Sid Mashburn is surrounded by women. He and his wife Ann have five girls; his older sisters were a big influence growing up. The first time I ever saw him was at a benefit for the Atlanta Girls’ School. I was speaking; he and Ann were supporting the place where three of their daughters are enrolled (and looking so chic that I immediately wanted to know who they were). It is ironic then, that he has never turned his designerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s eye toward womenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s clothes. Instead, Sid MashburnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lifeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s passion, rooted in his childhood in Brandon, Mississippi (just outside of Jackson), has always been to help men learn how to dress.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve loved clothes since I was nine years old,Ã¢â‚¬ he tells me. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Like in a weird way. Like, Ã¢â‚¬ËœHey I need a choker to go with these pants.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢â‚¬ So heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d write one of his sisters, away at college, and ask her to send one. Ã¢â‚¬Å“My sisters were older and they had these boyfriends whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d pull up in a convertible GTO or a Fiat Spider wearing houndÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tooth pants and a black sweater with penny loafers. They were like Southern versions of Italian playboys.Ã¢â‚¬
Among SidÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first jobs was at The Rogue in Jackson, during high school. Mississippi, believe it or not, Ã¢â‚¬Å“was a really good dressing state,Ã¢â‚¬ Sid says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“There were a lot of small menÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s stores with style. And The Rogue became a clothes beaconÃ¢â‚¬”people came from all over to shop there.Ã¢â‚¬ Smitten, he tried to talk his father into sending him to FIT or ParsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s. Ã¢â‚¬Å“In that classic Southern way, he told me, Ã¢â‚¬ËœBoy, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll get you through regular school and then you can do what you want.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢â‚¬ Sid graduated from Ole Miss, sold his Monte Carlo, and headed straight to Manhattan.
Once there, he discovered that none of his credits would transfer to design school, so rather than starting over, he went to work. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was a blessingÃ¢â‚¬”I landed in my own version of fashion school.Ã¢â‚¬ First stop was as a salesman at the then-cutting edge menÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s clothier Frank Stella, followed by a stint at British Khaki, where founder Robert Lighton Ã¢â‚¬Å“really taught me how to design.Ã¢â‚¬ He also married Ann, whose passion for fashion matched his own. Like SidÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s, her first New York job had been in retail, at the Norma Kamali boutique; she was an editor at Glamour and had been an assistant to VogueÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s legendary fashion editor Polly Mellen. They met on a Long Island beach in 1985. On the crowded train back to the city, she told the commuters she was with someone in order to keep a seat open in case he showed up. The lie didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t last longÃ¢â‚¬”Sid was already prowling the aisles looking for her.
Through a friend of AnnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s, Sid got an interview at J. Crew, a then-fledgling company based in New Jersey. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Nobody wanted to work in New Jersey, and I said, Ã¢â‚¬ËœAre you kidding? IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll design in Poughkeepsie.Ã¢â‚¬ His first triumph was an item called the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Barn Jacket,Ã¢â‚¬ which went on to bring in $10 million in revenue a year. After five years, he moved to Polo, as design director for accessories (everything from socks and underwear to gloves and shoes) under Ralph LaurenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s unsung brother, Jerry. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I learned so much from him about nuance, about detail,Ã¢â‚¬ Sid says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was a lot like going to graduate school someplace really good.Ã¢â‚¬ Indeed, one of his storeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s most popular signature items is the beautifully designed and crafted Sid Mashburn Monk Strap shoe (which Sid himself invariably wears sockless with one buckle undone).
Yet another facet of SidÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ever-deepening continuing education came courtesy ofÃ‚ Tommy Hilfiger, for whom he spent three months a year on the road in Italy, sussing out suppliers, learning all about fabric, observing firsthand the Ã¢â‚¬Å“heartÃ¢â‚¬ Italians put into their handmade clothes. From there he was tapped by LandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s End to inculcate some style into a company known primarily for value. He was able to make some movement in that direction, he says, but a few years after Sears bought the company it became clear it was time to part ways. Ã¢â‚¬Å“They were managing expenses and not growing dreams.Ã¢â‚¬
So he decided to grow his own dreamÃ¢â‚¬”Sid Mashburn. As early as his stint at J. Crew, he realized he wanted to be a retailer as well as a designer. Ã¢â‚¬Å“There I saw the beauty in vertical retailing. You design a product and take it to your own store, as opposed to selling it wholesale.Ã¢â‚¬ From then on, he kept notes on what his ideal store would be, scribbling ideas on napkins, finding inspiration in the late lamented Britches of Georgetown and ParisÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Hemisphere, which carries everything from Madras patchwork shorts and denim Western shirts to English bench-made shoes. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I was always dreaming about what went into a great collection of merchandise.Ã¢â‚¬
At his sisal-carpeted, lovingly curated Atlanta location, the merchandise is definitely there: Barbour raincoats, Kiton ties, sneakers from Tretorn and VanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s, Filson luggage. Sid Mashburn shoes are made in Northampton, England, the fabric and buttons for the shirts come from Italy; three full-time tailors work on his bespoke suits. But there is also an old-style attitude that is increasingly rare. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I love chewing the fat and taking care of people and clothes,Ã¢â‚¬ he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get better than this.Ã¢â‚¬ His customers would agree: thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a ping-pong table and a sofa for lounging; bottled cold Cokes are always on offerÃ¢â‚¬”as is a shot of malt Scotch. Ã¢â‚¬Å“When people come in here and say, Ã¢â‚¬ËœCan you do this?Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ my tailor Dau says, Ã¢â‚¬ËœI can do anything.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢”
Sid is the first to say that his enterprise is a team effort. He and his three full-time Ã¢â‚¬Å“floor guys,Ã¢â‚¬ Justin Doss, Matt Lambert, and Pete Samuelson, Ã¢â‚¬Å“are not just sellers,Ã¢â‚¬ Sid says, Ã¢â‚¬Å“We become educators.Ã¢â‚¬ And Ann, of course, is his closest advisor. Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m more the designer and sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the editor,Ã¢â‚¬ he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I like to think I know everything about menÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s clothes, and I do. But sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a great gut check. We have a major back-and-forth about almost everything. Sometimes she knows me better than I know myself. And IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m good with that.Ã¢â‚¬
The girlsÃ¢â‚¬”the oldest, Elizabeth, is 19 and a sophomore at the University of Texas in Austin, while the youngest, Pauline, is 8Ã¢â‚¬”also gets in on the act. Last year, Louisa, now a senior at the Atlanta GirlsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ School, interned for a month doing inventory, and they all have opinions. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s amazing how sensitive my girls are to menÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s clothes,Ã¢â‚¬ Sid says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll say, Ã¢â‚¬ËœHeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a horrible dresser,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ way before they get to someoneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s personality.Ã¢â‚¬ We laugh and I tell him he seems to have gone full circle from his sisters to his daughters. He agrees. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s something rightful about that too.Ã¢â‚¬
In the photo, above left: Sid and Ann Mashburn with, from left: daughters Harriett, 13; Louisa, 17; Daisy, 15; Pauline, 8; and Elizabeth, 19. In the photo, above right: cotton swatches for the Sid Mashburn shirt.
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