The Man Behind the $100,000 Sport Coat

This fixation with quality and with controlling pretty much every aspect of his business was central to Small’s mission when he moved with his wife and twin children to Italy in 2001. He had worked for the previous twenty years as a tailor and designer in Boston, and had shown his work in Paris for years. Eventually, he did what many of his contemporaries did, and he entered a licensing deal with an Italian firm that would produce, finance, and distribute his collection. That deal fell apart in 2001, and Small realized that to continue designing and producing clothes independently at the level he wanted, he’d have to be in Italy himself. He started in an apartment in Cavarzere, where he began making artisanal clothing in very small quantities, producing no more than 500 pieces per season.

“It’s small numbers for a normal production brand,” Small says. “But you have to think that the average value of each piece is much, much higher, the average amount of time and investment. And we know there’s a customer out there that digs this.”

Slowly, Small expanded his artisanal fashion empire. He rented two additional apartments in the same building to use as workrooms, which contained his business until 2013, when he moved into a larger residence that had more than 1,000-square-feet of work space.

In 2021, Small moved his expanding operation again, this time into the 3,000-square-foot industrial building where we’re now talking. The Superworkroom is a remarkable project of its own, the result of decades spent in the business of producing clothes. The new space offered room for a production facility that could meet his exacting standards, house his extensive archive of samples and fabrics (which he keeps in an enormous vault behind a very thick, bank-style metal door), and establish a permanent showroom. Today, the Superworkroom has 25 employees, but still makes only 1,800 pieces per year.

I point out that he might consider increasing production just slightly, bringing a few more guys into the GBS world. “No, we can’t do that,” Small is quick to say. “That’s the trust. These guys, this client, they don’t give a shit what the price is. So the pact, the agreement is to stay true to the mission, to keep giving them more, to raise the price if we need to, but make the piece even better than the last one. And the minute we waiver from that, we’re dead. We can’t lower the standard. We have to raise them. And that’s not easy.”

Small’s whole idea is to use the best possible materials and the most intensive processes. His gamble is that the extremely high levels of difficulty required to produce his pieces—and their correspondingly exorbitant costs—are exactly what makes his business viable.

“What we’ve done is we’ve gotten very, very into the engineering of clothing,” Small says. “Instead of being a look or an image or a fashion or a trend—which turns a lot of really powerful and wealthy people off—show me something that’s really, really built incredibly. Show me a Patek Philippe. And I can understand that. Okay, that’s our guy. That’s our client.”

I asked Eugene Rabkin, founder of the fashion magazine StyleZeitgeist, which has profiled and supported the work of Geoffrey B. Small for years, who he thinks the GBS customer is. “A lot of artists and musicians and people in those industries who wouldn’t be caught dead in a traditional suit, but they love quality and they want to look interesting,” he says. “The thing about artists is they’re rich, but they don’t want to look rich.”

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