10 April 2013

Lunch with Clay Tompkins

Clay Tompkins by Bruce Weber, Interview Magazine, 1978 (click images to enlarge)

Clay Tompkins, UES Office, 2013

I had some time to kill before lunch with Clay (42L) Tompkins (online store here) and so I pulled into the Hermès men's store.  15 minutes, a rack of $2,200 cotton seersucker jackets and a handful of customers later (2 Rappers & a Russian) I left without one employee saying hello or even,  "Здравствуйте."  Odd since staff outnumbered customers by  5:1.  This shouldn't come as a surprise since Hermès started offering ties with matching pocket squares.

Waiting in front of the restaurant  I see Tompkins in a Covert coat, nail head suit and side gusseted Cleverleys.  We've only met once before but I recognize Clay and call out a greeting.  The restaurant is packed with the kind of  UES ROP that I find wanting west of Central Park.  Chanel and tanned --  St John and buffed -- They all spin their white iPhones on the white linen tables while sipping Pellegrino.  I wonder what's become of Perrier, order tap water and a salad.

Tompkins and I trade war stories of our single years in NYC. His, glamorous and mostly '70s.  Mine, mostly depressing and '80s.  I'll ask for some photos of the period and he'll respond  with a portrait from Interview Magazine (10/1978) by Bruce Weber and a  1976 Valentine's Day issue of Interview where he's French kissing Fran Lebowitz, who, in case you're as curious as I am, didn't seem to mind a little tongue in the least. I'm guessing this was pre-George Sand.

Clay recently left Wall Street and launched his own line, Clay Tompkins Menswear, last seen here.  For now, shirts (Mitch Gambert in Newark) and trousers (Julie Hertling in Brooklyn) with a navy blazer due any day.  Clay's buying so I get to work. 

Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Rumson, New Jersey, an hour south of the city.

What did your Dad do?
My father was a 40 year (to the day) active member ofthe New York Stock Exchange. He actually owned his seat for 71 years, from1936-2007.  Dad acted as an odd-lot broker with the firm of Carlisle & Jacquelin. The odd-lot brokers handled all orders less than 100 shares until DOT, Designated Order Turnaround, came in and made the job automated in 1976.

Any childhood sartorial obsessions?
I was brought up to wear shorts and shoes from the old Rowe's of London. I can still remember getting my first pair of long pants( age 7 or 8?) which were khaki with red flannel lining. I was pretty chuffed about them. But the real obsession came later. I bought a pair of black Gucci loafers in 1968, when Gucci was no more than a boutique with beautiful salesgirls in chocolate shifts. My parents discovered they cost $65 and I was made to return them. What's the song line, "The love I lost, is the true love," Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes? --  Explains the Cleverely obsession.

George Cleverley Side Gusseted Loafers

Your college and major?
Graduated from the University of Virginia with a major in English and Art History.

First job?
The Games department of F.A.O. Schwarz on the first floor, when it stood on Fifth Avenue where Bergdorf Men is now.

First wife?
One and only, Karen Rodolf Moody of Tulsa, Oklahoma. We met on Halloween at an apartment on 79th and Park. I invited her to come to Studio 54 with me, but she declined. Thought I looked " too dangerous". We will have been married 30 years on December 24th, 2013.

First suit?
Only guessing on this one, but probably Brooks Brothers. they owned the space back then.

How & when were you turned onto Poole and Cleverley?
A friend of 37 years, Sandy Spalding, who was and is a long-time customer of Poole, as had been his father, introduced me to Simon Cundey in 1998 and I've been a customer ever since. I met George Glasgow of Cleverley when he was working at New & Lingwood at the London store in 1976. We've been pals ever since. More blarney than an Irish pub, George. I became a bespoke customer later, I believe in 2000 or shortly before.

How many pairs of shoes do you own?
13. 11 Cleverely bespoke, One pair of knackered Belgian slippers and one pair of butterflies from Foster & Son (sadly just rain shoes now owing to the wear and cracking).

Favorite neighborhood restaurant?
I live between Park and Madison and over the past 5 years it's become a sort of columbarium of great fashion labels without street life...except Bel Ami on 68th off Madison. Run by Vanessa Laplaud, this little coffee bar/ restaurant has traffic that the fashion houses can only dream about. So I'm grateful for its existence and it must stand as my favorite restaurant even though it's really just a jumped up coffee shop.

Haven't worn any for years, but in my younger, more whimsical days, I wore Equipage by Hermès. She'll NEVER forget you if this is your scent.  They have a new cologne called " Poivre" which is about as good as you could ask for.

Can you cook? 
If lamb chops and Brussels sprouts counts, then, yes, I can cook. I took the girls to Doubles ( I became a Junior member when it reopened as the reincarnation of Raffles in 1976) and left the driving to them

Favorite cocktail?
Don't drink them.

Favorite wine?
My family would tell you, " any", and that's probably fair. But the best I can remember is Trimbach' s Clos Sainte-Hune, an Alsatian Reisling.  Debatably the finest white wine in the world.

Favorite car?
Aston Martin hands down. I've owned a DB4, an '86 V8 Volante and a 1980 V8 " Oscar India" coupe (so named for the fly boys vernacular for " October Introduction."  The V8's are a sensation and underrated gentleman's transport.

Clay's Shirts sans "Sicut Lilium"

Best shirt ever owned?
I think mine are the best, but I was quite proud of a few I had made in India years back with " Sicut Lilium" embroidered on the chest instead of my initials. This is the motto of Magdalen College, Oxford and means, "Always as the lily", i.e., PURE. Pretty cocky back then, I'd say.

New York Society Library

Best kept secret of NYC?
The New York Society Library (53 East 79th between Madison and Park). Despite the name, anyone can join. Has the most elegant Member's reading room on the second floor. The place was made for me when Barbara Feldon (Get Smart's Agent 99)  and I left together and stood under the awning waiting for a cab on a rainy day. It's nice to see your favorite celebrity a little seasoned.

The new blazer

What's next in your line?
A navy blazer.

What do you want for your covert coat?
Is this a trick question?  If not, $3000, for the trouble of replacing it.

Clay Tompkins Menswear
By Appointment Only
20 East 69th Street, Suite 4C


M.Lane said...

Wow, what a cool guy! He reminds me of Bartle Bull.


Makaga said...

Sounds like quite the interesting fellow. And the library! Wow, it sounds lovely!
Thanks, TinTin

Dallas said...

what is a "party pocket"?

tintin said...

M Lane- Son or the father? I told Clay that I didn't suspect he'd have even talked to a guy like me back in those days. Clay said he didn't talk to any guys back in those days.

Makaga- The ground floor is open to the public and membership is a bargain. It would be a no-brainer if there was a bar.

Dallas- I knew you'd ask that.

Smitty said...


M.Lane said...

The father. One of my favorite authors and I plan to ask him for a drink my next trip up.


Dallas said...

does your foresight earn one an answer?

tintin said...

Dallas- Hold onto to your Stetson. Will explain today.