If you know Andy and Tim Bell, you know not to bring up cell phone holsters or chinos in conversation while in their presence. Just uttering those words will likely cause a thunderous lecture on clothing etiquette and style.
“Cell phones are not an accessory!” Tim says, complaining about the pitfalls of the current all-too-casual societal norm.
In 2005, the Bell brothers founded Hartland-based House of Carrington LLC, a clothing company focused on their opinion that people should dress for the moment and wear quality, timeless designs. The Bells believe people should love their lives while living in style.
The House of Carrington upscale clothing designs are gaining national recognition in the highly competitive fashion industry that does not often embrace newcomers to the stage.
House of Carrington clothes are now sold in about 70 independent, high-end specialty stores across the nation, including Milwaukee-based Roger Stevens Menswear, and at more than 230 country clubs and resorts, including Pebble Beach in California and the Ritz Carlton in Jupiter, Fla.
The House of Carrington clothing designs are reminiscent of the 1920s and 30s, when Western societies had a distinct type of outfit deemed appropriate for various occasions. For men, that usually meant the requirement of at least a coat and tie.
“Fundamentally today, men (and women) don’t see the difference in their activities, their daily routines,” Andy said. “But if you sat back and looked at your life, there are little moments all the time, and I think that is the key people need to understand. Dinner with your wife should really be a moment. And it should require you to do something more than put on your chinos.”
House of Carrington clothing is designed for the sophisticated, clothes-conscious, affluent male, although Andy and Tim believe every man should aspire to that level of style and appreciation for clothing.
“We are big believers in timeless fashion. Permanent style, I guess, would be the best way to describe it. Silhouettes change and models change, but a coat that you buy from us today should generally be with you for a lifetime. You don’t have to worry that you bought a pair of man capris and next year they are out of style,” Andy said.
“Probably, the No. 1 selling item in the sportswear world today is the chino pant. We don’t make one,” Andy said. “We fundamentally felt like we needed to be dressier and better. So our basic pant is a wool gabardine trouser made out of Italy.”
The House of Carrington wool gabardine Italian trouser retails for $295. That is quite a step up from the run-of-the-mill chino pant of about $50.
“I think people have appreciated that real clear point of view from us,” Andy said.
House of Carrington has been selling its clothing lines to retailers since June of 2006, but the clothes have only been available directly to the consumer for about six months.
Based on the response from both the consumer and retailer markets, House of Carrington would more than double its seven-figure revenue in 2008 and at least again in 2009, Andy and Tim said.
In the next five years, Andy and Tim plan to increase the number of specialty stores that sell House of Carrington clothes to between 150 and 200. They plan to increase the number of country clubs and resorts carrying their lines to 1,000.
“I don’t think we are going to change the world, but we do see a trend toward traditional, classic if you will, and I feel like we are taking the lead there,” Tim said.
Fabric for House of Carrington designs only comes from four Italian mills, Andy said. Each piece, whether it is a sweater, knit shirt, trouser, tailored clothing or sport shirt, is manufactured by a company in Europe, Italy or Asia that specializes in that specific piece.
Each seasonal collection is based on a color pallet inspired by a fabric or a place in time, with the idea that a man with any taste could put together an outfit from the collection, enjoy it and most importantly, feel comfortable wearing it.
The clothing purposely evokes the feel of the 1920s and 30s, a time when “details mattered,” Andy and Tim said.
The Bell brothers are making an impression in the fashion world.
Charles Garone serves as show coordinator for The Collective, a trade show held in New York every January and July to showcase a select number of designer’s new wares, which subsequently shape industry trends. The show is juried, which means designers and wholesaler products like the House of Carrington are screened for need in the marketplace, design and integrity before gaining entry, Garone said.
“As soon as I met (the Bell brothers), they came in with a couple of samples and a sketchbook and the whole package was so tight, the quality was fantastic, the look was beautiful and timeless, I knew they were going to be very successful,” Garone said. “Their branding is brilliant. So many talented people just hang a tag on their designs. People don’t understand the importance of branding.”
House of Carrington’s reception in the marketplace has been positive because of the quality and design of the clothing, but almost equally because of the integrity of the company and the amount of financial and sweat equity that Andy, Tim and the sales staff have put into the company to properly launch the collections.
The clothing designs are a fresh take on timeless, and the branding draws attention to the company’s identity while making shopping, and getting dressed, fun.
Andy previously worked as a sales manager for New York-based Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. for 10 years. He moved back to his home state of Wisconsin about three years ago to help Tim sell his fire protection business. After looking at the clothing industry as an outsider, Andy spotted a niche in the marketplace and the beginning of a trend toward sophisticated, accessible luxury.
“Coming into a market where every image, every ad is cargo shorts and things that are washed and distressed and beat up, (we would cater to) a forgotten customer,” Andy said. “Everybody was trying to be young, hip and cool themselves to go after this younger audience, and no one wanted to go after the 35 to 55-year-old guy that doesn’t necessarily want to be hip and cool. He wants to be modern and current, but classic and timeless all at the same time. To me, that was a clear gap in the market from a product standpoint.”
With Andy’s contacts and experience in the marketplace and Tim’s financial investment and entrepreneurial expertise, the brothers forged a partnership and tested their idea at the drawing table.
Within the six-month time frame that House of Carrington has been on store shelves, a business owner from Arizona purchased a shirt from the company’s Legend clothing line and soon after purchased 200 more to give his managers as gifts.
A Philadelphia man purchased a Legend knit shirt at another resort, went to the company’s web site, found no distributors in Pennsylvania and called the company headquarters to figure out how to get more.
American Honda Motor Co. Inc., based in Torrance, Calif., used House of Carrington knit shirts from the Legend line as gifts for participants in The Honda Classic pro-am golf tournament this year.
For the 2007 AT&T Classic in Atlanta, House of Carrington set up a shopping experience on the driving range. Every participant received a $500 gift certificate to spend on clothing or other gold vendors present.
The Legend clothing line is also making the grade with industry experts.
Marty Hackel, fashion director for New York-based Golf Digest Publications, a division of Condé Nast Publications, has known Andy since he worked for Ralph Lauren, but believes House of Carrington’s sensitivity to the consumer market and quality of product have given the clothes intrinsic value, and will make Carrington a household name.
“We are believers,” Hackel said, speaking for Golf Digest Publications.
Hackel used House of Carrington’s Legend clothing line in a recent photography shoot for the cover of Golf Digest Index, a lifestyle special issue of Golf Digest magazine that will be unveiled in October.
“Good quality always survives,” Hackel said. “Good style always survives, and (Andy’s) design is very, very tasteful. I think if you were handicapping them like a racehorse, you know they are going to be in the money before long because (their clothes) are really good quality. I think that is so important.”
Ed Several, vice president and general manger for PGA Golf Exhibitions, based in Norwalk, Conn., has hosted House of Carrington as an exhibitor in the PGA Fall Expo and PGA Merchandise Show for two years.
“House of Carrington has a proven track record within the golf industry as well as a distribution within the Golf Channel,” Several said. “They are already considered a very strong and solid brand within the golf community.”
Steve Schroeder, president and owner of Roger Stevens in Milwaukee’s Pfister Hotel, has been a fan since he first heard about the House of Carrington line two years ago. Schroeder was interviewed when Hanson Dodge was researching the challenges companies face when breaking into the retail industry. Schroeder is currently the exclusive retailer for House of Carrington in Wisconsin.
“I have been in this business for 40 years, and I have seen a lot of collection launches,” Schroeder said. “When I saw what this company had done, I was really impressed. House of Carrington instantly said, ‘exciting, refreshing.’ The infusion of not only the product but the story line is something our industry desperately needs right now. The industry has been groping for something to hang its hat on that is exciting, new, the next best thing, and House of Carrington not only sensed that, but filled the void very quickly, probably more so than they realized.”
The House of Carrington operating formula is 51 percent great product and 49 percent customer service, Andy said.
“With everything we did with the branding, the product, it was very important to us that we gave off a great first impression,” Tim said. “We wanted that impression to be, ‘Wow. Where have these guys been?’ I think we have accomplished that. Now, it is working on continuing to build the brand, but building consumer awareness. We want everybody to have our shirt on their back, their favorite trousers. Once we get the consumer talking about it, we’ve won.”
House of Carrington LLC
Leadership: Tim and Andy Bell, co-founders
Headquarters: 1100 Cottonwood Ave., Hartland
Web site: www.houseofcarrington.com
Market: House of Carrington clothes are now sold in about 70 independent, high-end specialty stores and more than 230 country clubs and resorts.