Back in the days when “family businesses” were owned by the family that created them, Haspel was owned by the Haspel family- and they made their clothing in New Orleans. My father was very friendly with the Haspels. Chipp was one of the first companies to offer Haspel suits through the mail. As a pup I remember my father bringing home boxes of swatches that we stuffed into glasine envelopes and mailed to the Chipp mailing list. The suits - poplins, seersukers, hairlines, and seercords- sold at retail for $32. In the early 50’s my father and Josh Tonkel ( Mr. Tonkel was president of Haspel. I remember his drawl being thick enough to cut with a knife.) came up with an idea they thought would impact the summer washable suit market- “The Shacket”. “The Shacket” was a naturel poplin suit . The jacket of the suit had short sleeves. It was intended to have a quarter of an inch of one’s shortsleeve shirt extend beyond the end of the jacket sleeve. In far better risk management than was exibited by AIG and the banking industry in our current economic crisis, enough matching cloth was set aside so that a correction - replacement of the short sleeves by standard long sleeves- could be implemented if the experiment did not fly. And crash it did ! Very few were sold. The following season the “shackets” had their short sleeves replaced by standard sleeves and were no longer “shackets”. Even Joe DiMaggio struck out once in a while.
Archive for the ‘History’ Category
Until the 60’s, when the big fish started eating the small fish, there were small mills that would weave small yardages. We dealt with a Scottish firm by the name of Thomas Addie & Son- they made the finest hand loomed Shetland in the world. If a customer came in and wanted us to match the cloth from which we had tailored his favorite 20 year old sports jacket, we could send a small swatch of the cloth to Thomas and they would weave 10 yards of hand loomed Shetland for us. (The Thomas we were dealing with in 1960 was the son of the original Thomas Addie. He was a contemporary of my father. Thomas had a son who was my contemporary. He went out onto an oil rig. Thomas Addie & Son is no more.) Today the minimum yardage one can get woven is whole “pieces” of cloth, not yards of cloth. As a practical matter one can only order what the mills put into their “collections.”
We created what we called “projects” as a way to offer our customers unusual patterns that were not part of any mills offerings. We cajoled one of our suppliers into weaving a sample length of a pattern we chose. We used cashmere. As customers visited, we would show them the sample. When we got twenty orders, we would have a piece of the cashmere woven. It would usually take 6 to 9 months to sell the twenty jackets. Because we were ordering a piece of cloth, we would get a special price which would allow us to make the jackets at a special price. One of the first “projects” we offered was the Picasso Plaid. The pattern was very colorful. Pablo Picasso did not design the pattern, but he did have his tailor make him a jacket from the cloth. His French tailor ordered the cloth from W.Bill. When he ordered the cloth he told Geoffrey Bill that he needed the cloth rushed to him because it was for Pablo Picasso. From that point in time W.Bill called the pattern “The Picasso Plaid”.
If you are in the neighborhood you can see the “Picasso Plaid”- I don’t have any to sell, but I have a remnant. I also have 5 small bolts of Thomas Addie & Son hand loomed Shetland. While those cloths last a few jackets and/or bush coats can be made.
Chipp opened its doors on April 1, 1945. (My brother insists it was 1947; when I get a few free moments I will research it.) The Brooks Brothers flagship was, and still is, at the corner of 44th and Madison. J Press was on the second floor on the northeast corner of 44th and Madison. The Yale and Harvard clubs were within shouting distance. The Biltmore Hotel, with its famous “Meet me under the clock at the Biltmore”, was around the corner. This was the place to be.
In those days, we rented just the second floor in the brownstone at 14 East 44th Street. A famous watering hole called The Gamecock, which occupied the ground floor, was frequented by the advertising fraternity. (These were the “men in the gray flannel suits.”) Our customer base was primarily the men who Sidney Winston, my father, met when he had traveled the Eastern prep schools for J Press: young boys who had now matured into business leaders, and, in some cases, world leaders. He was the same age as his young prep school customers. As a result, the relationships that developed were very different from relationships that are made when one is older. Many of those customers remained loyal Chipp customers through their entire lives.
The bill of fare was custom clothing and special-order clothing. (Stock clothing on the rack would not be part of Chipp for a few years.) And the key was being where the action was: the infant Chipp’s famous neighbors drew many potential customers onto the street. My father and his partner at the time, Lou Prager, who also earned his spurs at J Press, would go down the narrow flight of stairs to 44th Street and snag the men they recognized. There was no elevator—many famous people trudged up that flight of stairs.
As the business grew, the third and then the fourth floor were rented. In the mid 1960’s (I think it was 1965), we bought the entire building, opening the ground floor storefront. The fifth floor became a true retail specialty operation.
In about 1985, when a lot of New York City properties were being bought by Japanese interests, we sold our building. After a brief incarnation on the second floor of 342 Madison Avenue (we occupied the space at the corner of 43rd Street), we moved to our present address, 11 East 44th Street, right across the street from where we began.
We have come full circle. Again we do custom and made-to-measure (special order) clothing. No clothing on the rack. I am sure my father on high is amused.
One of our customers, a chairman of a large NYC-based bank, asked us to make some ties for the bank. He said the bank had a number of ties, but none that were good enough for him to give to the people with whom he was dealing. (Those were the days when banks were quite profitable.) The project planted the seed that developed into Chipp 2.
We had a number of customers who had the most stripes on their sleeves. We suggested tie projects to them, and we had a good number of positive responses. So, in its infancy, Chipp 2 made ties for some corporate clients, for our store, and for our mail order catalog.
The most popular ties in our catalog were the ties with dog breeds. Our first “litter” had 15 breeds. We tracked the requests we received for different breeds, and we added five to seven breeds a year. Today our Chipp2.com web site offers 95 breeds of dogs on ties, cosmetic bags, belts, suspenders, and pillows. We offer our watch products in every breed that walks the planet. Although the only ties showcased on our website are the dog breed ties, we continue to make many projects for clubs, companies, schools, alumni groups, and like. If you want to chat about ties, tie projects, custom clothing, shirts—feel free to contact us.
In 1945 Sidney Winston and Lou Prager opened Chipp of NY,Inc. They had both worked for J Press. The business was financed by Jonas Arnold, who was the proprietore of a men’s shop in Cambridge, MA named Chipp. ( Arnold and the Sill’s brothers were partners in a men’s shop in New Haven, CT. named Chipp. They had a parting of the way and the Sills brothers then called their operation Sills and Arnold moved to Cambridge and continued using the name Chipp.) Arnold suggested that Winston and Prager use the name Chipp for their NYC shop. Through the years many Yale and Harvard men who had traded at the New Haven and Cambridge Chipp shops thought that Chipp of NY, Inc was connected to the shops where they traded during their college years. There never was a business connection between the three shops. This is the answer to the frequently posed question, “Where did the name Chipp come from?”
The metamorphosis of Chipp of NY, Inc to Winston Tailors and the creation of Chipp2 ( our necktie operation and the mother of Chipp2.com, the web site that features our dog breed products) will be continued in future blogs. If any readers have questions about our custom clothing , made-to-measure clothing, or our neckties- dog breed or others, feel free to call and chat- 212 687-0850- Paul Winston