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A Store in Brooklyn Reminds Men to Take Risks

Emily Andrews for The New York Times 

AT THE CORNER of Smith and Butler used to be Smith & Butler, a motorcycle-friendly outpost of manhood that was one of gentrified Brooklyn’s first bro-tiques. The vibe was rugged, a little foreboding. There were never quite enough clothes to fill the space. I used to try mightily to buy something there but never quite could.

That was the Smith Street of, oh, five or so years ago — a time before men’s wear blogs (interesting ones, at least). A thoughtful, higher-end men’s store was as likely to be found there as in Bushwick. But the neighborhood is changing, in coughs and twitches. Now Smith is a strip walked by middle-age men whose first loyalty is to their family and young men whose last loyalty is to their liver. (Or is it the other way around?)

Surely these man-children need clothes, which means that WP Lavori, which recently took over the Smith & Butler space, isn’t a lonely, aesthetically idiosyncratic outpost, but a wide net cast over all the men of the neighborhood — the editorial assistants, the assistant editors, the associate editors, the senior editors, and whichever of the deputy editors still choose to live in Brooklyn rather than cram themselves into West Village one-bedrooms with their suits and their Corgi.

Which is to say, there’s not much need for adventure here, and there’s not much on offer. WP Lavori is a store operated by a conglomerate. A refined conglomerate, but a conglomerate all the same. (Sprinkled around the store are copies of the Rizzoli tome “Thirty Years of Research in Style: WP Lavori in Corso.”) That means it has to sell you on its humble brands as earnestly as its aspirational ones: This is a store without redheaded stepchildren.

That’s great news if you’re in search of a classic. You could do worse than the quilted parks by Spiewak ($375), which are slim and warm, and would likely go well with a pair of slip-on Blundstone boots, which are like Uggs for male poets. Barbour Bedale jackets ($379) are here, as are Baracutas ($390) in a variety of colors.

These are jackets that can go either way: Worn smartly, they’re forward-looking, but worn lazily, they serve only to give a slouchy man some shape. Often, these sorts of jackets are relief pitchers called in to save an otherwise yawn-worthy outfit.

And perhaps that outfit came from this store. There is more cardboard-plain Woolrich here than you might be able to bear to look at, if looking at clothes is the reason you shop. If the reason you shop is because you have a body that needs shrouding, and believe that a nice, sturdy sweater is the solution, then by all means take in these functional, often bland clothes.

And yet, dig deeply in this store, and you see the gap between Brooklyn as it is and Brooklyn as it might someday be. WP Lavori is one of a handful of local shops that sell Barena, beautifully crafted and comically expensive. I loved a puckered black cardigan ($690), among other more intimidatingly priced pieces. (There were also striking Barena pieces for women, in the front of the store.)

On the sale rack was a clean-cut Harris tweed blazer by Beams Plus ($465) suitable for the Princeton Club. And the store carries various accessories, though none are more appealing than those great, thick, richly-colored socks by Anonymous Ism ($35).

In this constantly revising part of town, WP Lavori has company, sort of. Epaulet, the neighborhood’s still-reliable early adopter, is a few storefronts over with its pricey shoes and affordable pants. The block currently hosts a macaron pop-up shop. (Better than LadurĂ©e!) Bird is nearby, doing for women — allowing for safe risk-taking — what this store does not do for men.

In its fundamental conservatism, WP Lavori serves as a reminder of what’s not in this part of Brooklyn: any sense of risk. So tame is the store that a jacket that comes from an unlikely collaboration of Barbour and Adidas, one with an electric blue sleeve, done partly in leather ($799), practically glows like neon amid the navy and the black and the earth tones. (The rustic looking sneakers are notable, too, though maybe not quite lovely.)

I’ve visited this store a handful of times over the last four months, and perhaps because of the dryness of the offerings, I find myself returning to one piece time and again: an unstructured trench by Engineered Garments that’s got a whiff of the military-esque long coat Kanye West wore on the Yeezus tour last year.

Every time I go, it’s always there. I know it doesn’t really fit me, but I always try it on. It needs to be rescued, given a good home, reminded that love is possible. I wear it for a couple of minutes, and then I put it back on the rack, leaving it to taunt all the men of the neighborhood who know what they need, and know just as well what they’re afraid of.

WP Lavori

225 Smith Street, 718-855- 4295;

Black on Both Sides An outpost of fashionable conservatism in a neighborhood in flux, WP Lavori has a sobriety that makes it appealing to novices and an emphasis on detail that triggers cognoscenti.

The Beautiful Struggle WP Lavori sells its own heritage-minded brands alongside some riskier companies, which means that sometimes the house lines become like white noise, hard to see.

Reflection Eternal The men’s staff in particular is extremely knowledgeable and friendly. In such a large space, they often seem happy to have someone to talk to about all the clothes surrounding them.

December 17, 2014
Critical Shopper

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