J. Lawrence Khaki’s of Carmel Wool/Cashmere Trouser Review
Though I often appreciate the finer things in life like a double pour of top-shelf bourbon (Pappy 20 please), a nicely seared chunk of foie gras (I know, I’m a terrible person), a bottle of Puligny-Montrachet’s finest (I speaks teh French?), dinner at a multiple Michelin starred restaurant (some day I’ll go to The French Laundry), etc., I am myself rarely availed of the opportunity to do so. Frequent readers of this blog know me as a budget conscious shopper, whose wardrobe consists mostly of clothing that has been worn by stylish men (albeit generous and/or dead ones) before me. Although that’s been my angle since starting this blog, and to it I remain true (just peep the $15 PRL by Corneliani jacket and $3.50 Etro tie here), the popularity of the blog (thanks to all of you!) has afforded me some opportunities to try new clothing that is beyond my regular price range, but not beyond that of a good number of my readers.
Today’s review is of one such luxury product: J. Lawrence Khaki’s of Carmel’s wool/cashmere dress trousers.
I don’t really own any dress trousers. As you know, I’m mostly a sport coat and chinos kind of dresser, but it’s not for want of a solid pair of dressier pants. I’m rarely moved to look at trousers when thrifting, and on the occasions that I’ve found nice ones from the likes of Incotex, Zanella, Brioni, Borrelli, Luciano Barbera, and so on, they’re generally in a fit that is more classically proportioned than my tastes run. Those I generally buy and then sell. But that transactional approach to thrifting pants, combined with many hours being the weird guy in Barneys, Bloomingdale’s, and Neiman-Marcus fondling trousers from Kiton, Isaia, Zegna, Cucinelli, and others has given me some insight into the details one can expect from a high-end dress pant.
On this front Khaki’s private label does not disappoint. The fabric is sumptuous, and no detail appears to be spared in the construction of the pant. This is a revelation in today’s market, where internet and social media hype for a new brand can help cushion a deficit in quality. Or, conversely, the well-established reputations of storied brands can be an inducement to cut corners to maximize profits. Carmel, CA’s clothier J. Lawrence Khaki’s approaches the manufacture of their private label garments from the opposite end; they’re a longstanding and well-established brick and mortar business in the world of menswear retail, but are beginning to assert a stronger presence in e-commerce. As such, they have a reputation for quality built in the old-fashioned manner, by word of mouth and a product that has to back up that spoken bond.
As an avid thrifter, one gets to see the evolution of various companies’ products change over time. I can tell you that as a general rule of thumb, garments from large-scale very famous manufacturers have gotten worse in quality over the last few decades. The integrity of the fabrics slips. The attention to detail deteriorates. The level of construction begins to erode. The tangible expressions of love that used to infuse each garment have evaporated.
I’ve seen this myself time and again, and have waxed elegiacally about this loss with others who are true veterans (real veterans, not ‘I got my start when tumblr went live after reading StyleForum threads for a month’ kind of veterans) of menswear; guys who remember in crystalline detail a time when Ralph Lauren still made the best chinos around out of fabric so robust and expensive that he had to abandon it because the margins were too small for a then budding empire.
These guys brighten up when they look at the dress trousers I received from Khaki’s. They can’t believe the quality of the wool/cashmere fabric used in the pants. They’re amazed by the shirting cloth used to line the waistband and construct the pocket bags. They’re floored by the stitching that holds everything together. ‘This,’ they say, ‘is how they used to make this stuff in the old days, the better days…’ (sure, maybe, but you have to admit people were way more racist back then…)
It’s not a surprise that this is the reigning sentiment among the veteran menswear enthusiasts who’ve seen these pants. Jim Ockert, who owns Khaki’s with his wife Connie, is himself a veteran of the menswear game having cut his teeth in the men’s tailoring department of Nordstrom when they used to sell the best suits around. When Jim decides (as he did with his private label offerings) that he wants to create clothing that revives the integrity of men’s clothing from decade’s past, he knows what he’s talking about because he used to wear and sell that stuff. He’s not peddling a saccharin mythology for young guys about a bygone era that can only be resuscitated by growing a mustache, wearing a severe side part, and buying $600 pants made in Brooklyn. He actually knows the kind of ethos that formed the bedrock of those garments’ production, and he’ll be the first to tell you it wasn’t built around hype. It was built around the integrity inherent in producing an excellent product that represented value (and this is different from cheap) to its target consumer.
While the Khaki’s dress trouser is far from inexpensive (it retails for $345), it is a wool/cashmere pant that costs less than some cotton pants from the likes of Incotex, Brunello Cucinelli, and Luciano Barbera. It was designed by a person who went to the manufacturer in New York (who is known for making suits for Hollywood movies and television shows famous for their sartorial splendor) and said ‘I want to make a great pant, not a cheap pant mind you, but one that represents a value to the customer who will be spending hundreds of hard-earned dollars on them. Corners can’t be cut in their manufacture, and I want it to have special details that will make its owner proud to wear them…’ On this, I have no doubt that Khaki’s has delivered the goods.
I am told that Khaki’s will be expanding its e-commerce soon to include clothing (right now only shoes are available online), but for now, if you stop in to the store you will not only be greeted by the man who designed and stands behind these pants 100%, you’ll be treated to old-fashioned customer service that can’t be replicated on the web—any garment purchased in-store is eligible for complimentary tailoring to ensure a fit that you love.
* I recently rewatched O’Mast, Gianluca Migliarotti’s lavishly stylized documentary about Neapolitan tailoring, and there’s a scene where a tailor speaks about the world’s finest wool’s ability to be scrunched up into a ball and uncrumple itself sans wrinkles. The photos above were taken after a full day of work in the Khaki’s trousers, and they were as smoothly creased as they were when I put them on eight hours earlier. The unsightly wrinkles near my left shin in the bottom left picture were a consequence of the slight breeze going on at the time.