You may not have heard of them, or even seen these brothers in person. Ironically the majority of St. Louis’ Bespoke culture lives because of them. Mark and Marlon, also known as the Bespoke Twins, have this knack for making everyone around them, well… look less put together. From color combination, pattern mixing and downright solid fit, they could easily school most men on the art of dressing well. Not that they would intentionally make you feel any worse about yourself next to them, but just take a look at their storied history, and their Tumblr, and you’ll get a sense as to why they run the gamut of menswear in Chicago. I had the pleasure of speaking with them and getting to know just a little more about who they are.
Have you guys been around fashion your entire life?
Yes and no, our grandfather was a serial entrepreneur, he was successful in many business ventures, however he was never in the clothing business as a result he provided a comfortable lifestyle for our grandmother, uncle and father. Our Dad, as well as our Mom were known for dressing well so when we came into this world I guess some of it rubbed off on us. It’s funny because our mom wanted to be a fashion designer, but her grandmother told her that would never happen in this country. Thankfully our mother never told us that, in fact both of our parents are very creative and talented.
How did bespoke couture come to be?
There use to be a company by the name of Edison Brothers in St. Louis. We started out there working for some of their retail stores, which gave us a taste of the business, however as retail store employees there was a ceiling to the growth level. You would start out as a floor salesman, work your way to assistant manager, manager then if your numbers were really impressive you might move to the home office and start as a merchandiser, then possibly a buyer but that was your ceiling, and we did not want to be buyers unless we owned the store we were buying for. We did our tour at Edison but decided it was time to move on. Our family was heavily involved in the financial and insurance markets, they either worked in that industry for themselves or worked for some of the companies you know of on wall street today. So we became financial planners but we were serious clothes horses. When meeting with customers, they would always make positive comments about the way we dressed, that would lead to conversations on fit. Most at the time they were buying off the rack, but we were wearing made to measure suits and shirts during a time when there were very few options available in the market place. These conversations started to become more frequent, and in an age void of the internet, it was all about having a brick and mortar store front.
Eventually we convinced Loro Piana to take a chance with us. We then found a shirt and suit maker, but they were very reluctant to come aboard. I asked them if i guarantee you so many shirts and so many suits per month or per quarter can we make this work and they agreed. Within a six month “probation” period, I had to put my money where my mouth was, so the first three months in various hotels around the city we put on trunk shows. We knew that if we offered these potential customers a “buying experience” that it would be a success and so it was.
After developing a following, we knew it was time to open our own atelier. The store environment became challenging because you were there 6 days a week, morning ’till night, and we were constantly spending money on new product even if the old product was still hanging on the racks. Even with good sell throughs, we began to see the store as a money pit that was zapping us of our time, energy and love for this business. In an effort not to burn out, we had to change course, and we told all of our customers that we were having a fire sale. Our customers, curious and concerned, followed us blindly as we told them we were bringing something new and exiting. We sold the remainder of our stock, and went back to the very thing that we originally signed up for, which was to offer made to measure and bespoke clothing and accessories.
How did you guys get into footwear?
We researched everything we could about a quality made shoes, we researched every company in the US and abroad that claimed they produced the best product. We took the very same approach that we took with the shirts. Going into footwear was natural. That eventually led us to Edward Green. After studying their shoes and our customers comments regarding their footwear, we began to ask them to produce private label for us. We started taking surveys from our customers, the positive and negative we devoted our time, energy and finances into finding the right workshop to work with. What resulted was our made to measure handmade footwear.
What is style to you guys and why is it important?
To us, style is not what what you see nowadays online. Style is personal. Back in the early 1980’s when hip hop was emerging, you saw various b-boy crews, graffiti artists, mc’s or DJ’s on the scene. They all subscribed to a certain lifestyle and each of them had their own way of dressing, their own way of dancing, their own way of flowing on the mic or scratching that made them unique, and thats what they became known for. That is what we believe is missing in Menswear today.
Now buyers want the next hot thing that everyone else has, the next gimmick. They are so concerned with sell throughs and buy backs or making sure they hit their targets and receive their bonuses that they are losing sight of the most important thing, individuality and creativity. We’ve heard from so many customers that when they look around specialty stores or department stores, everything looks the same and frankly smells of low quality bullshit. Customers are more educated than ever, and there is a growing demand for hand made quality goods at a resonable price. The guy of little means wants to make sure that when he spends his hard earned money he is getting something of worth, it’s really all about value. So if buyers and designers don’t change how they approach their jobs pretty soon I believe these customers will search out the companies that can produce what they want and deal directly with them.
When its all said and done, I hope __________
That we made an impact on the fashion world and showed any individual from any background with a desire to be in this business that you can succeed with very little, all you need is alot of heart and ambition.