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J. Lawrence Khaki’s of Carmel Private Label F/W 2013

Last winter I headed down to J. Lawrence Khaki’s of Carmel for the first time. I’d seen it consistently listed in Esquire Magazine’s list of top menswear retailers in the country, but I rarely make the three-hour drive down to Carmel-by-the-Sea as the town’s coastal charms bear little relevance to my day-to-day life.

As luck would have it, Gus (abitofcolor.tumblr.com) was a frequent visitor to both Khaki’s and Carmel and invited me along on a trip to shoot some pictures for our blogs, and I jumped at the chance. I snapped so many pictures during that first trip that I still draw on them when I’m strapped for some new pictorial content for the blog almost a year later.

Long time readers of this blog may remember my reaction to the store, its owner Jim Ockert, and the bounty of menswear goodness I saw there. But if not, you can read about it here. Needless to say, I was pretty impressed. The variety of merchandise carried in the store was stunning, and the one hundred or so mannequins personally styled by Jim Ockert were a true sight to behold. I think the amount of clothing on the mannequins alone were enough to make up the stock of a small menswear boutique.

Since Khaki’s is located in a famed tourist destination, the shop stocks everything from resort-style sportswear to the rarest menswear labels from around the world. But don’t be mistaken, the store’s stock isn’t determined only by the clientele that frequents it. Jim Ockert is a master curator (I’m no fan of this term when it comes to merchandising menswear, but think it truly does apply here), and his vision for the store produces a vast array of items that speaks to any one who walks into the store, and it helps them find clothes and brands that they wouldn’t otherwise have known they’d want in their wardrobe. This year I saw amazing outerwear from Inis Meain, Gimo’s, Grayers, Allegri, and others, and great pants from Hiltl, Masons, Incotex, and more. It was astounding.

Jim Ockert loves color, and every season colors are on full display. This isn’t the type of store where the season dictates the color palette. Fall and winter garments are available in both the more muted hues commonly associated with colder weather, but also in bright heavy cashmeres and amazingly bold tweeds. But this is stuff that has become well known about Jim Ockert and J. Lawrence Khaki’s Carmel. What really blew me away this time was the expansion of the Khaki’s Private Label clothing.

Last winter I was impressed by the iconoclastic tweeds Jim had chosen for the Private Label sport coats, and by the careful detailing that went into the cotton khakis and wool trousers under the house label. But it all looked like a cautious start to something that might be great. This time, I was floored by how far the Private Label line had come in just a year, and indeed by how great it had already become.

Though Khaki’s stocks the latest and greatest by both well-known and rare labels, it was the J. Lawrence Khaki’s Private Label clothes that really wowed me on this trip. The new Khaki’s Private Label jackets come in three cuts, and are made by two of the remaining great tailoring establishments in the U.S., Martin Greenfield in Brooklyn, NY, and Adrian Jules of Rochester, NY.

There’s a ‘British’ cut that has a structured shoulder with slight roping, a ticket pocket (unflapped for a nice touch), and double vents. I tried one on in a very heavy 16 oz. bottle green cashmere (a weight that almost makes it like outerwear) that was incredibly luxurious and surprisingly agile considering its weight.

There’s a more Neapolitan-inspired cut that features no shoulder padding and three patch pockets, which I tried on in a beautiful black (I know!) cashmere. And there’s a ‘neo-American’ cut that features a more natural shoulder, a slightly roomier cut (akin to Canali’s off-the-rack offerings) and a jetted ticket pocket for some flair, which I tried on in a wildly decadent navy vicuna.

Khaki’s Private Label pant line has expanded too, and I tried on a couple of pairs in their new trimmer fit in a heavy wool Donegal fabric, and also in a beautiful brushed cotton that manages to be both rugged and refined. It’s similar to moleskin in its warmth and slightly matte look, but more elegant in its finish such that it can be work appropriate in all but the most formal of settings, and will likely hold up better over time.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was about these sport coats and pants that stood out, so I asked Jim Ockert what drives him in the decision making process about his private label. He responded simply by saying, “I want to give customers clothes they won’t find anywhere else.”

While I believe what Jim said is true, it didn’t help me much in trying to understand what set the collection apart from the stuff I see on my tumblr dashboard every day, or what I see when I go into the city to window shop. When I pushed him on it, Jim told me that he begins with the fabric (not a surprise). He chooses limited run fabrics from some of the finest mills in the world like Loro Piana, and then, assured that the product will stand out, moves on to the details that will give it the Khaki’s touch. I think that’s what best summarizes what’s going on with Khaki’s new Private Label offerings: rare and bold fabrics, unique details born of Jim Ockert’s colorful tastes and long career in men’s retail, and a variety of cuts that will fit almost any size and taste.

If you haven’t already, go check out Khaki’s of Carmel. I’d hurry to go see the Fall/Winter offerings before they’re rotated out, but I’ve no doubt that the precedent being set here is that each season will outshine the previous one…

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