As we walked up Vallejo Street in North Beach toward Caffe Trieste, our coffee hunt took a turn when we set sights on Al's Attire, kitty-corner from our destination. Street appeal is more than good windows, clear signage, or a familiar logo — it's about a feeling and tone that draws us into a space, because there's something undeniably unique and/or compelling.
Situated on the corner with floor to ceiling windows, the nearly 4000 square foot San Francisco store has a fish bowl quality. Part retail space and workshop, vintage-inspired off-the-rack apparel and accessories serve as inspiration for custom hand-crafted men's and women's hats, shirts, ties, dresses, coats, and shoes.
It would be easy to mistake the merchandise as vintage until you start to read the hundreds of personalized shoe and garment labels of previous and current clients on display above a sewing machine.
As fans of all things bespoke, custom, and personalized, it's hard to find fault in the stores merchandising and easy to understand why retailers such as All Saints use similar props to portray a heritage theme. But Al's Attire is the real deal. Shoe lasts, fabric bolts, and leather swatches are all displayed among hat blocks and cutting tables as part of the working atelier. The assortment strikes a balance between need and want — merchandise and display.
All of the handsome clothing and genuine merchandising would just be art without the stellar customer service, craftsmanship, and attention to detail. During our visit, Al Ribaya and his team worked together to inform clients on materials, findings, and trim that would best fit the desired look, while still meeting their strict construction standards. At the shoe fitting pictured above, Rene took a combination of measurements and photos, along with drawings to ensure that every detail and input was accounted for during a nearly 60 minute shoe consultation. To say that Al is meticulous is an understatement.
A quick search of the internet proves that we're not the only customers enamored with the attention to detail. The list of clients and collaborations range from international musicians to thespians — event planners to a San Francisco based American jeans manufacturer. In chatting with Al, it's obvious that each customer and order, regardless of the magnitude, receives the same care.
As mass market retailers continue to offer a less than authentic representation of craftsmanship, it seems to us that businesses like Al's Attire appear more differentiated by simply staying the course and being true to their brand vision. We think that the growth opportunities in menswear, combined with the uptick consumers desire for an genuine narrative, make true craftsmanship like that at Al's Attire shine.