Jake Vintage, popular with Hollywood's male elite, turns to shirt-making
Some years ago at the Alfred Dunhill men's boutique in Beverly Hills — when there was still a humidor upstairs — a man walked into a room of cigar-smoking sirs flaunting a new $600 shirt he'd bought from Ascot Chang. Jonathan Kanarek, owner of Jake Vintage in Los Feliz, recently recalled what happened next:
“Check out my new dress shirt,” the man said.
“Dude, that's not a dress shirt,” Dunhill's humidor manager responded, echoed by the other men: “Not a dress shirt.”
“Yes it is,” said the man.
“No, it's not,” said the manager.
After some back and forth, “OK, why?” asked the man.
The manager walked up to the man and slapped his chest pocket. “What's that?” he said. “You're going to put a pack of Marlboros in there? Dress shirts don't have pockets!”
“Dress shirts don't have pockets,” echoed the room.
“Dress shirts don't have pockets,” continued Kanarek back inside his Hollywood Boulevard shop, "because if you're wearing a suit, the thought is you've got enough pockets on you.”
As he told the story, Kanarek was wearing a retro green suit and a new pocketless shirt of his own design that he began to sell at his store recently. Though the shirts aren't vintage like the rest of his boutique's classy men's fashion from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, their inspiration was: two pieces of 1960s Sears and Roebuck deadstock he found at the Rose Bowl Flea Market. Kanarek took the shirts' basic design, stripped it of the pockets and placket, added standard-size rounded barrel and double cuffs in homage to the British manufacturer Turnbull & Asser and kept the collars short. The fabric is soft but resilient super 120's sea island cotton, single-needle tailored. At $150 each, in two and a half weeks, Kanarek sold out his first run of 50 and has been working his way through his second.
After three years of owning and operating Jake Vintage, tucked just east of the busy Hollywood Boulevard and Vermont Avenue intersection, Kanarek is showing some staying power. He was one of Esquire magazine's 2007 best-dressed real men in America, a 1960s’ style expert on the special features portion of “Madmen’s” Season 2 DVD set and has garnered a pretty decent client list of Hollywood A-listers — Brad Pitt, Kiefer Sutherland and Ryan Gosling, to name a few.
The shirts are his first foray into designing and he said he was pushed into it out of necessity.“I'm a rule guy,” he said, “You got guys wearing [narrow] cuts and then these big Paul Smith British collars and ties and everything, and I'm like, 'You can't do that.' So, really, the main reason was to complement the suiting that is popular right now… It goes back to one of the principles of the shop: It's all about fitting the frame, knowing yourself and confidence through looking your best. And guys are trying to do their best, but they're a mish-mash, a Frankenstein of stuff together. So I said, 'All right, you know what? We need a great, great shirt to match what's going on out there.’”
He also realized that his larger clients were having trouble finding vintage shirts to fit their frames: “So I'm like, all right I'll build it.”
Since the runs are kept small Kanarek said he can adapt quickly to uncommon sizes with each new order. He has begun working with his Hong Kong manufacturer on a sample book of fabrics with different colors and patterns that will work within the same price range and shirt template. Also in development are a couple of Jake Vintage-brand suits inspired by American and British post-war designs — done the “old-fashioned way,” he said, with floating panels to give drape and movement — which will likely be released this year and sell for under $800. About 2%, he estimated, of his original product sales will be donated to the nearby Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
“I focus primarily on timeless classic apparel,” said Kanarek. “I tell people, you don't have to throw away your magazines, you don't have to stop your trendsetter-buying but you will be called upon one day to do the speech or what have you and you'll need a good suit to do it. And what's out there ain't gonna cut it.”
And when that day comes, whatever you do, don't wear a shirt with a pocket.
-- Colin Stutz
Photo: White collared shirt by Jake Vintage. Credit: Jake Vintage.