Style

Charlotte designers creating homegrown menswear

For men who want custom suits, shirts or jeans, the options have expanded to the homegrown in Charlotte.

For decades, Charlotte stores – places such as Taylor, Richards & Conger, Bruce Julian Clothier, Fairclough & Co. and Paul Simon – have offered high-quality men’s clothing from world-renowned brands, with attentive customer service.

But in recent years, some new faces have come onto the scene – small operations where the Charlotte men who run the businesses are also the ones designing the clothing, choosing the fabrics and, in some cases, even sewing the pieces.

Today, we introduce you to three:

Stan Fraser is the creator, designer and maker of custom, bespoke and ready-to-wear jeans using Japanese, Turkish, Italian, Thai and U.S.-made selvedge denim, a specially woven fabric.

Stan Fraser is the creator, designer and maker of custom, bespoke and ready-to-wear jeans using Japanese, Turkish, Italian, Thai and U.S.-made selvedge denim, a specially woven fabric. He fits customers and sews the pieces himself in a small shop near Bank of America Stadium.

Charlotte native David Watkins designs the Abbeydale clothing line he sells in his uptown shop of the same name, which offers custom and bespoke suits, shirts, shoes and a new line of casual ready-to-wear clothing.

From his shop on Morehead Street, William Wilson designs and fits customers in custom, bespoke and ready-made suits and dress shirts. He’s known for dressing local and national sports figures, entertainers and newscasters, and his jackets are presented to winners at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Know another local menswear designer we should feature? Reach out: cbolling@charlotteobserver.com.

Stan Fraser, Anarke Jeans, Straight Stitch & Co.

When he was growing up, the sewing machine was always humming in Stan Fraser’s Brooklyn, N.Y., home: His mom was a sample maker for Ralph Lauren, Zac Posen and other big-name designers. The youngest of four kids, Fraser spent hours keeping his mom company as she sewed, and she brought him along to designers’ studios to hand in her work.

It was in elementary school, when Fraser’s grown brother mailed him his first pair of raw-denim Levi’s, that his love of denim grew roots.

In high school, he worked after school at a fabric store and spent his free time sketching clothes for himself, asking his mom to sew them for him.

The next decade would find him bouncing between Norfolk, Va., where he served in the Navy for three years, and Brooklyn, where he worked in building maintenance. All the while, he sketched and sewed in his free time.

In 2005, he and his wife decided to move to Charlotte. He spent his days on a range of jobs, from owning a commercial cleaning business to driving a truck – and his nights in front of a sewing machine.

By 2008, he founded his own denim line, Anarke. (It’s a twist on the word anarchy. Why? “I always fought against the fashion industry. I always thought that there were too many rules.”) He bought Japanese selvedge denim from a dealer in New York City and made eight pairs of jeans and four bags, then asked a friend who owned a Brooklyn men’s clothing shop to try to sell them. They were gone in four days.

He ramped up production – still doing all the sewing himself – and began selling his jeans at Silverfly men’s boutique in Charlotte.

He went out on his own in January 2014, leasing 760 square feet on Cedar Street, near Bank of America Stadium, and renovating it into a shop and sewing studio called Straight Stitch & Co. His Anarke line offers ready-to-wear jeans, shirts, vests and denim purses and bags. But customers can also be fitted for custom-made and bespoke jeans in the Straight Stitch & Co. brand, and pick out their own thread color, zippers, pocket shapes, leather label, even their rivets and buttons.

Fraser’s jeans come in the “Live Free” fit, which is relaxed and looser, and the “Rock Hard” fit, which is a slim, straight design. Customers who buy jeans can choose their denim from a variety of weights and colors.

Ready-to-wear Anarke jeans start at $100 for non-selvedge denim, $179 for selvedge denim. The Straight Stitch & Co. custom brand is made from only selvedge denim, and ranges from $299 to $500, depending on the quality of the denim.

Everything is constructed in-house by Fraser, with help from interns from the Art Institute of Charlotte.

He says he’s had visits from pro athletes including Glen Davis from the Los Angeles Clippers and Derrius Brooks and Charles Sims from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and plans to expand to women’s and children’s denim.

Fraser, 43, breaks into a smile and his speech speeds up when asked why he loves raw, selvedge denim. “When you break it in and take care of it properly, it’s fun, because it becomes part of you,” he says, showing the wear lines on his own pair. There are “whiskers” at the top of his thighs and “honeycombs” behind the knees.

“You take it off every day and hold it up and see how it’s changing,” he says. “It lasts forever.”

Jaquan Thompson bought his first pair of jeans from Fraser two years ago and now owns six – three custom and three off-the-rack.

“Stan’s denim is the best-fitting jeans I’ve ever worn in my life. He gets the cut just perfect. He can make a pair of jeans to fit any body type,” says Thompson, 29, himself a clothing designer who also is a store manager at SouthPark’s H&M. Thompson says his selvedge denim jeans far outlast the prewashed ones commonly sold in stores, and he appreciates knowing the man who created them.

“How often do you get to go and meet the designer, and meet the person that’s actually sewing it?” he said. “It’s so rare.”

David Watkins, Abbeydale

David Watkins says he was working his way up in the Charlotte advertising world in 2007 when he realized his professional success wasn’t leading to personal fulfillment.

So he asked himself: “What’s something I can do my whole life that I would enjoy?”

He’d acquired a taste for custom clothes while working in advertising, where a polished appearance and keen style are job requirements.

So he decided to make the switch to a career in fashion, first selling custom clothes through Ohio-based clothier Astor & Black, then founding his own line, Abbeydale, named for the street he grew up on in east Charlotte. In 2013, Watkins opened an uptown storefront, a rustic yet chic 800-square-foot space on Fourth Street visited by banking professionals, politicians and local sports figures.

His focus is simple: Classic, understated, impeccably fitted clothes for the professional man. Watkins says he aims to get men away from the boxy, heavy-shouldered American suits of years past and into lighter, trimmer, Italian-style suits. He designs all of the clothes he sells, drawing inspiration from European silhouettes and crisp military uniforms.

Most Abbeydale suits are made in a 60-year-old China facility that previously sewed for Armani; the priciest are bespoke, or painstakingly custom-fit, and are handmade in Italy. Accessories come from Italy, shoes from Spain, and raw denim jeans are from Richmond, Va.

About 85 percent of Watkins’ business is suits, he says, but he also outfits men in dress shirts (he offers 25 different types of collars), overcoats, slacks, shoes and sportcoats as well as a new line of ready-made casual clothing called u t i l i t y (yes, with spaces between the letters). Shirts range from about $175 to $300, depending on fabric, and suits run from $1,050 to $7,000.

Distinctive touches are everywhere. Pop a storm collar on one of Watkins’ overcoats, for example, and you might see a saying: Customers can have any words they like embroidered on that underside. All jackets have floating canvas lining (instead of glue-fused canvas) and rolling lapels, and are made custom in about six weeks.

Watkins says he’s heartened to see more younger men who care about fashion and aim to look good both in and out of the office. He wants to make Abbeydale a brand men can wear any day of the week.

“Just because it’s Saturday doesn’t mean you can’t throw on a jacket and go out to drinks with your lady,” Watkins says. “We’ve made it so comfortable, you’re going to like how it feels.”

Steve Hagood, CIO at Ingersoll Rand, has been a customer of Watkins since Watkins’ days at Astor & Black and says he now buys his entire work wardrobe from Abbeydale because of the brand’s distinctive fit and Watkins’ customer service.

“I was always struck with David’s passion for making menswear that fit well,” Hagood said. “The second piece is that David is very customer focused. I have confidence that he is absolutely going to make me look good and make sure the garment fits well.”

Hagood says it was Watkins who sold him his first custom suit, and he now goes to Abbeydale for the highly tailored bespoke suits he wears to high-level company meetings about 10 times a year. On regular work days, Hagood chooses dress pants, tailored shirts and sport coats from Abbeydale.

“I give (Watkins) a lot of credit for having the singularity of vision to want to dress men well and to step out on his own and create this experience with Abbeydale,” Hagood said.

William Wilson, William Wilson Clothing

You might say that William Wilson built his company in an unconventional way – by creating a brand, then a product.

About eight years ago, Wilson was owner of a Charlotte framing company when an affluent client complimented Wilson on his fashion savvy, and asked for style advice.

So greatly did Wilson elevate the man’s look, he says, he began getting calls from strangers seeking wardrobe consultations.

Wilson, who grew up in a farming town in rural Arkansas, was puzzled but intrigued. He gave the men a “go away price” of $200 an hour, he says, and was shocked when they agreed without hesitation.

In 2008, as the market crashed and his construction business went belly-up, he decided to take the plunge full-time into men’s fashion. He became a student of how executive men dress, act and speak, studying the business models of car and private jet companies that cater to the affluent and pumping friends at high corporate levels for advice about what their peers would want in a personal clothing service.

He says he spent entire days at a local alterations shop, where he learned the basics of tailoring, and pored over websites to educate himself about fabrics and construction.

“Until I started this, I never wore a suit over $250,” Wilson says. “But I paid close attention to fit. I had my alterations people on speed-dial. I always looked neat.”

Wilson found a tailoring company in Arkansas, whose team of 12 cutters and sewers create the suits, shirts, pants and jackets he designs. He says he has more than 800 suit fabrics for customers to choose from, and his dress shirts come in a huge variety of colors and patterns. Prices start around $400 for a ready-made suit and $700 for a custom suit, but he says they stretch into the $20,000 range for suits made from rare Italian wool.

Wilson says he most covets corporate clients who wear suits to work every day – “I would rather have a guy who works at Bank of America Corporate Center than plays at Bank of America Stadium,” he says – but clearly relishes the exposure of outfitting local TV journalists and celebrity clients such as comedian D.L. Hughley, former Panther Mike Minter and country singer Justin Moore.

His coats are also part of the post-race ceremony at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which now has winners don a William Wilson coat during a Champagne toast in the Speedway Club, similar to the green coat ceremony at the Masters golf tournament. He makes coats for the winners of the Coca-Cola 600, the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, the Bank of America 500 and the Chiquita Classic.

In his Morehead Street shop, Wilson has on display a suit he had to rush-make for R&B singer-songwriter Calvin Richardson for the 2010 Grammy Awards, where Richardson won some “Best Dressed on the Red Carpet” kudos.

Ira Cronin, morning anchor at WCNC, says he’s been bumping into Wilson for years at events. Each time, Cronin said, Wilson offered his services, but Cronin, a cost-conscious father of three, was sheepish about spending big bucks for designer suits.

“It was about a year ago that I said (to Wilson), ‘I can’t afford what you do. I would love to give you business, because obviously you do great work,’ ” Cronin said. When Wilson said he makes some suits at prices comparable to big chain retailers, Cronin relented. In November, he went to be measured and ordered two suits, one navy and one gray. Cronin says Wilson hand-delivered them to his home.

“It is high quality stuff. It breathes and I feel very comfortable in it,” Cronin said. “When I was covering sports, I knew a lot of the guys he tailors for. Now I think, ‘Wow, I’m wearing the same stuff.’ ”

Wilson pens quotes for his social media followers like “Sometimes you have to elevate your look, to elevate your life.” He’s just as silver-tongued in person.

“I make the clothes people make money in,” Wilson says, walking a reporter to the door on a recent morning. “Other people make the clothes people spend money in.”

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