Tangled in Ivy, with a Twist

Critical Shopper ARMAND LIMNANDER OCT. 25, 2007 I’VE always thought of myself as a self-consciously boring dresser. For as long as I can remember, my uniform has consisted of polo shirts, V-neck sweaters, dark jeans (preferably with an ironed-in pleat down the front) and sports jackets. For excitement, I occasionally allow myself Hockney-esque color combinations, boldly printed socks and interesting shoes, like my shiny patent leather Top-Siders. A journalist friend was once kind enough to compare, in print, the way I look to “a pervy geography teacher from the 1970s.”It was with equal parts anticipation and trepidation, therefore, that I approached the Gant store on Fifth Avenue and 51st Street. I can still remember the Gant basics I wore as a preteen: no-nonsense plaid shirts and striped sweaters I associate with algebra classes and furtive cigarette puffs in parking lots. Until recently, I didn’t even realize the label had lived on.The three-story building, which reopened a few weeks ago after extensive renovations by the architect Annabelle Selldorf, is sandwiched snugly between Versace and H. Stern, presumably to lure students into picking up a polo shirt ($59.50) while Mom inspects the plunging necklines and aquamarines next door. Pleasantly harmless pop music plays just loud enough to engage young customers without alienating the middle-age European tourists selecting hooded sweatshirts ($99) for the kids back home.Ms. Selldorf’s no-nonsense facade, made of stainless steel and cobalt blue back-painted glass, sits comfortably in its surroundings. Inside, the main attraction is a clean, circular white Corian staircase that feels sculptural and fresh. The front area is devoted to more formal clothes; the collegiate staples are relegated to the back, where the décor rehashes the cinematic fantasy of idyllic 1950s Ivy League life. Striped rugby shirts ($115), bright argyle vests ($79) and varsity jackets ($135) are displayed among hardbacks with irresistible titles like “Criminal Law and Its Processes” and scattered steamer trunks — because as we all know, students are like so into ocean-liner travel.Still, there are plenty of subtly tweaked classics that are as relevant now as they were 50 years ago. Jeans come in various states of distress, but the best are deep indigo without washing, whiskering or ravaging of any kind ($165). In an era of ubiquitous 12-ply cashmere, the zip-collar lamb’s wool sweaters ($125) feel masculine and substantial; a brown Prince of Wales blazer is updated with a functional quilted nylon zip-up vest that can be attached to the lining during winter months ($795).AdvertisementACCESSORIES include woven leather-trim canvas totes ($375) and sturdy wingtips ($245), which are perfectly correct except for the annoying logo stamped on their side. The stiff striped ties ($95) should find an audience among young Republicans who still lament the demise of Arthur Andersen.The basement area is devoted to Rugger, a line a salesman described as “trendy.” This translates into faded denim jackets ($235) and shirts ($115), camouflaged cargo pants ($148) and blazers made of patchwork tweeds of different colors ($295), similar to a style Ralph Lauren showed a couple of seasons ago.AdvertisementTrendy or not, it’s hard not to notice that, even downstairs, the shirts and jackets on the mannequins are severely pinned in the back. In recent years, masculine tailoring has veered sharply toward shorter and slimmer proportions (the Pee-wee Hermanization of men’s wear), and it’s hard to imagine that the college athletes the store so enthusiastically hopes to entice are in need of a gastric bypass. Gant recently collaborated with the downtown store Jeffrey on a more form-fitting, fashion-forward line, but those items are not available in its own flagship. Why not give the core customers the benefit of choice?“The clothes are what they are,” decreed my shopping companion, whose taste runs more toward esoteric creations by barely-out-of-school designers from Northern European countries. “But the mini-Guggenheim on the second floor is totally lame.”The peculiar quasi-gallery in question is dedicated to the history of the brand. There is text on the walls next to a procession of vitrine vignettes illustrating the styles of decades past, with mannequins attired in painfully stereotypical ensembles. (The 1980s display features a businessman in a clown mask and pinstripe suit, smoking a cigar and standing on a pile of fake $100 bills.) Those diligent enough actually to stop and read that Bernard Gant emigrated from Russia in 1914 and settled in New Haven in 1927 will find themselves blocking traffic to the children’s and women’s floor upstairs.There, the men’s offerings have undergone miniaturization and gender reassignment. Tots age 4 to 11 desperate to land an early corporate internship can wear pint-size button-downs ($69) and blazers ($350); the olive green mini-aviator jackets ($198) might come in handy if there is a draft and the recruitment age is dramatically lowered. For women, there are Wellesley-worthy tweed overcoats ($645), thin cardigans ($215) and a sleek black-belted trench ($395).On a second visit to the store, I adjourned to the fitting room with a monumental pile of clothes in tow, determined to see whether Gant could find its way back into my everyday wardrobe. The pale blue corduroy pants ($145) stand a chance, as do the cotton-check shirts ($135) and Fair Isle sweaters ($125). Most of the outfits I tried on certainly looked professorial enough, but there was an indescribable something missing. Then it dawned on me: no matter how hard I tried, I could not find even the faintest hint of perviness.A version of this article appears in print on , on Page G4 of the New York edition with the headline: . Order Reprints| Today's Paper|SubscribeWe’re interested in your feedback on this page. Tell us what you think.See More »

Tangled in Ivy, with a Twist 1

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