How to Launch a $7,000 Suit Shop

How Saks launched a $7,000 suit shop

By Ted Kruckel March 4, 2009, 1:45 PM EST

Luxury lovers descended on Kiton, Saks Fifth Avenue's new super tony shop, recession be damned.

Photo: Courtesy of Saks Fifth Avenue

I have been riveted, just riveted, to news stories about the impending launch of Italian menswear manufacturer Kiton (kee-tun) at Saks Fifth Avenue, which has been in every major paper, including a piece on the front of the Business Day section of The New York Times, announcing Saks’s recent billion dollar loss.

But despite the challenging environment, Saks is embarking on its most ambitious foray into menswear ever: a seven-figure boutique for Kiton. The rub? This is a luxury brand to the extreme. Nearly every story mentioned that they were known for custom $7,000 suits. People were aghast that the store was going ahead with its plans, likening Saks suits with bailed-out bankers drunk on life at a Vegas bordello. One young lady friend of mine, disdainful of my interest, called the move “irresponsible.”

Would angry Main Streeters storm the boutique, shouting “aux les barricades"? Or maybe no one would show up, leaving the Saks and Kiton executives lonesome, fingering their finery and damning the gods. I was on my tippy-toes with anticipation.

This guest went to the launch party with an open mind.

Firstly, this undertaking was obviously years in the making, and plans like these are not easily undone. The shop is a sight to behold. A massive stainless-steel oval ring hangs over head, reminding shoppers that they are in heavy territory. Dark wood banquettes would be at home in Le Cirque. The white hard-stone floors gleam and the mirrored doors shimmer when being moved.

Secondly, if anyone is going to be shopping in this era, isn’t the customer in the market for a $7,000 suit a likely target? Sure he is. Maybe he’s only buying one new suit this year, but what is he going to do, march over to Men’s Wearhouse? I think not.

So I’m here to report that this luxe box is open for business, and not a moment too soon. Enter the world of Kiton and watch your cares and fears melt away as you contemplate the joys of a green Alligator golf bag (it comes in other colors). Whether they’re brave or crazy, you’ve got to admire folks who leave a strip of Vicuña fabric, probably worth $20,000, lying on a counter as a throwaway prop, with revelers dropping champers flutes dangerously nearby.

Vicuña was until very recently banned in the United States. These rare, tiny mountain goats were slaughtered in the old days to yield their superfine wool. Legend had it that only the hair under their chins was used. Apparently, more humane shearing techniques have been put in place. This was the second time in as many months that I’d seen Vicuña menswear for sale here. (Loro Piano is fashioning overcoats from this goat of goats.)

News flash: Kiton and Saks threw a first-class opening night, no vengeful protesters or bolts of lightning. Saks in-house catering handled the food and I have to admit I ate a slider that was fantastic. I am repelled by sliders, having choked on a doughy roll and dry meat patty more than once.  And their ubiquity riles the conspiracy theorist in me. Are the caterers of New York united in their mission to drive me from the event landscape with an unending barrage of slider trays? But this slider actually slid, blended with sausage and a sweet sauce, neglecting the conventional wisdom of “the pickle makes it.”

The champagne was first rate, and the house drink “Saks In Fashion,” made with Maker’s Mark and I think pineapple juice—well, let’s just say they passed inspection.

The mannequins had issues. The electric-blue loafers on one were scuffed, and the busts that greeted elevator disembarkers both needed pressing. Not what I expected from my new clothier of choice, but let’s assume these were opening-day oversights being corrected as we speak.

Who’s to quibble when we’re being allowed to fondle such pricey merchandise, and fondle I did. Crocodile belts with sterling silver buckles looked like they would hold up my strained trousers just fine. And the buttery calfskin and steel suitcase looked super sturdy, though I’m concerned that a few rounds through a luggage carousel might mar the satiny finish. Oh, I forgot, the Kiton man flies private. Scratch that.

All sorts of people were there, and even a few who looked like they could afford this stuff. But not a soul I recognized from GQ and Esquire. I was sure their publishers would be here glad-handing for advertising. I did see the menswear contributor from Departures, though. The parting gift was a milky, chartreuse brochure, lavishly printed with all sorts of wasted paper, and I’m lucky to have it. I caressed its satiny finish all the way home, thinking of small special goats and quality reptiles. Someday. Somewhere.

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