Derwin’s: Still Natty After All These Years
The seeds for R. Derwin Clothier’s in Litchfield, now run by a whole brood of Derwins, were sown more than fifty years ago from far, far away: Los Angeles, where patriarch Richard Derwin worked his way up the retail ladder as a buyer for several famous, now- defunct department stores, including Wilger and later Carol & Co on Rodeo Drive. Even though the man himself maintains a J. Peterman-style of elusiveness that makes him hard to pin down for an interview, stories of Derwin’s earliest Hollywood clients, such as Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, and Rock Hudson, practically flow through the walls of his dual Lichfield, Connecticut outposts, R. Derwin Clothier: The Men’s Store and The Ladies Store, which Derwin oversees with his wife and partner of sixteen years, Andrea, and stepson Jonathan Wilson (above), who heads up The Men’s Store. Andrea sings high praises for her husband’s business acumen. “He’s been in the business for so long that he understands the cycles,” she says. “He’s been steering this ship through all these hard economic times.” And Wilson speaks of his stepfather like a retail legend, a clothier version of Don Draper. “He worked in the business at a time when people really dressed,” he says.
The Men’s Store pays homage to that Old Hollywood vibe, sometimes going beyond Mad Men styling to even earlier, dressier days with bow ties, tweedy jackets, hats, handkerchiefs, neckerchiefs, and tie clips — the whole Gatsby gamut. Derwin first opened his Connecticut store more than twenty years ago, with the help of a longtime connection to an iconic American designer (let’s just say it’s one with a well-known equestrian flair) and a few well-established relationships with European cashmere houses.
In many ways the Men’s and Ladies stores are mirrors of each other stylistically, both staying true to their selves but also keeping current in a changing sartorial landscape. The 3,500 square foot Men’s Store is bright and spacious, while the Ladies is long and narrow, with a nautical meets equestrian feel, chock full of more than 80 colors and kinds of cashmere sweaters, jackets, dresses and scarves. “Fine cashmere doesn’t come cheap,” Andrea, a petite powerhouse in her sixties, says humorously as she handles a Johnstons of Elgin Cashmere Circle Cardigan Sweater ($795), which she promises will last forever if well maintained. And each year brings a new version of the stores’ other beloved picks. “I’ve been doing this blazer for sixteen years. I just change it up a bit every year.” (RNG Cashmere Blazer $795.) And like the Men’s store, the Ladies Derwins understands the need to keep up with a more youthful market. “With the jeans and the leather, it brings in a younger clientele,” she says. “We are even getting all the moms into skinny jeans.” (Current/Elliott The Ankle Skinny Jeans $238) “We used to be a shop for mothers, now we are getting mothers and daughters.” Mrs. Derwin has made a habit of knowing her clients’ needs well. “I think about them all the time, I’ll have someone in mind when I’m on a buying trip, and 99% of the time it’s a home run.”
On the Men’s side, Wilson, an RPI grad, has given the operation a youthful flare over the last few years, adding clothes with slimmer fits to attract a younger (if not edgier) set, yet never compromising the shop’s high-end quality and classic appeal. Balancing a younger, hipper clientele without alienating the more mature set is, like the ladies store, one of Wilson’s challenges. In addition to setting up an internet presence, he has organized the space into two sections: the first floor is devoted to traditional customers while on the second is a preppy-haven clubhouse where clients are encouraged to seek refuge on one of the well-worn chesterfield sofas and watch a game or shoot some pool while the wives shop down the street.
Gone may be the days of four-times a year buying trips to Italy for cashmere, leathers and handmade ties; or to England for tweeds and Barbour waxed cotton jackets ($495, a fave of the late Steve McQueen); and certainly not to India, for authentic madras. They’ve been replaced with a few well-planned excursions to New York City, which seem to serve more than well enough. “We’re still a small specialty ‘touch me, feel me’ kind of store,” Andrea says. —Dale Stewart
R. Derwin Clothiers
The Mens Store
7 West Street
Litchfield, CT 06759
The Ladies Store
43 West St
Litchfield, CT 06759