Looking smart: Philip Soriano and Pranav Vora with their wares in the Hugh & Crye showroom
Soriano and Vora discuss designs for next year’s shirts
The Voyeur, a 120-threadcount cotton shirt with a tall, semi-spread collar and convertible cuffs
The tools of personalized shirting
Let’s play a game. Walk into your office and count the seconds until you spot a man who looks as though he went shopping in his father’s closet. It will not be long before you encounter more of them, with their extra-long sleeves, blousy bodies, and shoulder seams that could fit a linebacker. Most men tend to wear what is comfortable instead of what fits well and looks good. Much of the blame falls to standard men’s clothing lines, which tend to design oversize, ill-fitting clothes for a generic body type rather than catering to lean or athletically built men. So in 2009, Pranav Vora, frustrated with the poor quality, fit, and selection of off-the-rack men’s dress shirts, launched Hugh & Crye, a Georgetown-based upscale shirt maker.
Taking its name from the common law phrase “hue and cry” (seeking to increase awareness of a perceived injustice in the world), Vora’s brand has developed a smart-fit formula for men’s dress shirts based on two simple factors: the height (short, average, or tall) and the width (skinny, lean, or broad) of the torso. With one look at his chart, it is blissfully easier to identify which category a customer falls into than it is trying to play the online-shopping guessing game. “What I love about a dress shirt is the structure it provides,” says Vora. “A dress shirt is that happy medium between the support, shape, and formality of a jacket, and the comfort, ease, and versatility of a T-shirt.” Indeed, dress shirts can provide a level of sophistication without feeling overly put-together; you can throw it on with a pair of jeans and maintain a refined but casual look.
Vora grew up dressing well. His mother worked in a department store and she always brought home stylish pieces for him and his brother. This long-honed style sense is evident in the quality and look of Hugh & Crye’s collection—classic shirts with sartorial details and very modern fits rarely found outside the world of custom clothiers and luxury brands. And yet, Vora understands that with men’s clothing, the individual is still the centerpiece: He insists a man allow his outfit to “recede behind his personality,” so that others notice him before they specifically notice what he is wearing. “I met a guy a few years back who held his cash, license, and credit cards together with a thick rubber band,” Vora recalls. “No wallet. He did it because his father did the same. The guy had unbelievable class, and he defied any popular notion of what type of wallet a guy should keep on him.” This is the kind of detail that fits Vora’s ideal: that any man should be able to wear a great-fitting, high-quality shirt without having to feel he has become pretentious.
Hugh & Crye’s business is done primarily online—95 percent of its orders are placed through its website. The company recently moved from a small subleased office into a spacious studio in Georgetown, off O Street, that has been retrofitted as an all-in-one office, studio, showroom, and event space. Tucked away at the end of an alley, it reflects the brand’s aesthetic—clean and crisp, and, moreover, a blend of classic and modern, with accents like industrial rolling cabinets offset by a carved vintage Regency-style maroon settee.
Vora did not want to outsource inventory or logistics to a warehouse; he prefers being close to every product his company makes and being a part of the local retail community. Likewise, the local customer base enjoys coming in to pick up orders, and men often take time to chat with Vora and Philip Soriano, the head of operations and customer service. Vora is happy to oblige, his mission to teach men everywhere that it is not as overwhelming as it may seem to look put together every single day. “They want to know the people behind the places they shop,” Vora explains. “‘Who is Hugh & Crye? I like their shirts, but do I like them as people?’ To have customers that hold us to a high standard like that is very refreshing.” Soriano adds, “We try to personally handle each customer, even if it takes forwarding the company number to our cell phones. Ultimately, today’s consumer wants more than just a shirt. They want to believe in the people behind the product as much as the product itself.” According to Vora, it is part of a larger trend by which consumers have been moving away from larger, faceless brand names and toward smaller, atelierlike brands with which they can form a strong bond. “We’re customer-centric people, Philip and I,” he says. “We sell shirts, yes, but we’re pretty thoughtful people, and I think our customers like that in us.” 3212 O St. NW, 202-250-3807