For local designer Martin Gordon, it’s not a dress code; it’s a business plan.
They say the clothes make the man. That may be true, but, in the case of 60-year-old menswear designer and Mount Kisco resident Martin Gordon, the man not only makes the clothes, but the clothes are, well, just like the man. How? For starters, both the clothes he designs and the clothes he wears are casual (Gordon always wears jeans to work—he never bothers with a tie and owns exactly one navy blue suit, for weddings and funerals). His designs, likewise, consist of silk and cotton shirts, basic tees, and long-sleeve linen shirts, as well as khaki cargo shorts and practical black slacks.
Comfort describes both Gordon’s designs and his take on life. He leans back in his office chair and talks as if he’s known me forever (or, at least, longer than a few phone conversations). He tells stories of raccoons caught in his townhouse attic, of his travels to Japan and Italy, of how the denim market is saturated and how linen is a great fabric.
And Gordon’s designs certainly are comfortable. He uses mostly natural fibers, and his shirts come in two distinct fits: the slim fit and the men’s fit (for the man with a slightly more rotund belly).
Finally, Gordon is decidedly unpretentious: his corner office sports plain white walls, glass doors, and a large rectangular desk, neatly stacked with papers.
His designs are similarly unpretentious; clearly, Gordon believes that less is more. With shirts and pants starting at $85 and knits at $40, his clothes are well made yet affordable. “Everybody can wear them,” Gordon says of his signature Martin Gordon line. “We’re not overdone fashion, but we’re a little hipper than most men’s lines.”
To Gordon, fashion seems to be natural instinct. “I was just drawn to it,” he says. At 18, unable to afford to go to college—or design school for that matter—the Los Angeles native took a job working as a retail associate for a men’s clothing store. He went on to become a buyer, but spent the bulk of his career in sales, learning about fabrics, tailoring, sizing, and even designing. “It taught me the nitty gritty of the business,” he says, “I started from the bottom and worked my way up.”
Ten years ago, he decided it was time to take “the big leap.” He invested every dime he had into launching Martin Gordon, even mortgaging his home. Scared? “Of course,” he says, “but I had confidence in what I was doing.” The company began as a shirt line only, but soon expanded to include pants, blazers, shorts, and outerwear.
Today, his company has an annual sales volume of close to $13 million. His full sportswear line is available in hundreds of stores across the country, including Nordstrom, Fred Segal, and, in Scarsdale, Rothman’s, where it sells very well. “Marty is everybody’s secret weapon,” says Ken Giddon, president of Rothman’s. “His is contemporary fashion at affordable prices.”
This summer, the designer launched a new line, Community, a more expensive line (shirts range from $135 to $195) and a more muted line that includes cashmere sweaters, linen pants, and light wool blazers. “We’re almost too inexpensive for some of our higher-end stores,” Gordon confides. “We brought Community out after seeing where the designer market retails. Most people buy a designer product after it gets marked down. So this line starts where the markdowns are.”
And what does the designer himself like to wear? He feels British and Japanese designers are among the most innovative and confides that his wardrobe is mostly made by foreign designers. His American designer of choice? John Varvatos, he says, once the vice president of men’s design for Polo Ralph Lauren.