Title of Work is showing off its “craftsmanship” chops.
The men’s accessories brand founded by creative director Jonathan Meizler in 2011 opened its first retail shop on Tuesday in New York’s Lower East Side. Before this space, the brand was sold only online and at retail partners like Barneys, Nordstrom and Harvey Nichols. The small space is filled with Meizler’s latest collection, “Innocence Lost,” featuring his signature embroidered ties, sterling silver jewelry and illustrations by Lauren Nassef, anchored by a long table made of poplar and a stark black and white color scheme.
But the most notable element of the space is a large pane of glass in the back of the shop, putting the work process of Meizler’s team of artisans, who design and produce nearly every product in the store, in plain view of customers. The men and women working on the accessories are surrounded by piles of needles, long strips of raw fabric, rolls of measuring tape and computers full of designs and reference images.
“There are a lot of people that really understand and care about craftsmanship,” Meizler said. “With words like ‘craftsmanship,’ when you hear them so often, you become numb to them. We are trying to take some of that numbness away.”
Meizler calls this model “transparent retail.” In an era when customers can get anything and everything shipped to their doorstep in as little as a day from the many faceless purveyors of goods Amazon works with, Meizler is hoping customers longing for something a little more authentic (to use one of those dreaded buzzwords) will be drawn to viewing the actual hands and faces of the people who make their goods.
“I’m fortunate I have not made any sacrifices to do this, since we were already manufacturing most of the items in-house anyway. Manufacturing in New York over the last 10 years has gone down significantly. I was looking for a tie manufacturer recently, and I was looking all over because mine went out of business. In the ’80s, there used to be 200 of them; now there are two. I decided to just bring it all in-house. We have more control that way.”
This model is one that has been adopted by a few other brands. 3×1 Denim has its entire manufacturing process encased in glass for customers to gawk at when they enter the Soho store, for example. But Meizler does not think of this setup as a gimmick.
“We did an installation at the Cadillac House with CFDA that was very experiential, and that was a wonderful experience,” he said. “But this is more of a straightforward environment. What we have is people actually creating the pieces, and that is not a gimmick or a marketing tactic. It’s just part of the brand.”
Walking through the space and talking to Meizler, one is sold on the idea. The design side and retail side of the brand, along with Meizler’s physical presence, are so closely linked that it is hard to imagine this model scaling very far. But it currently enjoys a healthy relationship with major department stores including Nordstrom, Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman, and is getting set to launch at Neiman Marcus.
“I don’t know if I could support another space in this style, since we design and create everything here,” Meizler said. “We’d need a whole other team. I’d have to be there.”
While Title of Work is planning on opening retail stores in other countries around the world, Meizler is content to leave the current space downtown as the sole Title of Work retail space in the country for now. The brand already works with some powerhouse fashion retailers, so why try to compete with them? At a time when seemingly every brand is feeling the need to shift away from wholesale and toward more direct retail, Meizler prefers to practice professional restraint.