Lisa Dolan says she was always a tomboy. But she most identified with her male colleagues when working in finance in Manhattan in her mid-20s.

"I hated going shopping, and would only do it when I absolutely had to," she says.

"When I was working at J.P. Morgan, it was very long hours, and I never had time. Besides, I'd rather be looking at a clothing company's 10-K than its clothes," she said, referring to the annual report companies file with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Two years ago, while struggling to outfit herself in attire formal enough for J.P. Morgan's culture, she decided to stop worrying and start doing something about it. She left her job, enrolled in Columbia Business School, and drafted a business plan.

She called it Savile Row Society, and it launches to the public Monday. The idea: Bring a top-notch selection of clothing--suits, wingtips, high-quality dress-shirts--straight to guys, with a spectrum of buying options, depending on how involved in the process of stocking their closet they want to be. Said guys can purchase straight through a website, or by connecting with one of a network of personal stylists, who will do the buying for them.

From a business perspective, it's a hybrid of traditional retail and direct sales. The company sells select items from 75 brands, large and small, such as Lacoste (shirts), Calvin Klein (underwear), and Allen Edmonds (shoes). While Savile Row Society buys at wholesale prices from brands, it also does not hold inventory--meaning it avoids one potential cost sinkhole for traditional retail.

While at Columbia, Dolan--who is now 28--found, she says, that men didn't not want to shop, and that they did want to be involved in making decisions about their personal style. She found that men she questioned strongly disliked the feeling of being sold to, and preferred the feeling of "developing a relationship." 

Hence the personal stylists, of which there are currently 15. They each take an approximately 15 percent slice of a sale they make. The model appears similar to that of J. Hilburn, which uses personal stylists in a direct-sales model as well, though it differs in that J. Hilburn has thousands of stylists strewn around the country. Savile Row Society's are mostly clustered around New York City, and Dolan says she hopes to keep their ranks small and exclusive.

Dolan is a New York City native, having grown up on the Upper West Side and having gone to prep school in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Her parents worked in finance as well--and influenced the business in another way as well.

"The name Savile Row Society comes from the fact that my dad is Irish, and we'd go to London and we had been to the famous tailor street of Savile Row," Dolan says. "It acknowledges that small boutiques that are getting lost in the e-commerce world today. We are trying to bring back that premium personal service that can be lost in the shuffle."

Over the past few months, in order to get Savile Row Society in front of a few customers while its website was only available to private sign-ups with a personal invite, Dolan and her tiny team of seven forged unconventional partnerships from theiroffice and showroom in New York's Flatiron District. 

Two, both with local high-end matchmaking services, worked out well, Dolan says. A private matchmaker named Janis Spindel and a matchmaking startup called Three Day Rule made marketing materials for Savile Row Society available to their clients. They brought in just the kinds of men Dolan was looking for: busy professionals wanting to dress for their identity--but without the time to worry about doing so themselves.

If true love doesn't flourish, at least they'll come away with a relationship with their stylist.

 

Published on: Oct 6, 2014