The try on, the stitch and The Wardrobe
Lee Osborne chronicles a Wardrobe in SW19 that’s a gateway to a magical land called sartorial Narnia
I’m a strong advocate of independent menswear retailers, particularly ones owned by astute and passionate menswear aficionados like Benjamin Eng. The native American opened the doors to his luxury menswear emporium in London’s affluent Wimbledon Village in November 2016, having initially established an online retail business eHaberdasher.com.
Eng’s love of menswear can be traced back to the days when he worked in his local haberdashers in Montclair, New Jersey. The 14-year old’s eyes were exposed to a veritable sartorial feast, and proved to be the formative years of his appreciation of true quality in classic menswear. Brands such as the now defunct Sawyer of Napa with their butter smooth leather jackets, world-renowned shoes by Allen Edmonds and superlative silk by Robert Talbott clearly left an indelible mark on his teenage psyche. Therein heralded a love affair with menswear that has seen him go on to work for Ralph Lauren and Nordstrom.
Play on words though the headline of this story may be, stepping inside Ben’s store truly is akin to entering sartorial Narnia – granted, there’s an actual wardrobe immediately to your right, but you don’t have to make your way through the back of it to realise your dreams. The sartorial bounty is already laid out in front of you. It’s rare that you find a menswear store that can pretty much take care of all your needs under one roof. One that can kit you out, literally head to toe:
Need a hat to stave off the icy wind chill? Take your pick of 4 colours of The Wardrobe cashmere beanie or a Battisti flat clap perhaps. Shirt? Choose from 33 styles under two of Ben’s own shirting labels: ‘Benjamin’ sartorial shirts made in Romania, or ‘Wardrobe Wimbledon’ label manufactured in Poland. Tie? A mere 417 colourways to select from. Trousers? Any one of 9 grey or charcoal flannels manufactured in Napoli Sports jacket? I’m struggling to choose a highlight when the store is literally overflowing with them, but, a particularly strong point for me is Ben’s sports jacket offering – available in limited numbers, to paraphrase Ben in a ‘once they’re gone, they’re gone’ scenario – the culmination of various cloth buying expeditions to Biella in Northern Italy’s illustrious cloth milling heartland. When I visited, there were 14 styles (boasting among others, luxuriant Lora Piana and Brunello Cuccinelli cloth) from Benjamin’s own label and Neapolitan brand Bella Spalla Pocket squares? Divine offerings in silk are a steal at £30 Knitwear? How about a camelhair shawl-collar cardigan or lambswool cable knit both milled in Hawick in the Scottish Borders. Or perhaps a half-zip silk/cashmere blend sweater? Underwear? Sure, from Sunspel Socks? Only the finest Bresciani, Sartorialee’s favoured sock brand, and Corgi in 74 colour ways, including rather wonderful depictions of the English countryside Shoes? That’ll be Carmina and Carlos Santos Topcoat? 5 different styles from Bella Spalla Scarf? Wool, cotton/linen or silk in 30 variations from Battisti Napoli. Need I say more? Well, yes actually. It doesn’t end there. Ben has started to roll out his made to measure offering which he says is “a very big (and growing) part of our business”, offering full and half canvas suits, jackets, waistcoats and trousers.
“granted, there’s an actual wardrobe immediately to your right, but you don’t have to make your way through the back of it to realise your dreams. The sartorial bounty is already laid out in front of you”.
What sets Ben apart is his customer service. He imparts honest guidance drawn from his encyclopaedic oracle of menswear and is not afraid to tell you (in the nicest possible way, usually over a cup of tea) if he thinks a particular item of clothing either doesn’t suit you, or fit as it should. He will happily advise exactly which alterations are needed so that you can brief your tailor, or arrange for them to be sent to his. There are no hard sell tactics here, just heartfelt informed advice.
Beat a path to this unsung hero and be sure to tell him I sent you. The sale is still in full swing so you may still catch some of the above-mentioned stock at discounted rates.
How to get there
From Vauxhall (Victoria Line) catch the South West Trains overland to Wimbledon. It’s a 15-minute walk up Wimbledon Hill Road if the weather’s nice, or hop on the number 200 bus (Raynes Park) to The Ridgway, Wimbledon Village.
18 The Ridgway, Wimbledon, London SW19 4QN; 020 8605 9000; thewardrobewimbledon.com