Well Suited With Craig Robinson

In the spirit of its tranquil-decadent aesthetic and a legacy setting the stage for cocktails and live music in Tribeca, staff at The Roxy Hotel are exclusively outfitted by bespoke tailor Craig Robinson. The New Mexican-turned-New Yorker counts Interpol, Willem Dafoe and Morgan Freeman among his clientele, and got a kick out of creating the uniforms for one of his favorite hangouts. We got chatting with the lively gentleman to find out more about the collaboration, and elicit his go-to downtown New York institutions.

How did the uniform collaboration with The Roxy Hotel come to life?

The Soho Grand is one of my favorite hotels, and I have been spending time there for more than a decade. We were invited to do a show in the hotel gallery, which is now the Club Room. It was a collection of 20 portraits shot by Rudy Archuleta of New York rock bands in our suits – Interpol, the Ravonettes and Jon Spencer to name a few. Over the years, the idea of making uniforms was talked about, but it never felt like the right time. Once The Roxy and the new club Django opened you could feel the excitement and it was the right time. We had dressed the members of rock bands and created pieces for some movies, so we were very excited to be asked to design the uniforms for the The Roxy. Uniforms are not a easy project to take on…not only is there the duty of dressing for all the personalities and body types, [but] you have to create and design for the setting of a grand stage. It is a stage that is always moving [and] you’re setting an energy and degree of style for the surroundings.  Since we are in fact bespoke tailors, we design for a different person every day. We have thousands of patterns and designs from years past, so the project was great in the fact we could research from our own archives.

We took elements of everything from draped red carpet dresses to military captain coats, and created uniforms for a hotel I’ve always wanted to stay in. We have designed the uniforms to be timeless, classic, and graceful yet utilitarian. The project was especially fun, as we are more equipped and far more skilled in manufacturing such garments than we were in the mid-’90s. Although we are renowned for bespoke suits, I started as a womenswear designer and studied draping and manufacturing in Paris for about a year. So stepping into a project that required a lot of women’s pieces was particularly enjoyable, and it was nice to take elements of fine tailoring and put them to work in all the sections of the hotel. The Roxy to me is a very music-inspired hotel, so I feel quite at home to be able to dress its staff. We put together bits and pieces of many different eras to come up with the ideas for the hotel. I trained in Italy for a couple of summers in my 20s, and learned traditional tailoring techniques. Before that, I worked with my mother in making patchwork denim ensembles as a child. All these different influences helped to mold the craft of our label, so you can see how taking a project like a entire hotel was quite exciting for me, personally.

The idea of bespoke tailoring has become a major trend, and people have taken liberties with the word “bespoke”. How would you define true bespoke tailoring?

In my 25 years in the business, I think the word bespoke has become more popular than the actual craft. At one time bespoke meant an agreement between two individuals: you create something beautiful for me and I’ll pay what it costs, made to order. Now you have people saying ‘how much is a bespoke suit?’ Funny, right? It’s like when everyone was saying “couture”, it just lost its meaning. And it’s alright, we don’t live in England, we’re New Yorkers, and I often don’t apply to the golden rules of tailoring. I may have studied overseas, but I didn’t say it was any fun. We honestly wish there were more people doing [bespoke]. It takes me years to train someone. We have consulted for a few brands over the years, but it always becomes more about the idea, the look of a nice a atelier, the Chesterfield sofa, the little bar to serve your clients scotch, and having events. Sounds pretty fun, but at the end of the day people forget that a suit can take 40 man-hours to make. And that’s if nothing goes wrong, in my business everything goes wrong [laughs]. To me the fun is the work, the challenge, the act of physical courage. To say, “We are not in this business because it’s easy, we are in this business because it’s difficult.” To do something well that people can admire, but are not willing to do, that’s fun to me [laughs].

What would you say are the building blocks of a classic New York wardrobe?

I try not to think too much about what people should and should not have in their wardrobe. I feel like I have to think enough [laughs]. If you’re happy, do it; if you’re not, don’t. Trying to philosophize our work never comes out right. There’s so many quotes in all my men’s books: “Bespoke is my religion,”; “Clothes make the man,” [laughs]. Who made that shit up?! When you dress as many men as I do, in some way each one of them inspires you…you learn from one another. We want to give our lives more life, more character, to dress the way we want to work and play, a reflection of who we wish to be, and for that reason it makes me proud to serve them.

Words by Natalie Shukur | For more information, visit www.robinsonbrooklyn.com