Thanks to the internet, anyone can surf over and buy a salty barrel-load of excellent pieces from WHARF Clothing & Wares, New England’s sweetest little purveyor of beautifully-crafted and curated nautically-oriented menswear and accessories. In fact, the eagle-eyed fashion bloggers at Selectism recently highlighted the company’s own line of shirts–not once, but twice.
If you’re not within spitting distance of Providence, however, you’ll be bummed to find that you cannot visit the store in person. Robert Babigian is a Rhode Island native, so his two retail locations are in in this, the tiniest state and tinged with its long (and I mean centuries-long) sailing history. Just last week I was on RI’s Block Island, where I lounged on a part of the shore that the woman at the Visitors’ Center said was teeming with shipwrecked boats! New England is not messing around with its storied past.
I went to check out WHARF a few weeks ago and was (wicked) impressed. The store has a classic, timeless feel. The WHARF brand is beautiful and precise, and Babigian’s vision is clear–contained in its seafaring/gentleman’s workwear touches, but not gimmicky. He was, in fact, manning the counter himself, and brought a level of honest enthusiasm that I can’t imagine in a bigger city, despite the fact that WHARF would fit in perfectly in New York or LA.
His store is for gentlemen/women/people, and its clear that the mannered elegance of the place is a direct result of the guy running it, who graciously and expertly answered my questions about style, utility, and fashion philosophy–and also sent me some fantastic pictures of his favorite new acquisitions this season.
Presumably you could have set up your brick-and-mortar store in New York, LA, San Francisco. Why Rhode Island?
Oversaturation! But in all seriousness, RI has been ripe for a long time for a men’s store that has a true sense of itself that places like NYC, San Fran and other bigger cities have had for a long time. And we’re the Ocean State–we have this great history as a port of call dating back to colonial times, but also now this great creative vibe in Down City Providence that is fresh and relatively new, especially to visitors. Combining that past and present felt very relevant to me. And I am from here, born and raised, with lots of my own aesthetics and selection being influenced by that upbringing. There’s no place like home!
What is your favorite aspect of menswear right now?
I think, for me and for the store, the intimacy of it. By that I mean, there are all these great people working VERY hard on various brands–both large and small–but there is this amazing commonality, a shared sense of purpose that makes it a small community that is very supportive of each other. It’s not the “Project Runway”-projected pomp and circumstance that people think of the fashion industry. It’s a hell of a lot of creative and smart people doing what they love and trying to drive retail commerce. Business at its best (and worst).
What is your favorite piece in your store?
[Enter advertisement for WHARF brand here] Kidding aside, it is very hard to pick favorites because I buy for the store based on what I like and would want to wear. There is nothing in the store I wouldn’t wear. That said, certain pieces grow on me more over time and some others fade. And you’ll probably see that from season to season, buy to buy.
What is your style philosophy and how does it intersect with Wharf? Utility of the thing is more important than the thing itself. You have to outfit yourself for your life’s work (both in pursuit of labor and leisure). And everyone has different demands placed on their pursuits and how they need to meet said functional demands on their wardrobe (and the stylistic element as well). I don’t care if your belt is hand-crafted, polished with diamonds, and dipped in gold. If my cotton web belt holds my pants up and I love it and it works for my daily life, THAT’s what’s important. And it says as much about me as your gold-dipped one. That does not mean I won’t go out and drop money on a great pair of shoes. Balance in your style and wardrobe is key, and I think WHARF exemplifies that philosophy- utility and balance.
How do you define style? To each his own.
A Few of His Favorite Things
Some great new inventory at WHARF, and why you should blow your hard-earned cash on Robert’s finds.
Robert: The brothers behind The Hill-Side, Emil and Sandy Corsillo, have become great friends and they always have a unique sense of fabrics and color and execute them beautifully. This discharge print pocket square is but one example of their line of ties, scarves and handkerchiefs that just work with everything in your wardrobe.
Robert: I met Matt Baldwin early on in my store’s development- before it was really even a store. He had faith in me before anyone else besides my family that I could pull off a store and website from RI. And his denim line is a staple. The latest California wash (shown in the Reed) is a great lightweight denim and perfect light color for Summer that oozes a cool a vintage vibe.
Robert: Another good friend- Billy Moore, created Cause and Effect–a line of accessories like his popular River Belt–soaked and pounded in a river in the Smoky Mountains, tanned in the sun and hand-pounded hardware–as sturdy a belt as you will ever find.
Robert: People don’t think of Timberland when they think of unique footwear. But that’s because a lot of folks do not know about Boot Company–Timberland’s higher end, vintage-inspired line. They make some classics like this take on a chukka (and its, sister Counterpane oxford) that are perfect season after season. Add to that this fall they brought some manufacturing back to the States and it is a line that deserves more attention.
Robert: THE suit this summer. A blended seersucker in tone-on-tone navy. Perfect for a summer wedding and the toile shirt without a tie makes a statement. I bring in Shipley & Halmos suits every season because: a) Sam (Shipley) and Jeff (Halmos) consistently produce this suit’s fit season after season in a variety of fabrics and b) it fits me to a T. I never worry about not having the right suit for any occasion.