Shopping at the new VK Nagrani menswear store on E. Houston Street in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood is so unlike the standard retail experience that I hesitate to refer to it as “shopping.” Designer Vivek Nagrani, who first made his name as the creator of super luxurious socks and underwear, now offers a full men’s collection but stresses “feeling and spirit” and the experience of getting to know him and his clothes over the try-on-and-then-transact traditional selling model.
For one, customers must ring the doorbell to gain entrance to the space, which sells socks and underwear out of vending machines on street level if they are of a grab and go mindset – the very kind of thinking he does not support. Nagrani much prefers for customers to join him for cocktails out of hand-blown glasses in the basement – a sort of warren of rooms all with the feel of a old school gentlemen’s club – where they can discuss their lives, wardrobe needs or just shoot the breeze about anything – all without any obvious pressure to purchase. To make the experience all the more inviting and luxurious, a guy can even to change out of his clothes and hang about in a shop-provided 100% cashmere bathrobe and slippers should he desire.
But if he wants the store’s entire stock – and is blessed with the finances to buy it – he will be dissuaded by the designer, who says that paring down his own wardrobe made him realize the importance of owning just a small selection of quality pieces that can be mixed and matched to make looking great constantly hassle-free. “When I moved from L.A. I had 195 shirts in my closet with the tags still on them. I was searching as most men are going to search. Moving to New York and having a closet that was very small forced me to look how it was back in time and when you see the photos of guys like Sean Connery on the walls here you ask: Why did they always look so good? It’s very simple pieces and a very limited amount of pieces yet they always looked beautiful. I said, let me create that in a modern way where it has a sense of fashion and style but is long-lasting.”
“It’s not fashion. It’s not trends. It’s not what is in season or what’s not in season. Who gives a shit? It’s timeless,” he says of his assortment. “What we wanted to do was create a sense of style and we’ve done it by limiting the amount of pieces that a guy can purchase initially forcing him to have to mix and match things therein allowing him to create his own sense of style rather than falling back on what he knows.”
He adds: “It’s very tough love. There are guys who come in here who say, ‘You didn’t let me try on everything’ and I say, ‘Well, you’re not ready yet.’ This is a lifelong partnership. My job is not to sell you something today. It is to enhance your entire existence, how you will shop in the future and not just with clothing.”
His approach may sound snobbish or even Soup Nazi-esque, but aside from the fact that nothing in his store has visible price tags (you have to ask), the experience at VK Nagrani – while undoubtedly luxurious – is actually quite refreshing, welcoming and far from pretentious. (In fact, to keep the environment affect-free, customers who pay with an American Express Black Card are automatically charged a $200 “asshole fee” that Nagrani will then donate to their favorite charity.)
When I visited last week, one curious and initially dubious first-time customer walked in with his wife and ended up staying for several hours drinking red wine and trying on items at his leisure. “I’m really pleasantly surprised with this place,” he later told me. As I sipped on my second scotch I couldn’t help but reply: “Me too.”
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