It all started in 1923 when master tailor Lesser Samuelsohn migrated from New York to Canada, where he put down roots and began manufacturing high-quality men’s suits.
Fast forward to today, and the company Samuelsohn established remains headquartered in Montreal and produces finely crafted menswear that is carried by more than 200 retailers in North America. His family continued to be involved in the business until 2010, when his grandsons sold it to Grano Retail Investments, an investment and advisory company headed by Stephen Granovsky, who became chief executive officer.
Granovsky, who also helms the Luxury Men’s Apparel Group, still operates a factory in Montreal, where it makes hand-tailored full canvas Samuelsohn suits from fabrics sourced from the finest European mills. As a nod to its heritage, the tailors still sew a red heart under the collar of every jacket, referencing the company’s longtime tagline: “We Sew a Little Heart into Every Suit.”
In recent years as the world became more casual, Samuelsohn expanded beyond its core of traditional suits to offer more-casual options such as suit separates and luxury sportswear along with shirts and sweaters. And the factory, which employs 500 people in Montreal, produces for other brands as well, including Paul Stuart.
The situation got a little sticky earlier this year when Luxury Men’s Apparel Group lost the longtime license to produce Hickey Freeman to Peerless Clothing. To replace the business, Granovsky launched Heritage Gold, a tailored clothing collection designed by Aliya Morehead, creative director and senior vice president of design and merchandising, which is also being produced in the Samuelsohn factory in Montreal.
That line, as well as the Samuelsohn collection, will be on display at the Chicago Collective this week, and to celebrate the centennial, Granovsky will host an event Monday night at Gibsons Italia Rooftop Bar. There will also be a birthday party in Montreal in September for the company’s employees.
“Less than 5 percent of companies make it to their centennial, so this is a tremendous accomplishment,” Granovsky said. “Some of our retail customers have reached 100, but it’s not easy for high-end manufacturers. So this is incredibly special.”
As part of the celebration, Samuelsohn has created a special collection called Iconics and has tapped actor Chris Noth to be the face of the campaign. Noth, who is widely recognized as Mr. Big in “Sex and the City,” is perhaps a controversial choice since he was accused of sexual assault by four women in 2021, leading to his dismissal from his role on “The Equalizer.” He has denied the claims, however, and was not criminally charged. “The accusations against me made by individuals I met years, even decades, ago are categorically false,” he told CNN at the time.
Granovsky said that while he was aware of the allegations, he believes Noth was the right choice to front the Iconics campaign. The actor donated his fee for appearing in the campaign and together with Samuelsohn, committed to donate up to $100,000 to Mental Health America and the Canadian Mental Health Association.
“We thought long and hard about it,” Granovsky said, but the fact that Noth is so committed to mental health causes sealed the deal. “This is not a celebrity-driven brand but we had the opportunity to pair with a celebrity who wanted to commit his fee to mental health, which is special. And he looks better in a suit than anyone I know.”
But is Granovsky concerned that using Noth may alienate some consumers? “As the CEO of a large apparel company, I worry about everything,” he said with a laugh, “but I can’t let that sway me. He is supporting mental health and he shows off the product very well.”
He continued: “We’re always been a product-first company but we wanted to build a campaign as a coming-out party for Samuelsohn. We’ve always been a bit of an unknown gem. We don’t compete with the Italians or sell to the majors; we focus on menswear stores where our exposure is less, but the customers are extremely loyal. We wanted to create a campaign to change that dynamic so we approached Chris and took on the issue of mental health.”
“It’s an honor to partner with a company that has been in existence and supporting men for 100 years,” Noth said about the partnership. “On average, over 6 million men suffer from depression per year in the United States, and through this collaboration with Samuelsohn, we aim to raise awareness, drive positive change and provide support.”
Iconics, which was designed by Morehead, will launch this month on the Samuelsohn e-commerce site and in select stores. It consists of 10 pieces inspired by designs from the 1920s that have been elevated and modernized to meet the needs of today’s consumer through contemporary design and fabrics.
“We’re merging the Roaring ’20s with the principles of modern dressing,” Granovsky said.
A larger Iconics collection will be offered as part of Samuelsohn’s “By Design” made-to-measure line during select trunk shows in September. Overall, made-to-measure represents more than one-third of the company’s sales so it continues to be a critical part of the business.
It’s already gaining traction. Harry Rosen, Samuelsohn’s largest customer, has purchased items from the Iconics collection, Granovsky said, and several other independent stores have signed on for trunk shows.
The line centers around tailored clothing, ranging from suits and sport coats to outerwear. Key pieces include an unconstructed blouson chore jacket in a Prince of Wales black-and-white check; a flannel suit created from Zegna’s recycled Loop wool, and a double-twisted wool travel blazer that Morehead described as a “sophisticated” option for day-to-night dressing. Other pieces include a heritage jacket with an exaggerated peak lapel in a houndstooth; a classic chalk-stripe suit updated with bold stripes; a double-pleated pant with side tabs; flannel trousers in a range of colors; a double-face half-lined wool camel overcoat, and a high-performance suit in stretch wool.
Prices are in Samuelsohn’s “sweet spot,” averaging $1,500 to $2,000 for off-the-rack, and higher for made-to-measure.
To promote the line, Samuelsohn just relaunched its e-commerce site and will also promote the line on its social media channels.
As it looks back at the last 100 years and toward the future, Granovsky said that despite the recent challenges of creating high-end tailored clothing in a casual world, business is good. “Our sales in 2022 were the strongest in 25 years,” he said.
While the loss of the Hickey license was undoubtedly a blow, the Heritage Gold collection was received warmly by retailers and as a result, 80 percent of sales were retained, he said. Granovsky also managed to transfer his commitment to the Hickey Freeman factory in Rochester, New York, to Tom James. Granovsky had purchased the factory from Doug Williams, the one-time chief of Hickey, in 2013, and sold it to a real estate developer last year. He signed a long-term lease with the new owners to retain 77,000 square feet for the Hickey Freeman Tailored Clothing facility, which was renamed Rochester Tailored Clothing. The deal with Tom James was completed at the end of last month.
The shift to focus on Heritage Gold also allows Samuelsohn to better control its future rather than being controlled by the demands of a licensee. But finding staff for its factory continues to be a challenge.
“Last year, we were only able to fill 85 percent of the demand,” he said, adding that “recruiting is hard” for factory workers, but he was able to pick up some workers from another plant that was closing and train them in the manufacture of tailored clothing.
So as he looks toward the next century, Granovsky is upbeat and is eager to embrace Samuelsohn’s past as well as its future. “At Samuelsohn, we believe that clothing can be a powerful means of self-expression. And when a man looks great in a suit, he feels great too,” he said.
In the next 100 years, he envisions a future where Samuelsohn is “sold worldwide wherever fine tailored clothing — maybe even women’s — is sold through every channel imaginable but all of it produced in Montreal by the grandchildren of our great artisans.”