Tuesday, March 22, 2022

A Few Minutes With Richard Press

I grew up working in the locker room at the Elyria Country Club back in the 70s and the 80s. I polished a lot of shoes (if the family of the late George Steinbrenner is reading this, it was not me that burned his cordovan tassel loafers back in 82 on the buffing machine!) and I saw a lot of polyester double-knit. So truth be told, I did not have any sense of aspiration to the stylings of the various US Steel executives who made up a good bit of the membership. That was until a scholarship holder from an "ivy adjacent" liberal arts college came to work in our little corner of Satan's closet (no air conditioning, lots of astringents, cleaning fluids and fumes from the various shoe treatments) and changed the way I looked at clothing, and personal presentation. The young man in question was 20, I was 13. The way he dressed was something totally different. Not fancy. No polo players on his shirt. But often well-worn (but not tattered) Oxford cloth button down shirts, khakis of seemingly limitlessly varying shades of olive and tan, and two pairs of Alden loafers (black and cordovan). A tennis sweater, and a blazer with a piping of green surrounding its edges. There had been a badge on the pocket. You would only discover this by looking up close where a few tell-tale holes remained where previously countless thirty-year old stitches once held true. None of the clothes looked flashy, they looked good. His first day on the job, he was working the buffer when the head locker room attendant walked in and politely told him that we would be happy to take care of his shoes for him - "just leave them in front of your locker." 
Once that case of mistaken identity was resolved, he became part of the team for the rest of the summer.

What I learned from him was that you did not have to be rich to dress well. More importantly, you didn't have to have a large wardrobe. A few good pieces would last much longer than ten cheap ones. His only sartorial mishap was one Sunday morning when he showed up wearing one black, and one cordovan loafer. He arrived to work, somewhat disheveled, applying deodorant and tucking his shirt in as he jogged into the locker room. I am sure there was an interesting, maybe even salacious story behind his appearance that day, but we never asked, and he never said. I saw him two summers later in my hometown, Oberlin. He was, just as I remembered, smartly turned out in his signature look - paint stained khakis, white Oxford cloth button down, striped tie (roguishly askew), that same blue blazer with the green trim. He was sitting at a table in the old Campus Restaurant working on grad school applications. He asked me to join him, and before I could get to my second cup of coffee (daringly sophisticated for a 15 year old Northern Youth) there had been at least 5 young women who came over to say hi to him. After the fifth encounter I asked him how he knew them as he was not from Oberlin. His answer? He didn't! I can't definitively say if it was his personal style or simply what was referred to in Seinfeld as the "Kavorka" that made him so popular with the opposite sex. 

We said our goodbyes, and I went straight to the vintage store where $36.85 bought me a gently used blazer and a tennis sweater.  I never looked back.

Personal style is, at least in my experience, a personal journey. And one man has been there, often behind the scenes, helping tens of thousands of men around the world navigate the rocky shoals that separate fashion from style. His name is Richard Press -

Courtesy of Richard Press
Tempus Fugit - What was your first watch? Was it a gift? Is there a story behind it?

Richard Press - I had an uncle who was the eastern sales representative for Benrus Watches. Owing to this, just as every male in the immediate family had to wear J. Press they also had to wear their Benrus watch. Me included. This Benrus connection lasted maybe thirty years, and ended when I lost it in the gym.

TF - If I understand it correctly, you grew up in New Haven, CT?

RP - I grew up in New Haven, although I actually left at age 14 for 4 years to attend Loomis Chaffee boarding school in Windsor, CT.  This was followed by 4 years at Dartmouth College.

TF - When you were a boy, what did you want to be when you "grew up”? 

RP - I always wanted to follow the blood lines at J.Press.

JH - I have been reading your wonderful blog for JPress, Threading the Needle, for some time. 
Any anecdote in particular that stands out that might not have made the blog yet? 

RP - Stay tuned.

Note - For you fans of IVY Trad style wanting to take some glimpses back (as well as forward), JPress has released a compilation of some of Mr. P's dispatches in a lovely bound edition that can be ordered through the link below.
Courtesy of JPress
            Threading The Needle Collection

JH - After growing up in New Haven, you attended Dartmouth College, graduating (I believe) in 1959. What did you study? 

RP - My favorite subjects were Comparative Literature, European and American History.

JH - It seems you were destined to join JPress, but you did not remain in New Haven, what is it that took you to New York? 

RP - All due respects to my New Haven residing father and grandfather, my love of theatre, night clubs, living the high life, and the New York Yankees made New York a natural.

JH - JPress had outposts in Cambridge, New York, even San Francisco! Is it safe to say that JPress took Ivy style farther than anyone up to that point? 

RP - Not really. Brooks Brothers with their Urban Ivy led the pack with dozens of first rate Ivy retailers spread coast to coast.

JH - To be clear, I am not saying anything negative about the Andover Shop/s in Cambridge and Andover, but to those of us outside of the industry (non-garmentos), it seems that both stores had semi-similar foundations. JPress grew to be international, while the Andover Shop/s remained a regional entity. To what do you attribute the growth and expansion of JPress

RP - The Andover Shop co-founder Charlie Davidson worked for a short time at the New Haven J. Press before his stint in Cambridge. Growth and expansion occurred maintaining the quality and style that signifies the original brand and the international marketing talent of the current Japanese owner Onward Kashiyama. They are smart, holding forth the quality and style of the brand that they took over.

JH - I have been led to understand that you were something of a fixture in the New York theatre scene, performing in several off-Broadway productions. What was your favorite role? 

RP - My favorite role was Uncle Oscar in a now forgotten off-Broadway musical portraying a lascivious cad belting out "Think Of Me As A Kind And Loving Uncle" with a half dozen lovelies on my lap.

JH - JPress was sold to Kashiyama in 1986, and you worked with them for a bit before moving on to another company. And now you are back with the fantastic Threading the Needle Blog! How did that come about? 

RP - I was a featured columnist knocking off over fifty column for the blog Ivy Style when J. Press asked me to host a NY store event. I brought down the house and they proceeded to bring me on as “Archival” Consultant, columnist, author, MC at store events, brochure intro writer and hanger on.

JH - Is there anyone out there (other than JPress) that is doing something interesting with Ivy these days? 

RP - Haven’t seen it yet.

JH - An honest truth - the majority of men who are very into watches seem to burn up all of their style and creativity calories on their time machines, often dressing either as fashion victims or college kids just after exams finish. I have my own answer but I want your take -
Why is a personal sense of style important? 

RP - To publicly enhance whatever talent you may possess.

JH - In many ways the growth and evolution of JPress from preppy icon to global label happened under your stewardship. Any advice for the aspiring entrepreneurial manager out there/ 

RP - Work hard, don’t give up the ship when it rocks, learn all aspects of the business, especially requirements of targeted customers.

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