A Fine Man Once Said:

"Part of the 10 million I spent on gambling, part of it on booze, and part of it on women. The rest I spent foolishly."

- George Raft

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Farewell to the First Golden Age: Of Sample Sales and Feeding Frenzies

Holland & Holland's Shotgun Shell-motif lining: A true classic

I know that it is quite common on the various style fora for members to bemoan the demise of everything from traditional tailoring techniques to classic haberdashers. I found myself in the men's shoe section at the Barney's Warehouse sale just last week engaging in this very same behavior. Looking at the truly pitiful offerings in my size, I could not help but think back to the days when the racks were filled with a decent variety of benchgrade and handgrade shoes from Crockett & Jones. Indeed, my first pair of suede shoes was a pair of benchgrade C&J Conistons in dark brown for under $200. At later sales, I was fortunate to find handgrade suede chukkas and even a pair of Cliffords in antique chestnut at under $300 per pair.

While the proliferation of sample sales continues unabated today, the truly mind-boggling sample sales and online feeding frenzies of the pre-Financial Crisis 2000s appear to be gone, if not forgotten. With the last of the Paul Stuart sample sales occurring in 2009 (and that later iteration a sickly step-child of the 2005-2006 incarnations, I think it is safe to say that the first Golden Age (2002-2008) has come and gone.

My first introduction to an absolute madhouse of a sample sale were the Holland & Holland employee sales. I still have quite a few baby alpaca sweaters, canvas rain coats, and silk v-neck sweaters, all drastically reduced from H&H's stratospheric retail prices and purchased for under $50 per item. Most of the items have been worn fairly regularly for years now and have attained a nice worn-in look. Not the African safari worn-in look, just the urban-jungle worn-in look.

Holland & Holland Norfolk Shooting Jacket.
A heavy jacket with an action back, I believe the wool is coated in teflon.
One button on the sleeve cuff, made in England.
I believe the retail price at the time was over $1000. Sale price: $50.

Holland & Holland was the start of a stretch of some of the greatest sales that I've ever come across. I've already written to some extent on the Paul Stuart sales, but they were truly an event without parallel for a young dandy interested in well-made British shoes on a budget. One is hard-pressed to find the words to describe that moment when, after waiting in line for 50 minutes, you are given permission to enter the sale - you take a few steps into the breach . . . only to be met by row upon row of discounted Grenson Masterpieces made for Paul Stuart's Stuart's Choice line.

Spoils from the Paul Stuart sale.
Grenson Masterpieces for Stuart's Choice line. $250 from $698 retail price.

If one thought that Paul Stuart would remain the gold-standard for decades to come, one was pleasantly surprised to find how quickly Asprey came along to challenge for the title "Greatest Warehouse Sale Ever." As I look through the spoils, it is still too difficult to decide which purchase was best: the 100% cashmere overcoat sample with patch pockets and turn back-cuff with faux cuff-links (I will get around to taking pictures of this, my favorite overcoat, sometime soon), or the Edward Green tasseled loafers in mink suede for under $200? Oh, decisions, decisions.

Edward Green mink suede tasseled loafers for Asprey. $185.

Mind you, these were just the warehouse sales. The on-line feeding frenzies were even more exciting because a certain amount of faith is required to purchase sight unseen based on the reports of others. My first introduction to these types internet stampedes was via the now legendary Bennie's Grenson Masterpiece sales. I'm not ashamed to say that I purchased my first pair of Northampton shoes via Bennies. The next frenzy, around 2005 or 2006, was the equally legendary Crockett & Jones for Tom James close-out. A pair of handgrade C&Js for $150 each? I'll take two pairs of semi-brogue Bartons, one in black and one in antique chestnut, please. To this day, aside from one other pair of Johnston & Murphy Handmade 100s, my only pair of black shoes (I'll take pictures soon, I promise).

The on-line feeding frenzy reached its apex, in my opinion, with the great Ralph Lauren Woodbury Commons Purple Label snatch and grab of 2006 (or was it 2007?). Cashmere blazers for $300. Cashmere blend, custom fit 3-piece suits from $4000 to $300, sight unseen? Let's take a chance!

RLPL cashmere/wool blend 3-piece suit in charcoal grey.
Deciding to purchase based on a sales associate's description over the phone, it was worth the gamble.

Unfortunately, the good times had to come to an end. Gradually, the magnificent warehouse sales disappeared. Holland & Holland closed their 57th street shop - Turnbull & Asser now resides at that location. Asprey also closed up shop on 5th Avenue, moving to a smaller location. Paul Stuart kept the warehouse sale around a bit longer than some of the others, but it too has not been seen in many seasons. The online frenzies are a thing of the past as well - spoken about in hushed, reverential tones by the old-timers and mentioned with just a slight air of disbelief by the next generation.

Some of the new sales are very good, but none of them approach the jaw-dropping levels of yesteryear. An honorable mention goes to Brunello Cucinelli's spring sale, which dropped to 80% off all items on the last few days. The normally outrageously priced BC cashmere v-necks and zip-ups were reduced from $860 to $160 or $170. A great deal, to be sure, but . . .

Spoils from the Brunello Cucinelli Sample Sale.

In the meantime, we'll wait patiently for the second Golden Age, or the first Silver Age, or whatever it may be called, to begin again. See you on the line.


  1. those Grenson Masterpieces are fantastic ! Love yo taste- the Cucinellis, the EGs, the Norfolk jacket ... an d I'm GREEN with envy (in a good way)

  2. You really scored some remarkable deals there but I really look forward to pictures of this infamous overcoat.

  3. You're not the first person to ask about this coat - I promise to post some pics in the next few weeks . . .