It's Raining Menswear
Pasadena’s Le Monsieur offers custom clothing and service to busy men around Southern California and beyond.
By Rebecca Kuzins 07/01/2013
On a recent workday, Elle Lyn was at Bob Hope Airport, hand-delivering clothes she had selected for a client who was catching a flight to Florida. While there, she got a call from another customer whose girlfriend had thrown his clothes into a swimming pool during an argument. The client asked Lyn whether the clothes could be dry-cleaned, cleaned another way or should simply be replaced.
Handling fashion emergencies like these are all part of her business, which she
describes as a “dealer concierge service.” Lyn is the founder, owner and chief employee at Le Monsieur, a Pasadena-based business that, in Lyn’s words, provides “menswear for the non-shopper.” Le Monsieur is based in a small office on Colorado Boulevard, across the street from Paseo Colorado. For many years Lyn was the sole employee, but she now employs a male model and four women — a creative director, a salesperson and two
assistants.Le Monsieur caters to professional men who are uninterested in or clueless about haberdashery, or simply lack the time to shop for themselves. Clients make an
appointment to meet Lyn in her office or their home or workplace. She takes their measurements and suggests wardrobe items that fit their body type and fashion needs.
“She’s able to take a look at you and tell what colors and styles are good for your skin type, the work you do or are age-appropriate,” says customer Ron Lyles. “I’m a big guy, so sometimes it’s hard for me to get fitted. She’s able to get clothes that fit… She deals with accessories, like a watch, shoes. She knows what doesn’t look good on a big guy.”
Lyn also organizes her clients’ closets, eliminating clothes that no longer fit or are too stained to clean, and then placing orders to replace the discarded items. She takes photographs of different combinations of clothes and pastes them on a poster, so her clients can easily put together an outfit. She finds these posters especially useful for the 60 percent of her customers who are single men.
It’s not easy for a small boutique menswear business to compete in a marketplace already crowded with menswear shops. According to a national study on menswear conducted by the market firm BIGresearch in 2010 and 2011, almost 44 percent of men patronize department stores like Macy’s or Nordstrom. The rest of the market is split among chain stores — like American Apparel or Banana Republic — that specialize in clothes for both men and women; chains of menswear-only stores such as 3 Day Suit Broker and Men’s Warehouse; e-tailers likeAmazon; and small clothing boutiques.
“Probably until 10 years ago, small boutiques had very good chances of doing quite well,” explains Andrew Asch, retail editor for California Apparel News. But now, he says, these stores “run into such obstacles and challenges, like having to compete with online department store sales and skyrocketing rents and insurance costs. We’ve seen a lot of small retailers go out of business.”
Those boutiques that do survive, says Asch, must “fight to find new ways of intriguing consumers. They’ve got to be more imaginative, more nimble than in the past.” For example, some menswear boutiques are adding personal shopping services, putting bars in their stores so customers can enjoy a drink and evolving “from just being clothing stores to being mini-department stores.” Retailers, Asch added, are trying to make their boutiques “entertainment stores,” by being the first in their area to introduce new fashion trends and clothing labels, keeping their mix of merchandise “as fresh and interesting as possible,” offering gifts, books and other items and throwing parties. “They have to become party producers, social media mavens and financial wizards,” he says of menswear boutique owners. “They have to wear so many hats.”
But a business like Le Monsieur, which concentrates on personal shopping and service, is “doing exactly the right thing” and may overcome the odds against boutiques, Asch says.
The secret of Le Monsieur’s success lies in its emphasis not only on personal shopping but also on providing a range of unusual but useful services to customers and paying acute attention to detail. For example, clients who come to Lyn’s office are served their favorite snacks and drinks, which she identifies and stocks up on; and many clients order made-to-measure suits, an option often unavailable at bigger stores. Made-to-measure suits, which range in price from $150 to $450, include a pre-made base coat and pants that are unfinished on the bottom. “We just tweak it to their specifications,” says Lyn. “That’s the bulk of our business right now.” Lyn says she’s also beginning to branch out into Hollywood. She’s costuming actor Ray Liotta and singer/guitarist John Meyer for the fiilm A Flock of Dudes, currently in production.
Many clients, who also include bankers, law enforcement officers, lawyers, judges and other professionals, need the right wardrobe for work. They have to conform to an office dress code, but they also want something a little more exciting than the typically conservative suit. “My client who’s a banker, we just did a charcoal suit for him, with a lavender shirt,” says Lyn. “The stitching for the shirt on the buttons is a darker purple, the buttons are a darker color and we finished it off with a dark pair of purple socks. That just gives him a little oomph to get through his day.”
Lyn advises clients to have a staple work wardrobe of least 12 white shirts and three suits in gray, navy blue and charcoal. She often prepares a “boy’s box,” with work clothes, including a white shirt and an extra tie, which clients can keep in their offices so they’ll always be sartorially prepared.
A couple of her clients are colorblind, so she makes sure there are different-size buttons hidden in their clothes that enable them to identify the color of each piece. “If my client is a bigger guy, I worry about the size of the pockets, because you don’t want their hand coming half out of their pocket. If they smoke, I want to make sure they have proper pockets, in a different lining, on the inside of their clothes, so the clothes won’t smell,” she explains.
Some of her customers cite this attention to detail and highly personal service, as well as affordable prices and convenience, as the reasons they are repeat customers at Le Monsieur. “I always get a great choice of high-end fabrics at great prices,” says Cliff Yates, a Los Angeles County sheriff, who is also a comedian. “She’ll fit me so I can appear in court or at comedy clubs… and she personally caters to my schedule.”
“I told her I wanted a suit for court,” says Otto Gordillo, another county sheriff. “She worked alongside me very diligently to create one. I get complimented in court on my attire.” Lyn, he adds, “provides great service... I can give her a call and send her a check; it’s convenient, like shopping online.”
Many customers would rather patronize Le Monsieur than a department store or other shop. “I’m relatively clueless about fashion and fabrics,” says client Brandon Stroman. “She’s a great person to work with because she makes you feel right at home, and makes the whole process pretty easy.”
Unlike her larger competitors, Lyn has a small advertising budget. However, she is able to advertise her services at a relatively low cost on her business website and through Twitter. A small selection of her clothing items is available for purchase at the Los Angeles Athletic Association in downtown Los Angeles. She also solicits clients with coupons on Groupon and other websites.
But she cites referrals by current clients and others as the most effective tool for attracting new business. “Word of mouth is like espresso in the morning,” she jokes. “It means my customers are confident enough in me and in my ability to recommend me to someone else. Guys basically don’t like to shop. To get them to meet with someone new, where they don’t go and just pick up the suit and just walk out with it, or take it to the tailor, that’s a big deal to them. And I take that seriously.”
Lyn designs clothes for some of her clients, often in collaboration with them. She and her employees do not sew the clothes, but instead contract with Pepper and Jack, a New Zealand–based tailoring service, which creates the items and ships them to clients. She says she misses sewing herself and for this reason plans to make a line of specialized ties to be sold under the Le Monsieur brand, which she hopes to eventually market worldwide.
Lyn, 41, was born and raised in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. During her childhood, her late grandmother, Artesia Jackson, was a tailor, and Lyn attributes her interest in sewing and clothing to her grandmother. “I promised her that I’d get my degree, and she was like, ‘You get your degree and then you can do what you want to do.’”
After studying theology and business at Mid-America Bible College in her hometown, Lyn became a flight attendant. When she started Le Monsieur 12 years ago, it was a part-time job to supplement her airline work, and her initial clients were passengers. Many of them lived in Southern California and, she recalls, “flying to California was really starting to get hectic.” So she relocated to Pasadena, where she made her menswear business a full-time endeavor.
Says Lyn: “I love what I do; I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.”
Le Monsieur is located at 261 E. Colorado Blvd., #216, Pasadena. Call (626) 569-TIES (8437) or visit shoplemonsieur.com.