21 March 2013
The Case of the Missing Rugby Training Manual
I was contacted this morning by one of the authors of the Rugby Habadasher Book. He asked that I not post the book and explained why. The reasons are valid but I'm not honoring the request for those reasons -- I'm honoring the request because he's the author and I sympathize with him. I have seen my photos and my words slapped all over the internet without so much as a, "how do you do." I also want to avoid litigation.
The Rugby Training Manual, or RTM, as I call it, was one of four books prepared for the original four Rugby stores. The author mentioned he has access to three of the books. Mine appears to be a second, maybe even a third, generation 'bootleg.' There are beautiful images, swatches, patterns and shirting to be sure. But the guts of the book are on page 11, which was posted yesterday. Read it. It's what Rugby was...supposed to be.
The early days saw a pure form of apparel but with slight tweaks. There were no visible logos on oxfords, unless you chose not to tuck your shirt, and the small skull and cross bones embroidered on the tail, in. Suits were half canvassed, made in the US (South Carolina) and similar to J. Press in every way but price -- costing a third less. Unlined ties, a personal obsession since buying a few in London, were not cheap in the retail shops, but plenty made it to outlets, along with a plethora of odd and not so odd bargains: My black wool cape ($25) and a cherished, made in Italy, Black Watch sport coat ($50) just to name two.
Back in those early days you didn't have to be under 25 to get what the store was about. Dusty Grainger dragged me to University Place (I'm uncomfortable shopping with any man but especially Dusty) in search of Skull & Cross black velvet slippers. I found a pair of the Hunter-Duck slippers that I had been searching for everywhere. That they were 50% off seemed like some sort of divine intervention. I had issues with an overpriced replica of an M-65 field jacket, made in China (the irony), and cheap surcingle belts but overall, I was a fan.
In 2010, something changed. The haberdasher was turning into a high street boutique. Rugby advertising was not only youthful, it was insipid and shallow. Boys were tricked out in 'outfits.' Rolled up critter khakis with too much madras. Too much Breton. Too much, 'too much.' Designer Burt Pulitzer told me, "For years I loved Rugby and then I'd go in the store and couldn't buy anything. And I was trying!"
A gutsy aesthetic was held up and mugged by some sockless, critter clad, Junior Mint. Some think it was the advertising people. Others blame the merchandisers. Still others insist Rugby was not allowed to tell their Habadasher Shop story and so they lost customers like me and Bert. What rarely gets mentioned was the anchor Rugby for Women had become. Ex-employees complain of women's bloated design staff and payroll while the look, a bit out there, was just not selling. Many grumble that had Rugby pulled the cork on the women's line... menswear would've been saved.
In the end? It actually mattered. As one employee told me, "We established with the competition that it could be done successfully." J. Crew knocked off Rugby via the Liquor Store. Brooks Brothers tried to knock off Rugby - knocking off Brook's original University Shop. Sadly, Brooks Brothers can't even knock off itself.
"Too many cooks in the kitchen." "Lost its way." One enthusiast thought it might be worth a couple hundred thousand to hire a big time consulting firm for a postmortem. That is, exactly why and when did Rugby fail. There are a lot of opinions out there and, in the end, we all wear clothes which I guess qualifies all of us as critics.