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Harlem Haberdashery's Owners on Dressing Legends Like Biggie

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Harlem Haberdashery may have just celebrated its second anniversary, but the Lenox Avenue shop's married co-owners, Guy and Shay Wood, have been designing clothing for over 20 years. The pair has dressed everyone from Biggie to Elmo ("We were given white gloves. You can't touch Elmo!" Guy says) in their bespoke label, 5001 flavors.

Now, the whole family is in on the business, which, in the past two years, has expanded to include a ready-to-wear line, a revolving showcase for local designers (in the spotlight now: Belchez's tees scrawled with artists' signatures), and an impressive party calendar (a Kentucky Derby bash was a recent hit). "It's business and pleasure, friends and family," Shay says. "It really doesn't feel like work."

Guy, who oversees Harlem Haberdashery's in-house label, draws from the neighborhood's history when he's designing. "You'd see Joe Louis in the '30s, at his after party fights at the Red Rooster, and guys would have big fedoras and mink coats," he says. "To see a man in a fur coat, anywhere else you'd laugh. But in Harlem, you're like, 'Yo, that's cool. Can't wait to get me a mink.'"

That's not to say mink coats are Guy's style (dude can, on the other hand, rock printed pants), but everything he creates is, as he puts it, "punched up." Motorcycle jackets are tartan with embroidered sleeves—not leather, baseball toppers are done up in hand-painted canvas, and sneakers are way more architectural than what you'd find at your local Foot Locker.

As for womenswear, "You can go anywhere and get a cool dress. But you come here to get the dress." See what he means in the interview below.

You have six co-owners! Quick—tell me about everyone, and what their role is.

Shay: There might be more than six! We've been open for two years, although my husband and I started a custom clothing company 22 years ago, and we are absolutely a family-owned boutique. My brother Kells Barnett, my son Guy Wood Jr., Louis Johnson Jr., Nairobi Washington, Shayvon Harris, Greg Smith, and my daughter Brittney are all involved. Guy is much more the creative designer, and I'm more administrative and organizational.

Guy: It's official tissue.

What's it like working together, as a married couple?

Shay: It hasn't been a problem. I guess for me, working together, we're working toward the same goal. We're all here for the same purpose—to build the brand, build the legacy, build the business. That's why some of our social events become business events—it's business and pleasure, friends and family. It really doesn't feel like work.

And do you still sell custom clothing out of Harlem Haberdashery?

Shay: Yes, 5001 Flavors, that's our custom clothing division, where we specifically cater to personalities in the entertainment industry. We do a lot of specialized clothes that are specifically for celebrities—for tours, awards shows, album packaging. Then we decided to open up a store with the same design sensibility—unique and one of a kind.

Guy, have you always had style? Did you grow up in a fashionable family?

Guy: My mother was a seamstress. She would make my outfits as a kid, so I would always pick loud fabrics. I'd wear my outfits to school, and everyone would be like "that's cool." I was an only child, so I got all the polyester.

Did kids comment on your outfits?

Guy: They said I dressed like an older guy. I'd wear stuff that their pops would probably wear. I tended to gravitate towards stuff I'd see on TV, or things the older guys in my neighborhood would wear. I'd have the button-down shirt with the Harry Belafonte sleeves on the playground. That was me. Big six-inch cuffs.

I'd watch Michael Jackson, or James Brown, and note what they wore—knowing I couldn't go outside with a scarf tied around my neck. Now I do, though.

You've dressed everyone from Biggie to LeBron James. How does that process work? Do your celebrity clients come to the store?

Guy: Yes, we sit down and talk and take it from there. Sometimes they come in with inspirational pictures. Or they might have a sneaker or a hat that they want to match. We'll sketch some stuff, I'll send over a few swatches, and we'll jump on it. Fat Joe is a good client of mine, he comes through one or two times a week. We do a lot of stuff for LeBron, a lot for Puffy.

Shay: There's a discussion and a meeting and a plan and a budget behind all of those outfits. It's a very thought out process.

Do they want everything custom?

Guy: Yeah, they're all creative. They have their own niches. They don't want a jacket that 1,000 people can go buy.

Have you really come to know their styles?

Joe is more street, he wants to keep it more real. LeBron is very European. He likes skinny trousers, thin ties. Where Joe is like, "I can't wear that." You've got to know your client. When I get new swatches or cuts in, I'll shoot out a few pictures to different clients.

Does Puffy come in with an entourage?

Puffy knows what he wants. But, yeah, a lot of guys do that. You'll see a Rolls Royce pull up out front, security comes in, and then the guy comes in. The customers are like, "Are you…?" But, they're just like anybody else.

I heard you have a very special celebrity client…Elmo!

Guy: I made a baseball shirt for Elmo.

Shay: And a motorcycle jacket. He got a custom jersey that said "Elmo 123," and a tuxedo. He was very tiny! His puppeteer came with him.

Wait, tell me everything.

Shay: He was in a fancy case.

Guy: We were given white gloves. You can't touch Elmo!

What do you love about Harlem style?

Guy: To me, it's a sense of coolness. A sense of pride. If you can pull it off, it can be done. We can go anywhere in the world and create our own style. I'm sure everyone feels that way—Brooklyn might feel that way, the Bronx might feel that way, London might feel that way—but being from Harlem, I dress like I'm from somewhere far. It's because that's where my mind is, I'm not stuck on this block. Sometimes I have on slippers and a double-breasted jacket and I'm in Saint Tropez. I go by how I feel, and the mood I'm in. Clothes are just costumes to me.

But back to Harlem, it's just a cool vibe. It's a melting pot. People came from all over the world to live in Harlem. You have poets, you have jazz, you have artists. It's still like that to this day. And it's not about money. You can wear a second-hand hat and a cool tee shirt and look good.

Shay: It's more about confidence. It's a unique individual style. The Harlem cat is always fly, we're known for always looking our best. I was born and raised in Harlem, too. It has a certain flavor.

Guy: Coming up, we'd see the cars and the guys with the flashy clothes. And you'd say, "When I get older, or when I get some money, that's the way I want to look." The car is dressed to the nines—the rims, and the interior, and the paint—and you'd go "Who would go to such lengths?" And that's just the way we were.

You'd see Joe Louis in the '30s, at his after party fights at the Red Rooster, and guys would have big fedoras and mink coats. To see a man in a fur coat, anywhere else you'd laugh. But in Harlem, you're like, "Yo, that's cool. Can't wait to get me a mink." Like in other places a young lady wants a mink, here a young guy wants a mink. And that's crazy! Times have changed a little bit, but whatever your swag is—if it's Ralph Lauren, if it's Moncler, if it's Harlem Haberdashery—kids still have to have that signature piece.

What inspires your Harlem Haberdashery line?

Guy: I like to reach back to the past. I don't go crazy with silhouettes. I like baseball jackets and motorcycle jackets, I just choose funky fabric. We have a tartan motorcycle jacket, for example, and a hand-painted baseball jacket. But they're still basic shapes, just updated. Our job is to punch things up a bit.

Do you do women's?

Guy: Yes. You can go anywhere and get a cool dress. But you come here to get the dress. If you notice, we don't keep a lot of stock on the floor. I'll make a piece in two of each size, and once it's sold we move on to the next thing.

Do you sew?

Guy: We have a sewing team. Everything is made by hand in The Bronx.

Do you follow a fashion calendar?

Guy: We do a small spring collection and fall collection, but we're constantly rolling things out. Every day I'm making stuff, so I don't really get a chance to say "This is my collection." I don't pay attention to trends or color forecasting. I'm so far out of the fashion loop, but I think that's what makes me who I am.

Tell me about some of the other Harlem designers you carry.

Guy: Belchez. He's a neighborhood artist, and he hand-painted these canvas jackets for us. We're featuring him this season.

Shay: I love that we have a lot of emerging designers who don't have a wide distribution. We do a lot of smaller runs, so our customer still has a unique experience.

Guy: For most of them, this is their first retail experience.

What are you price points?

Guy: Jackets are anywhere from $250 to $2,000.

Shay: We also have a lot of cool tee-shirts and accessories for $20. There's definitely something for everyone here. We have bow ties and ties and tie bars.

Guy: We want to make sure you can share in our experience. You don't want to walk into a store where everything is beautiful but unaffordable. And we're right in the neighborhood, so we have to make it affordable. When people say it's too expensive, they haven't come in here. We have $10 tee shirts. You can get a lapel pin for $40. There's something in here for you.

Time for the lightning round!

8am or 8pm?

Both: 8am

Beer or wine?

Guy: Neither
Shay: Beer

Whiskey or tequila?

Guy: Diet Snapple.
Shay: That's the truth! I'd probably say water, out of those two.
Guy: That's why we can get up at eight in the morning!

Cats or dogs?

Guy: Cats
Shay: No animals for me.

Favorite vacation spot?

Both: Turks and Caicos

Favorite neighborhood lunch spot?

Guy: Boulevard Bistro

Shay: Harlem Shake. The trainer in my head is like, "Don't say that!" The jerk chicken is amazing, though.

Favorite happy hour spot?

Shay: The Cove
Guy: Red Rooster
· Harlem Haberdashery [Official Site]
· All Better Know a Store Owner Posts [Racked NY]

Harlem Haberdashery

245 Malcolm X Blvd, New York, NY 10027 646-707-0070 Visit Website

Harlem Haberdashery

245 Lenox Ave, New York, NY 10027