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Ex-LBO Lawyer Sees $30,000 Suit for Bankers, LeBron: Interview

Duncan Quinn
Duncan Quinn, a former lawyer and self-taught tailor, wears one of his creations -- a plaid, cashmere and wool suit ($7,200) along with a hand-crafted vermillion pink tie, sterling silver cufflinks and a pocket square.. He favors tortoiseshell frames from Selima Optique in New York. Photographer: Patrick Cole/Bloomberg

As a private-equity lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Duncan Quinn favored custom-tailored suits. His idea of a hobby was to open a Manhattan boutique in 2003.

He says he sold $2,000 in shirts the first day.

Four years later, the London-born Quinn quit finance to hawk the kind of suits he loved, those with Savile Row quality and a little sass.

Today his stores in New York and Miami serve a client list of more than 1,000 paying $4,000 to $30,000 a suit. Customers include hedge-fund managers, basketball star LeBron James, alternative rockers Green Day and actor Adrian Grenier.

Amid the hoopla of New York Fashion Week, Quinn remains more than a few stitches away from the fashionistas. He preaches that fashion can be fickle, while bespoke never lets you down. Clad in a $7,200 three-piece plaid suit he designed himself, Quinn outlined his style rules on a weathered bench outside his Spring Street store.

Cole: Do you dress differently now from your leveraged-buyout days?

Quinn: I was the guy who didn’t dress down for dress-down Fridays and always abhorred tan-colored chinos and blue Oxford shirts that buttoned down at the collar. So I more or less wear the same clothing now as I did when I was closing private-equity deals. I like timeless elegance with a little mischief and rock n’ roll thrown into the mix.

Cole: How many suits do you own?

Quinn: Too many, and yet never enough.

Hard Times

Cole: Your father was a fan of bespoke suits. What was the most important piece of advice he gave you about fashion?

Quinn: He was a hard man who grew up in hard times. An orange was a gift for the holidays you cherished. You walked miles to school with a hot baked potato in your pocket to keep your hands warm and so you had lunch.

If anything, he instilled in me that if you buy the good stuff with style it lasts, and it’s better to do that than waste your money on cheap rubbish.

Cole: Why in the world should one pay $30,000 for a suit?

Quinn: Because they can? More seriously, the fabric is simply the best of the best. You could buy a $1 sandwich instead of that $50 truffle burger. The fact of the matter is that the $1 sandwich just won’t move your soul the way the $50 truffle burger does.

Fabric of Kings

Cole: What is your $30,000 suit made of?

Quinn: It’s made of a fabric called Guanashina, literally the choice of kings. Its three main components are kid pashmina, reserved for Mongolian royalty, a caliber of baby cashmere only obtained from the brushing of the soft under-fleece of 18-month-old goats bred only in inner Mongolia, and Guanaco, the yarn of choice for the coronation robes of Incan royalty.

Cole: What qualities must a suit have before you put it on?

Quinn: It has to be properly made, it has to fit its purpose, it has to have character, it has to be timeless and it has to fit me.

Cole: What is your starting point for design when say, a Wall Street trader comes to your shop and asks for a suit?

Quinn: Finding out who he is and what he wants the suit for. It could be to poke a finger at the guys on his desk, to hit up a particular establishment, or it could be for a particular event. Just as you use different weapons for different situations, you need different attire to achieve different goals.

Old Breitlings

Cole: You’re wearing a three-piece, single-button plaid-cashmere-and-wool suit. Why and what does it say to someone looking at it?

Quinn: I enjoy things with character, and I like color. The cloth this suit is cut from is from Naples, and I guess reflects a rather more playful approach to life. On some level it’s all about messages. You have to be confident to pull this suit off, and not be too concerned about standing out.

Cole: Your watch looks old.

Quinn: For some reason I’m drawn to old Breitlings. They went through a dodgy patch in the 1980s and 1990s, but I think they’re somewhat back on track now.

Cole: I didn’t smell any cologne on you. Can a well-dressed man do without wearing fragrance?

Quinn: You needn’t wear an overt fragrance, and it’s entirely up to you. For me, it’s been Roger & Gallet’s Eau de Gingembre for the past 15 years.

Cole: What’s the most important part of your wardrobe? The suit, the shirt or the tie?

Quinn: The man.

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