Although Sid Mashburn is a definitive gentlemanâ€™s haberdasher in Atlanta, his global sense of style is worthy of national and international acclaim. Featured as one of GQ Magazineâ€™s top ten picks for â€œThe Most Stylish Men in Americaâ€ and also voted as one of the magazineâ€™s 100 best menâ€™s stores in America, he needs no introduction.
Mashburn has made more than a mark â€“ he has worked for Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, Tommy Hilfiger, Landsâ€™ End, British Khaki and Ashworth. So, itâ€™s no surprise that in a time when menâ€™s fashion is up and down, the dapper and dandy designer has increased his presence enormously by opening a menâ€™s specialty boutique so ambitious and charming that it literally rejuvenated me upon entry.
Designed by the 40-something year old Mashburn, the self-titled boutique in Atlanta, Georgia, reintroduces the true haberdashery experience with a gentlemenâ€™s club and living room feel. Itâ€™s a store that promises new heights and realized dreams for retail and for its clients. Itâ€™s a delicious irony that on the day I walk in for my interview with him, the sounds of Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade is playing throughout the boutique. In all of my years of following fashion, Iâ€™ve never been obliged in such a way. That alone, peaked my Nigerian curiosity to find out more about the stylish apparel architect with partially buckled double monk strap shoes. Like any real visionary, he was ready to chat.
STAN:Â How did you begin?
SID:Â I wanted to get into clothes design, so I took off to New York. I tried to get into design school there but they were basically saying I had to start all over and I was like I donâ€™t want to start all over; Iâ€™ll figure it out. So, I got a job in retail, which is so critical for anybody in this industry. Do you ever watch Project Runway?
SID:Â You know, a lot of those guys are not grounded in the real world, so they do these things that are beautiful and more couture and high end, but how do you really translate that back to the guy in Atlanta or the guy in Griffin or Cumming or Mississippi or Texas? You know, how do you make something that brings fashion to the masses, in a sense?
STAN:Â Through retail.
SID:Â Exactly. And Iâ€™m not saying it has to be Wal-Mart, Target or Bloomingdaleâ€™s, but something thatâ€™s got a little more oomph to it but still accesses a guyâ€™s mentality about how to wear things that donâ€™t seem too weird.
STAN:Â Where did you get your start in retail?
SID:Â I started out in a store in Mississippi called The Rogue, and it was one of the coolest stores. The great thing about it is they had good clothes. They didnâ€™t have great clothes, but they had good clothes, especially for Mississippi because people in Mississippi like to dress. We may not read or write very well, but we can dress and play sports pretty well. But people are attracted to dressing there. So this guy had a super great store, and when you walked in â€” it was like, â€œStan, where have you been?â€ You know, it didnâ€™t matter if youâ€™ve never purchased anything from the store. People treated you like you were special, and it was like you were coming home. The experience, the personal contact and the service were great.
How you touch people is critical. Itâ€™s like you walk into a restaurant. You donâ€™t want someone to say, â€œDo you have a reservation?â€ You want them to say, â€œHey, Iâ€™m Sid, and let me check and see if your table is ready. Do you have a reservation?â€ You know, more like they assume you do have a reservation, and if you donâ€™t, then they say, â€œLet me see what I can do to get you in.â€ You know what I mean?
I learned that was critical. So anyway, I went to school, Banana Republic began coming to life. But Ralph Laurenâ€™s finance guys thought the new model would cannibalize their business with Bloomingdaleâ€™s, Macyâ€™s and Saks so, they just didnâ€™t want to touch it and left it alone. I think for Polo at that time, it wouldnâ€™t have been right for them to push it, because they didnâ€™t really understand it. So, anyway, I became the design director for all accessories: footwear, socks, underwear, neckwear, gloves and hats.
STAN:Â All of the footwear?
SID:Â Well, menâ€™s footwear. It basically was more a managerial job than it was design.
STAN:Â How long were you at Polo?
SID:Â Three-plus years. Yes, it was pretty cool and then a guy and myself found each other out in California. Do you play golf at all?
STAN:Â Yes, I used to be quite the avid golfer.
SID:Â Did you ever know of a brand called Ashworth?
STAN:Â Yes, they make golf-inspired apparel.
SID:Â Okay. I met the guy that founded Ashworth and he wanted to do a retail store together. I went out to California to work with him, and we came up with an idea, but he was more casual and a little bit older. We did it for about nine months and realized we were not going to be able to raise the money we wanted to, so I wound up doing some consulting for Ashworth, and it was a great experience.
STAN:Â And your next move following Ashworth?
SID:Â Following that, I fought going back to New York. My wife and I had four kids at the time and my wife said, â€œYou may want to consider going back to New York.â€ I was like, â€œYou know, letâ€™s give this one other thing a try.â€ So, I went back to New York and I called two people. I called Tommy Hilfiger and J. Crew. J. Crew said they would love to have me back doing something. Tommy Hilfiger was interviewing a number of guys, and he called me up and said, â€œYes, letâ€™s do something.â€ He, basically, said he wanted to start a high-end collection line; everything made in Italy and gave me the baton to run with. So, I accepted the job. It was a great experience. I spent three months a year in Italy.
STAN:Â So, thatâ€™s where all of your ideas and desire to have your own came from.
SID:Â Yes. In a sense, J. Crew was like the first part of my life, which, funny enough, I was into clothes when I was nine, ten years old, and Iâ€™m sure you were the same way, right?
SID:Â You always looked cool, right?
STAN:Â I have a picture of myself in a three-piece suit at nine years old.
SID:Â See what I mean. I always got something new for Easter. My parents would send my sister and I to get new clothes. I would come back with a double-breasted pinstripe suit and brown and white spectator shoes. That was the beginning, but high school and college, when I was working in clothing stores, was like junior high. Going to New York, you know, J. Crew was kind of like high school, Polo was like college, and Tommy Hilfiger was like graduate school.
STAN:Â Whom would you give the credit to for most of your teaching?
SID:Â I got more teaching at Polo. Jerry Lauren, Ralphâ€™s brother, is not given enough credit as one of the huge contributors to Polo.
STAN:Â Really? I didnâ€™t realize that. Thatâ€™s very interesting. Wait a minute; we are listening to Fela Kutiâ€™s music now?
SID:Â Yes. We love Felaâ€™s music. The thing about life is, you walk through, you hear something, and you say this is part of the vibe too.
STAN:Â My brother, Gerry, used to manage his son, Femi.
SID:Â Are you serious?
SID:Â I love Fela. And the other artist that I love is King Sunny Ade.
STAN:Â King Sunny Ade, yes sir.
SID:Â Yes, I saw him in concert a couple of times in New York. Unbelievable.
STAN:Â Femi Kuti performed in Atlanta over in Little Five Points. Great concert. Next time he comes, I will let you know.
SID:Â Are you serious? The guys and I would love that. Pete, the blond-haired guy is a music lover.
STAN:Â Me too.
SID:Â I love this music. You know what else is interesting about Fela? A tragic life, a hard life, but his music was always optimistic and hopeful, and I sense that youâ€™re the same way, and I think, in a funny sense, itâ€™s not just the clothes. I think thatâ€™s what our attraction to each other is, because you know what? You can triumph with some hope and some hard work and some ambition.
STAN:Â Absolutely Sid. I couldnâ€™t have said it better.
SID:Â So, anyway, I spent a couple years at Tommy Hilfiger, really sort of learning about handmade clothes, really learning about the beauty of the Italians. Lots of people get it up here (pointing to his head). Some get it here (pointing to his butt). The Italians get it right here (pointing to his heart).
STAN:Â Yes, the Italians are very passionate about things they manufacture, especially handmade.
SID:Â You know? I think expression of the heart is so much more important than people give credit for. Do you know what I mean?
SID:Â On paper you can analyze things and say this seems proper, this seems smart, but you know what? If itâ€™s not backed up by the passionâ€¦
STAN:Â Itâ€™s nothing.
SID:Â Yes, itâ€™s nothing. I think in business you always look at art and science. Art is the creative side and science is the financial side. If they donâ€™t balance well, youâ€™ve got nothing. If the financial side is too strong, it will crush the creative spirit. If the artistic side is too strong, it could explode. So, anyway, I was recruited by Landsâ€™ End. If you look at Landsâ€™ End on the surface, it is pretty old school. Itâ€™s a dowdy kind of company, but they were big on selling quality, value and service. So, when I came out there, the mandate was to add style, but donâ€™t kill us with style. So, I went out there for about seven years.