X of Pentacles, the suit and accessories label founded by Marcel Ames, is one of a handful of Black-owned suit brands that operate in the tradition of Italian, made-to-measure and bespoke suit-making. The Quintessential Gentleman sat down with Marcel to learn more about his story and how he is bringing this more rarified way of dressing to a new audience of customers.
How did you get your start in fashion?
Honestly, I had a very interesting journey that led me to fashion. Before I started my business I was with the Richmond [Virginia] police department. However, I got a concussion during training and had to leave the department. Shortly after that I found my father dead in our home and learned that the house was also in foreclosure, so I had to figure out what to do next. Not having anywhere to live at the time, I had to move in with my girlfriend and while there I began to sketch.
Although I had worked at places like Paul Stuart and Saks [Fifth Avenue] while living in New York, I never saw fashion as something I could do as a career. It was my girlfriend who encouraged me to get a job in the fashion industry, but it was hard to break-in. Because of this I taught myself graphic design and sewing and found fabrics, eventually creating my own tie and pocket square line. Even now I still do all of the work on my website myself and I work directly with the fabric mills in England and Italy to create the clothing pieces.
How would you describe your style and how has that influenced the way you design clothes?
I would say my personal style is generally a mix of classic American, Anglo and Italian menswear, but leaning much more toward the Italian-Neapolitan aesthetic. When it comes to suits, I put a hyper-focus on tailoring and craftsmanship, but not necessarily embellishment. I leave the fun to the accessories, as they are much more artistic, and my influences range from Italian cinema to jazz artists.
Who would you say is the X of Pentacles customer?
When I was putting together business plans, analyzing the market and competitors, I thought my customer was going to be like me. I tried to shape the things I created, and how I approached the brand generally, through that lens. It has definitely taken a long time to get enough exposure to narrow down the type of customer I service. However, I would say my customer likes clothing that is different but tasteful and probably has an interest in buying quality products for every part of their lives.
How would you describe your business model?
My business model is direct-to-consumer, allowing the dollars to be reflected directly back into the brand. The suits I make are either made-to-measure, starting at $2,500, or bespoke, which start at $3,800. As a smaller brand, this is more economical than producing ready-to-wear collections, which requires a lot of capital upfront.
While I do both made-to-measure and bespoke suits, bespoke is a totally different beast and initially, I was not even sure there would be a clientele where I live that would be interested in buying bespoke. As an example of the difference between the two types of suits, my made-to-measure suits are created half by machine and half by-hand, while bespoke suits require three fittings and are made entirely by hand.
COVID-19 has had a huge impact on fashion and athletic-wear has become the main type of clothing most people wear daily. How do you see men’s fashion changing once the pandemic ends?
Ironically, prior to COVID-19, I had been working on made-to-order pieces that were more casual in style. However, since COVID began, my thinking around this has shifted. I've actually noticed that attitudes toward dressing have tilted back to wanting something more formal because people seem to have gotten tired of being in workout clothes; my customers are yearning to get dressed and go out to dinner. However, a spending pattern I do notice is that customers want to buy less, but spend more on better quality pieces.
Outside of spending dollars, what are some additional ways black people can better support black-owned businesses?
Spreading the word about our businesses is crucial. Recently, there has been a lot of press highlighting black-owned brands, which has given us new levels of attention. Publicity is important as it can also provide us with the opportunity to connect with people that might be willing to partner with us and/or help us grow our businesses.
What do you envision as X of Pentacles' future impact on the fashion industry?
I think the most important part is contributing to the conversation about revisiting the roots of luxury, especially in terms of menswear. If women can know the difference between a Coach bag and a Birkin, men should know the difference between a custom and a bespoke suit. The luxury landscape has been mostly driven by streetwear for many years now. Names or hype have become value propositions for what is deemed to be luxurious.
I see X of Pentacles helping to educate, but also swing the pendulum back to the core principles of craftsmanship, on which many luxury brands were founded. Sharing knowledge and shaping what defines luxury for menswear is where I see us making a contribution. There is a reason we diverge from crazy linings, multicolored buttonholes, monograms, and other eccentricities riddled among many suit options for men these days; they distract from the quality, or lack thereof, of the garments. We choose to keep our suiting details subtle to allow our garments to do the talking for us.
There is an Italian word called "sprezzatura," for example, that often gets misinterpreted in menswear. Many mistake it for "peacocking," or being flashy. The original intent behind sprezz' is a display of nonchalance and effortless style that is subtle and non-contrived. We would like to push that philosophy here in the United States - that tailored clothing doesn't have to be boring, but it also doesn't have to be over-the-top.