Alan Flusser Custom, named for the brand’s founder and original owner, is a powerhouse of American tailoring, and it’s a timeless New York institution. You can google Alan to read about his accolades, but the focus of this week’s installment is Jonathan Sigmon, the current owner. He wears every single hat one can wear in a tailoring business, short of altering garments with his own hands. The brand was a client of mine for quite a few years, and so Jon and I got to know each other well. (He also made my tuxedo for my wedding.) Frankly, I think he’s one of the most impeccable dressers in New York City. Naturally, he has a wealth of knowledge on how men should dress and look based on things as simple as their age and figure, to details as seemingly innocuous as eye color and posture.
Below, Jon and I discuss his career path from Suitsupply to owning Alan Flusser Custom, having fun with pops of eccentricity in an outfit, bespoke indigo denim shirting, current influences ranging from L’Etiquette to Godard films, the joy of Luca Rubinacci in a traditionally serious custom tailoring space, and other topics.
Tell me a bit about your background and how you made it to New York City. What were you doing before working with Alan Flusser, and how did you begin working for him?
About 10 years ago I moved from Arkansas to NYC to join Suitsupply as they were just getting into the U.S., and I helped handle the U.S. buying and inventory allocation as we started planting stores stateside. After 18 months or so there a friend and former colleague brought me over to Flusser to run the operations side of things. Over the years my role naturally took on more responsibility as I moved to running the sales side and eventually managing the business. Prior to 2020, Alan and I had been talking through shifting ownership, and the impact of the pandemic sped up that process as Alan decided it was the right time for him to move on to other things.
Now that the pandemic’s intensity is subsiding and many offices are reopened, what are some things you hope to see from clients old and new, and what are some common style mistakes you’re seeing out in the world?
I like to see folks become more comfortable in their personal style, which is very different from person to person. I don’t feel strongly about pushing people back into more formal suits or continuing the shift into more casual tailored clothing, as everyone has different needs. It’s more important that we are making clothing the client enjoys wearing, works well with the rest of their wardrobe, and makes them feel confident wearing it.
We still sometimes struggle with getting guys to understand that there are proper proportions of tailored clothes that are more flattering on them. Our shop is in Midtown, so I’m surrounded by the finance crowd and they are often top of mind. I’d love for them to recognize that subtle changes in the proportions of the clothes they wear (such as slightly longer and more relaxed jackets, and pants with a slightly higher rise and a bit more ease) would help them look so much better. Most normal guys are still stuck in overly trim and unflattering silhouettes.
Aside from that I try not to harp on “mistakes” too much. Guys who wear tan leather shoes with navy suits are probably not reading this article, so I imagine the mistakes among this community are more about trying things that don’t really work well. We all make them, but it’s part of having fun with clothes and learning what you like. I wear a custom jacket with a patterned sport shirt and jeans or flannels three or four days a week, but I’m still going to have some fun with eccentric things every now and then. While it doesn’t always work out well, I rarely regret trying something new; it’s how you learn and it keeps it interesting.
You’re obviously concerned with making sure what makes Alan Flusser refined remains intact, but what are some ways you’ve challenged your core customer and the brand’s storied history with your own influence?
My preferred way to dress is wearing utilitarian, luxurious, and a bit eclectic tailored clothing in slightly more casual ways—jeans and a soft blazer with brass buttons, pleated flannels with a sweater and gilet, a louche suit in a textured fabric that isn’t especially formal and paired with knitwear or a well-worn denim shirt. Outfits like these offer the flattering elements of well-designed tailored garments, give you extra pockets—a necessity for me as I hate the feeling of stuff in my pants pockets—and help you look well put together without being overly formal. Folks who know the brand and Alan’s history will recognize that this isn’t exactly a big departure, as they’ll recall Alan’s somewhat notorious pairings of Belgian loafers and Adidas track pants with cashmere blazers. I think it’s just a matter of the broader de-formalizing of dressing that is giving me the opportunity to explore this more with clients as well.
I like fabrics that age well over the years and even improve over time. One example is bespoke indigo denim shirts. This was the first product that was a departure from our standard that I started proposing right after I took the helm, and it’s been a really successful item for us. It’s the type of shirt that is pretty dressy for the first couple of years, and as it fades around the seams and lightens in color through washing and wearing, it becomes more casual and more appropriate for pairing with tweeds and corduroys. After a few years you make a new, fresh, dark indigo one and let the cycle repeat. I love that stuff. I thought it would mostly connect with the younger crowd, but I was surprised and grateful to see how many of our longtime folks have been interested, as well.
By far, the most stylish clients we have are those in the 65- to 75-year-old range who have been making clothes with Alan for decades and are comfortable in their own skin. At a recent trunk show one of our oldest clients came by in a 30-year-old green, cashmere, double-breasted jacket with patch pockets, a striped open-neck shirt with a white collar, washed jeans, green checked socks, and velvet palm tree-embroidered slippers. It’s a treat to be able to work with those men filling beautiful pieces into their very well-established wardrobes. And for the younger guys who are still developing their tastes, I enjoy the opportunity to help them work through this different way of dressing as well.
While there’s an important business aspect to your job, you also deal with Alan Flusser’s creative output in all its forms. What is influencing and inspiring you currently?
After Godard passed a couple months back, I’ve been re-watching much of his stuff and have been drawn to the insouciance of the styIe in those films. On the topic of French style, I enjoy seeing what Gauthier Borsarello is doing; he’s among the most stylish men around and the magazine he co-founded L’Etiquetteis a good example of how to wear clothes in casual but interesting ways. Linda Wright, who runs Crimson in Paris, has lovely taste and it’s fun to see how elegantly she puts clothes together. Browsing old Apparel Arts and the French magazine Adam from the 1930s and 1940s remains the best way for me to look at beautiful, classic clothing and think about how it’s relevant today, which for me is a matter of putting pieces into context. There may be an illustration of a fellow in a tweed suit, yellow moleskin waistcoat, and wool challis tie and wearing a perfect, raglan, three-quarter-length overcoat over all that, and you think about that coat separately from the rest of the outfit and consider how great it might look today over jeans, a turtleneck, and a cashmere blazer.
The longer I have been in this industry, the more I’ve learned that just about everything has been done before, and much of what is inspiring are older ways of doing things that a few stylish people are bringing back into focus. I was recently looking at the illustrated sportswear section of Alan’s 1985 book Clothes and The Man and noticed how almost every collection of items on those pages, if styled together in a modern way, would fit seamlessly into the 2022 lookbooks of a few of the more tasteful current brands who are mixing tailored clothing and sportswear in their imagery.
Are there any menswear brands or other tailors out there right now that you appreciate?
I like how Hermès blends luxury with whimsy. I like the current simplicity and relaxed proportions of The Row. Stòffa is the standard for thoughtful consumption and honest production, and I love how they present their collaborative offerings by taking you into the world of the small makers they partner with. I appreciate John Lobb’s advertisements, which have had a touch of humor over the past year or two. Luca Rubinacci brings a much-needed element of joy and lightheartedness to the custom tailoring space through his Instagram. As much as I highlight brands and individuals who are in the luxury space but approaching it in playful ways, at work I tend to be an extremely serious person, so I am trying to learn to be more relaxed and uplifting while maintaining very high expectations for the work that we are providing.
It’s a tired question but it’s relevant when asking someone who really knows tailoring and timeless men’s style, and I’m sure it’s not very hypothetical anyway. A customer comes in with a virtually empty closet, or he’s decided to start fresh; what pieces would you advise him to have made when beginning his custom tailoring journey? What items would you advise him to supplement said tailored pieces with?
As you know, this is largely dependent on the person’s age, where they live, what they do for work, and whether they need clothes for work or fun. To offer an answer, let’s assume it’s a 30- to 40-year-old guy who needs some not-so-formal pieces both for work and for social settings, and who lives somewhere where you experience all the seasons.
- Two gray pants for work or dressier evenings out. Open-weave for warm weather, textured twill or flannel for cool weather.
- One suit in solid dark gray or navy. I like mid-weight worsted wools in birdseye or ticweave for a bit of visual interest.
- A couple more casual pants. Perhaps light gabardine cotton or a wool-linen blend for the warm weather and brushed cotton or corduroy for cool weather.
- One blazer. A navy in a textured weave like a mesh or a hopsack and made in soft construction that you can wear with literally anything.
- A couple sportscoats. These can be anything, but we often like solid color textured herringbones and subtle glen plaids.
- Some easy-to-wear shirts. I like button-down collars for guys who don’t wear a lot of ties, as the shirt collar stands up and frames the face well, but a classic semi-spread in a soft unlined collar is also nice. Generally, it’s better to have fabrics with a bit of texture when you’re not dressing especially formal: oxfords, chambrays, fine twills.
- One overcoat. The polo coat and the balmacaan are classics.
Beyond tailored clothing: great jeans in straight fits, a couple elegant loafers, a brown alligator O-ring belt, a simple beautiful watch, some white tees that fit well (I like the house brand tees from Front General Store in Dumbo.)
Since you’ve been in NYC for a long time, do you have an NYC hit-list you can share for someone who doesn’t know the city well?
My hit list may be rather uncool, as I make great effort to avoid especially trendy places where I’ll have to deal with lines or waits. The exception to that is Ernesto’s, a Basque tapas spot in the LES which is one of my favorite restaurants in NYC and is super popular. Alan introduced me to Pylos a decade ago and it has remained my favorite for rustic Greek cooking. I love Tacos Guey in Flatiron if you’re psychologically prepared to spend $8 on a taco, and Taco Mahal for the perfect quick bite on a late night out in the West Village. Dante at the Seaport has a beautiful large open-air space on the water and great cocktails, where I will order anything but the classic Negroni as I wage my small battle against the weird menswear industry obsession with the drink. Try the Bianco instead. Gregory’s is my daily stop for an afternoon drip coffee. Somewhat less relevant but if folks find themselves around my home neighborhood of Park Slope, Barbès is my favorite bar in NYC with live music in their small backroom every night, and Claro serves amazing Oaxacan food and mezcal-focused drinks.
What clothing items are you having made for yourself this season, and is there anything you’re currently on the hunt for that you can’t have made by Alan Flusser?
I’ve been wearing my first corduroy suit over the last few weeks, fully embracing the relaxed suit-and-sweater look for fall. Rather simple but I have a dark fawn, wool-and-silk, soft tweed jacket, and an olive, plaid, tweed jacket going into work, and I already know I’m going to wear those all the time; they are exactly my style. I’m making a French blue, wool covert twill duster as a showroom sample that will probably wind up on my back more often than the mannequin’s. It may not happen this season but after recently delivering a gorgeous unconstructed cashmere jacket to a client, I have been wishing I had one of my own. There is something special about having a little slice of luxury like that, where you’re not overly concerned about perfect shape or the roll of the lapel (which you can’t really get when there is no internal canvas), but just a couple layers of pure cashmere that feels amazing against the skin and makes you feel great about yourself.
I’m on the hunt for the right sunglasses and I’ve been looking at Jacques Marie Mage. The only thing I actually need is a good leather jacket for the moto, as it gets a bit harsh here in the winter, and I’ve narrowed it down to RRL or The Real McCoys.
What’s on the horizon for Alan Flusser in 2023?
I’m excited about going into a year where we’re essentially fully post-pandemic. Most practically, we’re re-launching our made-to-measure shirts, an area we’ve had on pause for way too long while we searched for the right partner. Otherwise, we’re just going to keep trying to make the best clothes we can, help folks navigate shifting ways of dressing, and have fun with it.
Christopher Fenimore is a writer and photographer living in New York. Working with clients ranging from clothiers to vineyards, he’s also covered street style for a number of outlets. Follow him on Instagram at @c.fenimore.
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