How did you get into menswear?
I think my first big influence was the movies. The bright, primary colors of the suits in /Dick Tracy/, /Batman/ and /Who Framed Roger Rabbit/ really struck a chord with me. So when I decided to get a job in high school, I started looking for something in fashion, specifically menswear. I really wanted to learn more about these kinds of clothes, and how they change the way men present themselves.
Can you imagine Dick Tracy in acid-wash jeans and flannel? The strength of his character was enhanced by his black suit and fedora. I wanted to explore that part of myself; I wanted my clothes to help me become the man I knew I was. That’s why I started working in clothing stores when I was 16.
So how long have you been working in menswear?
I got my first job at Men’s Wearhouse in 1996. At that time, the typical teenage boy was wearing baggy, bleached jeans, backwards baseball caps and t-shirts in the brightest colors imaginable. It just wasn’t me — not at all.
But when I got that first job, and started to see all of the possibilities in tailored menswear, I realized that I didn’t have to look like a heavier version of one of the Backstreet Boys. It really opened up a new world for me. I realized that I had some control over how I looked — I didn’t have to choose from one of four colors of ultra-relaxed jeans. There were thousands of beautiful fabrics that I could use to create clothes that made me feel good about myself.
In many ways, menswear helped me find myself. It gave me a set of tools that allowed me to take the man inside and give him a voice. And that’s still true. Whether I’m playing drums or dancing or showing fabrics, I’m using my clothes to tell people who I am, and how I feel about myself. And I think that’s what I give my customer. I show him how to take the picture in his head — the picture of who he wants to be — and design clothes that help him realize that vision.
Why did you decide to create Established Sartorial?
I’ve worked in locally-owned stores — one in Virginia and Capra & Cavelli here in Austin. I’ve also worked for mass retailers, including Nordstrom, Brooks Brothers, Jos. A. Bank and Dillard’s. I have experience at every price point. I’ve tracked every trend in cut, style and fabric for more than 20 years. It was time for me to take the next step.
You know, clothes were the first way that I really found to express myself — to show people who I am and what I can do. Developing my own brand gives me a completely different set of tools that allows me to do the same for my clients.
Established lets me work in a completely different way; I can do much more than take orders for custom suits. I can help men build a wardrobe that takes everything they are into account — where they work, the kinds of things they like to do, where they live, even how they move. My wardrobe consultations — one of my favorite parts of the process — can really transform the way a man dresses.
I was always happy to work with clients as a salesperson, and I still maintain a close relationship with Capra and many of the people that mentored me over the years. But with Established, I feel like I can do so much more. My goals extend far beyond the cash register. I want to build relationships with my clients that last for decades, and help them present themselves in the best possible light.
How did you pick the name “Established?” How does it describe the vision you have for your business?
It’s all about the feeling a man has when he achieves his dreams. We tend to dress up for the big occasions in our lives — graduations, job interviews, weddings — the moments when we finish one part of life and begin another part. And when you do that — when you get the promotion or create a new family or win an award — you establish who you are in the minds of other people. You “establish” a part of your identity; you tell the rest of the world who you are. So the name really came from that feeling.
What about the bear? How does the bear represent your business?
The bear is named after a famous jazz drummer, “Big Sid” Catlett. He’s one of my musical heroes — a big bear of a man. He was known for his flexible style. He created a critical juncture between the older, more military-style and the bop style that followed. He was also known for the green plaid suits he wore onstage — he was a real showman. He wasn’t trying to hide behind his drums or disappear in the back of the stage.
Sid never really fit into a simple category. He knew he had something to offer, and he wanted people to take him seriously, just like my customers.
So Sid the bear represents your customer?
If you look at mainstream menswear advertising, you see a bunch of clean cut, size 42, expressionless guys in their 20s and 30s. But that’s not the typical man — not even close. I dress guys of every size. They work in every field. But all of them have something they want to say — something unique. My goal is to use clothes to help them express their individuality, not to fit them into some kind of socially acceptable mold.
A lot of men don’t even know what a great suit can do to change the way they look and feel — it’s about so much more than “dressing up.” A well-cut suit can broaden a man’s shoulders and narrow his waist, helping him achieve the classic “V-shape.” It can emphasize a muscular torso or slim down a man with a few extra pounds. And I think this is one of the benefits of custom tailoring that men just don’t realize — a good cut can highlight physical traits that you want to emphasize and minimize those you don’t. And the opposite is also true. Put a man in an oversized, poorly cut suit and he’s going to look far heavier than he is. We’re so used to covering up in sweats and jeans that we don’t realize how much good clothes can do to enhance our appearance and our self esteem.
And, you know, I was like that for a long time. But I decided to take control of my life, and to change my life. I began swing dancing about 16 years ago, and I’ve worked to bring swing events to Austin for the last 10 years, including the Austin Lindy Exchange. I started my own band, the Waller Creek Vipers, and we just finished our first tour of the East Coast.
But, you know, I had to develop courage to do these things. I had to be willing to be myself instead of what other people told me to be. I had to change the way other people thought about me and how I thought about myself. Clothes were one of the tools I used to find myself.
Is that an important part of your process — changing how your customers feel?
Absolutely. When a man feels more confident he walks taller. He talks a little different. The way you look can change how you interact with other people. It can make people take you more seriously; make it harder to dismiss you. Most of the time, we don’t think “He’s wearing a well-cut suit.” The impression you make doesn’t always reach the point of conscious words. But it’s there, nonetheless. If you look like a leader, people are more likely to follow.
And I’ve had this experience with clients over and over. Somebody will come in and say, “<<get real quotes from Victor here; include photos if possible>>
Investing in your appearance can pay all kinds of real-world dividends, just like investing in your health or your education or your relationships. The reaction to the rigid rules of fashion that dominated the first half of the 20th century was an explosion of ready-to-wear and a less restrictive set of guidelines for every social space — the workplace, weddings, and everything else. And that’s great — we should all be allowed to dress the way we want to dress.
But we lost something in the transition. We lost the ability to create our own clothes — to choose cuts and fabrics that suit where we live and the way we want to look. Fast fashion also limits what we wear; we’re restricted to whatever the major manufacturers choose to sell us.
Self-expression is freedom. When you create custom pieces — when you build a wardrobe that enhances your frame and speaks to your personality — you can enjoy the best of both worlds.
I really love how you tied your brand to your story. So what’s next for you? Where are you going to take Established Sartorial?
I want to change the way that young men feel about clothes and about expressing themselves. Suits have become more associated with an older crowd, and I think that’s a mistake. Young men miss out when they don’t understand the pleasure of dressing up and enhancing the way that they look. So I’m reaching out to a younger demographic. I’ve become a member of the Young Men’s Business League and served on the events committee for the Austin Under 40 awards.
I’m also exploring the future of menswear. I think the pitfalls of mass-market fashion are becoming more apparent — especially its impact on the environment. I believe that custom clothing is gradually aligning with the maker movement. I see small, local designers gaining a foothold. I want to begin providing a platform and an audience for small-batch runs in eclectic fabrics, like you see in JCRT or Blade & Blue. Don’t be surprised if you see some custom fabrics at Established in the next few years.
I think there’s a lot of opportunity in the shifting menswear market. Young men are tired of being pressured to look like everyone else. They see conformity as a relic of a more restrictive society. They understand the benefits of quality over quantity, and they’re more interested in expressing themselves. These trends are changing fashion, and creating opportunities for creative solutions. I think it’s a really exciting time for Established Sartorial, and a great time for men to establish themselves. I’m so happy — and so blessed — to be a part of that.