“Some spirited take-alongs for palmy seaside days”), wise (“Excess is the enemy of style, moderation the friend”), timely (“The button-up dash of December,”), knowing (terms like tubular grosgrain, Bengal striping, and pinwale cotton are casually dispensed), cautionary (“When Nehru wore it, the Nehru jacket had style”), and daring (“bold striped-cotton espadrilles are essential holiday wear”). 

The American Savile Row

Paul Stuart has often been referred to as ‘The American Savile Row’; and just as that short Mayfair Street is shorthand for English tailoring, so is Paul Stuart for the American counterpart. The hallmark of the Paul Stuart style is, like America, bedrock conviction and openness to change. “Our own design, it’s heritage is English, its viewpoint American, and altogether it represents the very best kind of eclecticism,” as a 1988 New York Times Paul Stuart ad put it. Like America, Paul Stuart drew the best from abroad: a Madras Parka “for sailing, beaching, and country wear,” “Hail Britannia woolens,” an Italian box-pleat shirt constructed of worsted lambs-wool flannel in Black Watch tartan, and a golfing jacket vest from Austria. “A distillation of everything we find in the world,” as Grodd once said.

Paul Stuart’s passport remains thick with stamps, the result of countless reconnaissance trips abroad, and it has always reveled in discovery. An R.A.F. flight jacket was lined with “distressed reverse lamb shearling”; leathers were tooled and calf grained, and camel-hair cardigan four-ply; stripes came in “pencil, candy, and awning,” wools were “zephyr weight” and the Cheviot ones “indomitable”; and there were even men’s gloves of “sueded peccary.” 

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“To our Specifications”

But Paul Stuart doesn’t simply mine, rather, it refines, coming up with fabrics, patterns, and styles that reflected its own convictions: “To our specifications” is a mantra of Paul Stuart catalogs and ads over the decades. When in 1983 Paul Stuart wanted that most classic Scottish country check, Glenurquhart, “exactly as conceived for the Glen Urquhart estates in the 1840s,” it commissioned a Scottish weaver to make it in a rich, crisp Cheviot that a Paul Stuart ad—and this is long before Stephen Colbert came on the scene—characterized as “depthy.”

“The clothes we carry reflect our spirit, our bias, our temperament,” the Fall/Winter 1980 catalog quietly declared. The Stuart angle has always been sharply understated: clean lines (“no over-embellishment”), a soft, natural shoulder (“quintessentially American,” says Beauchamp), and a suit that eschewed the Ivy League sack for a silhouette that gracefully traced the body. “When other stores had a gray-and-brown herringbone Harris Tweed jacket,” says Boyer, “Paul Stuart would have a Harris Tweed District Check jacket with an over plaid.” See you and raise you ten.

To achieve this synthesis, Paul Stuart drew from a number of deep masculine wells: the horseman, the gamekeeper, the yachtsman (but sitting aft in a blue blazer with a foaming white pocket square, white trousers, and a gamine pal in a long striped vest), the cavalry officer, and the country-house habitué at play (tennis and croquet, principally). Paul Stuart has always thought of itself as a judicious, discerning line judge, a shepherd of style, and a keeper of tradition—urbanity with a chaser of ease. The M.O was a curated wardrobe long before the word existed outside museums, and it was a formula adopted by countless other retailers.

The House of Stuart

Yards of fabric form the origin of the House of Stuart. “Harry Ostrove came to America with a thimble,” says Michael Ostrove, referring to his great grandfather, who opened a clothing store on the Lower East Side called Broadstreet’s. By the time the company was sold, Ralph Ostrove, Michael’s grandfather, had taken the helm, but ended up doing the unthinkable: He quit in the midst of the Depression (1937) to start his own men’s store. He didn’t even have a name for it. Sitting at home in Flushing, Queens, one day, he made the smart move of listening to his wife. She suggested Paul Stuart, who at the moment was “playing on the floor,” as he told the New York Times in 1982. 

When Paul Stuart opened a few doors in from Madison and 45th, it was an Ivy League shop, just like most of the others around it. In the early 60s, it expanded around the corner to the present location and began expanding its vision of men’s style. In the mid-1970s, it created a department for women’s clothes with the same aesthetic as the menswear. From the 1960s onward, Paul Stuart Ostrove was Mr. Outside, while Grodd, who joined the operation in 1951, was Mr. Inside and the driving force behind Paul Stuart’s transition from Ivy League to worldly sophistication. “Grodd is in the Details,” as a 1992 New York Magazine profile summed it up.

“It’s not our style to name-drop,” says Michael Ostrove, but given the anniversary, its fair to take some liberty and note that leading lights from the diverse worlds of politics to big business, from Hollywood royalty to the very coolest of the jazz greats—including no less than Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Ron Carter, and Billy Taylor (and, most recently, John Pizzarelli, who has appeared in the Paul Stuart catalog) have all shopped at Paul Stuart.

Just talk to the salespeople on the floor, whose combined experience comes to more than 100 years, and you encounter a goldmine of memory. John Fairley, Men’s Clothing Manager, remembers Frank Sinatra coming in—“probably the most intimidating customer we had.” (And although Paul Stuart had a strict policy against salesmen taking tips, “you didn’t refuse the $100 bills Sinatra handed out,” says Fairley.) Ravi Khanna, a veteran of over 40 years, is still the go-to guy for author David McCullough, who included him in the acknowledgements of 1776. (One day while McCullough was waiting for his appointment with Ravi, he sold three suits on his behalf.)

Over nearly eight decades, Paul Stuart has done a trapeze act that few American menswear makers have dared. Give men confidence, not a look. Change with the times, but adhere to a stylistic cornerstone. Be worldly, but be clearly American. “There wasn’t any genre to it except good taste,” says Boyer. Paul Stuart is, as the ever-articulate Fischl Currick once described the house suit shoulder, “as flexible as a fly rod.”

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New York City

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Chicago (Oak Street)

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Chicago (LaSalle Street)

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Washington DC

It’s an apt metaphor for Paul Stuart’s continuing success. The most solid of pillars from the company’s past continue to inform the evolution of Paul Stuart, which, no matter how large it may grow (the company added a women’s clothing division and not one, but two additional retail stores in Chicago, and, proving itself and astute and notably early adapter, more than 150 points of sale in Japan over the course of the past 40 years), its commitment to providing the best product, the best service and the best customer experience has never wavered.

Going forward, with both satellite expansion and potential brand extensions, both domestically and in the international market, are clearly in the cards

Our newest addition: Washington DC

The Paul Stuart store occupies a prominent location in the heart of the District at the new CityCenterDC, a 2.5 million square foot neighborhood development enlivened with a vibrant mix of condominiums, apartments, offices, public spaces, hotels, restaurants and shops. The store joins the Madison Avenue flagship and two outposts in Chicago as the fourth destination for the company within the U.S. market.

The nearly 10,000 square foot store was designed by Charles Sparks + Company, which created both Paul Stuart locations in Chicago. The firm boasts a client list that includes Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, the MOMA Design Store and The Art Institute of Chicago. The new space has a clean, contemporary vernacular with an abundance of open space, glass, bronze, marble and zebrano wood.

Paul Stuart has long considered Washington, DC a logical location for expansion. 

“DC makes perfect sense for us; it is a city that values style, refinement, and sophistication over the constantly shifting vagaries of fashion. We believe that our unique and definitive approach to American menswear—and the fact that we value quality and substance in every aspect of our business—will be particularly well received in the District.”  

—Michael Ostrove, Past President and CEO. 

Located just east of the White House (on the 10-acre footprint of Washington, DC’s former convention center), and close to the region’s best cultural destinations, two of the city’s busiest Metro stations and the new Convention Center, the location stands to become the undisputed centerpiece of Downtown DC. 

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Phineas Cole: a Keen Eye to the Future

With the addition of Phineas Cole, the company’s first entirely new luxury brand in its history, Paul Stuart has set a keen eye on the future. In Phineas Cole, the company has adroitly reinterpreted its own highly developed sense of heritage and tradition to offer an elegantly urbane but uniquely contemporary aesthetic. Phineas Cole embodies a direction that is informed by the finest, time-tested custom of quality tailored apparel, merged with a more modern distinctly slimmer silhouette. This philosophy brings yet another side of Paul Stuart into an even sharper and more emphatically sophisticated focus.

For the entirety of its history (and, by any measure into the foreseeable future), Paul Stuart has achieved what few American menswear makers have even dared to try. By rigorously preserving it’s commitment to quality and innovation; and, perhaps most importantly, by maintaining a marked level of integrity, Paul Stuart has succeeded in affording it’s customer’s confidence, rather than a look. It has changed with the times, while adhering to a stylistic cornerstone and has managed to remain worldly, yet unabashedly American. 

This sort of savoir-faire clearly defies precise definition—and isn’t that the essence of enduring style?

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