This week at Michael’s lunch was the usual head-spinning scene with a flock of social swans (Denise Rich, Becca Thrash, Felicia Taylor), Hollywood types (Mike Ovitz) and media mavens (Barbara Taylor Bradford) all dining and dishing in their respective corners. I was joined today by Peter Manning (at right, in photo) and Jeff Hansen, co-founders of Peter Manning NYC, the fledgling online menswear company for the “not so tall guy” (they’ve trademarked the tagline) whose business strategy and subsequent success — “We’ve been in business for 36 months and we’re profitable!” proclaimed Peter — is yet another case study in why brick and mortar retailing is being left behind in the digital dust.
Dapper Peter (who made Vanity Fair’s 2015 International Best Dressed List) and Jeff (who at one time ran luxury brands La Perla and Frette and whose command of digital marketing proved the time and money spent on a Harvard MBA is well worth it) are clearly passionate about their brand. “The world doesn’t need another clothing company,” Peter told me. “But it needs this one.”
A bold claim at a time when everyone from baby boomers to millennials are forsaking retail therapy for anything experiential, but one that seems to be based in reality. Peter Manning NYC has a very specific customer for their classic American clothing which has been, up to now, largely ignored. The entire line (with tuxedos coming soon) is designed for men 5’8″ and under which Peter and Jeff are determined to make the next big thing. “Look at how Plus Size [in women’s sportswear] has become cool,” said Jeff. “It’s widely accepted as perfectly okay to be Plus-sized; if we could do the same thing for shorter guys, it would be the holy grail for us.”
I’d say they’re well on their way. Peter Manning NYC counts George Stephanopoulos and Michael J. Fox as clients. George even did a segment on Good Morning America about the collection. Peter told me they suspect there are other celebrities out there wearing their “made to fit” classics. “We see a lot of stylists, so we know there are guys wearing our clothes, but we’re not like Issey Miyake and [the clothes don’t] scream ‘designer! Our clothes feel like made to measure, but they are made to fit.”
With more than 30 million men measuring 5’8″ and under (including Peter and Jeff), there are plenty of guys, said Peter, that have been paying “the tailor tax” for far too long. “It’s very expensive to get clothing from places like Brooks Brothers and getting them tailored. Guys that don’t tailor their clothes wind up wearing chinos with cuffs dragging on the ground, baggy jackets and too long ties.” But, he added, in designing for the “not too tall man” is an art and a science and “is not just about chopping off inches from pants.” Everything from Peter Manning NYC is sized to fit. “Our ties are four inches shorter [than other menswear lines] so guys don’t have to make double Windsor knots or tuck their tie into their pants.”
Jeff told me actor Christopher Fitzgerald, recently nominated for a Tony for his role in Waitress, came into their Fit Studio in DUMBO earlier this week and left a very happy customer. “He said with all the events and lunches for the upcoming Tonys he needed suits and walked out with two of them that he bought right off the rack.” Peter feels that more celebrities wearing Peter Manning NYC on the red carpet would heighten the brand’s profile considerably. Of course plenty of ‘big’ stars like Tom Cruise are loathe to admit their small-ish stature. “There’s a stigma attached to it,” explained Jeff. “A lot of actors don’t want to admit they’re short.” Jeff believes that a different type of association with a celebrity could be of value. “More and more actors are looking for more of an equity partnership type of arrangement, which is something we might consider down the road.”
For now, Jeff said, their marketing and advertising efforts are all digital (“because you can actually track it”) with programs on sites like Primer, a digital magazine for the millennial man as well as other “men’s general interest” sites. The guys are also currently appearing in a commercial for M&T Bank as one of their small business customers. But, said Jeff, the biggest boon to their business has come from “influencers” with their own websites or YouTube channels. The guys paid Image consultant Aaron Marino $5,000 and sent him a box of clothes which Aaron then featured on his YouTube channel which snagged 100,000 (!) views. “You never know which ones are going to draw business to the site, but influencers on social media have become increasingly important. The right ones can have a real impact on the business.”
Both Peter and Jeff believe this type of endorsement and exposure have eclipsed traditional print media in terms of importance and impact. “We had two separate stories in The New York Times and a piece in The Wall Street Journal’s Off-Duty section. Ten years ago, that’s all we would have needed,” said Peter. “[But] people still hadn’t heard of us!” New media requires a very different strategy to connect long term with customers. “We get people from all around the world… everyone from college kids to an 85-year-old man who needs help placing an order because he doesn’t understand the Internet,” Peter said.
And Peter Manning NYC isn’t just satisfying customers. “Wives and girlfriends love us. They tell us, ‘My husband’s ass looks great in your pants!'”
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. A table full of gals celebrating something. The faces we recognized: Star Jones, Felicia Taylor and Denise Rich
2. Author Barbara Taylor Bradford (Happy Birthday!) and her husband
3. Fox’s Jack Abernethy and Russ Salzberg
4. Mike Ovitz and Keith Meister
5. Carl McCall
6. Tastemaker and author Steven Stolman with Hutton Wilkinson (keeper of the Tony Duquette flame) with his agent Lyn Schroeder and Baker execs Tristan Butterfield, Greg Heller and Trish Hayes.
7. Beverly Camhe and Miss America 2008 Kirsten Haglund who is in town this week to attend a UN summit. Kirsten, who told me she once battled an eating disorder, helms her own foundation to raise awareness on women’s body issues.
9. Kate Zamar
11. Katherine Farley
12. Michael Kassan
14. Linda Robinson
15. Jeffrey Beers
16. Peter Manning, Jeff Hansen and yours truly
17. Becca Thrash and Chris Forbes
18. LAK PR CEO Lisa Linden and George Lence
20. Beth Comstock
21. UTA’s Jeremy Zimmer
25. Bob Tobin
26. Alexis Mersentes
27. Quest’s Chris Meigher going over some important looking plans with some young guns we didn’t get to meet. Anyone?
Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.