By Kayla Loy
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
Growing up on a farm near Lebanon in Central Kentucky, Crittenden Rawlings watched his father dress, and “always had a love” for good clothes, he recalled.
|Rawlings in his store (Lexington Herald-Leader photo by Tom Eblen)|
Rawlings started designing clothes in his teens and spent decades in men’s clothing design and merchandising, concluding with eight years as president and CEO of Oxford Clothes, which has the “most famous suit in America for hand tailoring,” he said.
He was “bored to death” at Oxford and retired to a Mercer County farm, but was prompted to get back into the trade by a “ridiculous” increase in the price of men’s suits, he told Kentucky Monthly magazine three years ago. He developed his own line, selling his clothes to retailers all across the U.S. But he didn’t like having all his clothes in a warehouse, so he decided to open a retail store.
Rawlings knew there had been a men’s store in Midway, Logan’s, that had done well before it moved to Lexington, so he decided to open Crittenden and Co. in a building at the corner of East Main and Gratz streets in Midway five years ago.
“We’re very happy with the progress we have made,” he said. “We sell a lot of famous horse people, executives, from many walks of life.”
Basketball coach John Calipari and NFL quarterbacks Brett Favre and Tim Tebow have worn Rawlings’ clothing. Calipari couldn’t be reached for comment, despite repeated attempts, but his patronage of the store is no secret.
“We still get people to walk in here and say they understand we clothe Coach Cal, so it’s been a huge assistance to our business,” said Rawlings.
Rawlings, 76, thinks customers keep coming back to his store because it’s “small and intimate.”
“They’ll say many, many times that they enjoy the experience of shopping here ’cause it’s small and they get attention,” he said.
“I think the retail has changed so dramatically in the world today that it’s a pleasant surprise when people walk into a small store like this where we understand our fabrics, we understand our clothing, and we can tell them a lot more about the product than many, many stores can give or do give to their customer.”
Rawlings said he strives to give “outstanding customer service” and “offer the consumer great style, classic style, classic American style, and offer them a very good value. I think our clothing is an outstanding value in today’s world of clothing. We use great fabrics, it’s very good construction and it’s not terribly expensive.”
Early in Rawlings’ career, he received mentoring from well-known fashion designers such as Norman Hilton and Ralph Lauren.
Rawlings worked for Hilton in the mid-1960s, who is known for his work with the Ivy League look.
“He had brilliant taste in style, and so he was a great mentor to me in my early days of getting into design,” said Rawlings.
He said Lauren taught him “high standards in taste and quality,” to “never waver” and to “always design what you believe in.”
Because Lauren sticks with his beliefs, “Ralph is the greatest designer,” Rawlings declared.
Rawlings’ work is also inspired by a suit from the Duke of Windsor, which he copied while at Oxford, buying items from the Duke’s personal wardrobe at a Sotheby’s auction in New York.
“I love the construction of those garments, so when I started my company I used that code as the standard of what I do,” said Rawlings. “And what I love about it . . . it’s light construction and very comfortable to the consumer.”
Rawlings makes most of his coats with full French face construction, which is very light in nature. Tom Eblen of the Lexington Herald-Leader described it this way: “Outer material is wrapped inside the front to provide enough stiffness. Only the sleeves are lined. Body seams are piped with silk.
There is no other lining except two triangles of silk on the shoulders. The style makes jackets lighter and cooler.”
Rawlings said, “For today’s lifestyles, dress coats have changed so dramatically I think it’s a much more practical construction.”
The Crittenden store mostly sells sport coats and trousers. The suits are mostly custom made, ranging from $900 to $2,000 while the sports coats range from $395 to $1,295.
Silk and linen fabric are used for the jackets in the spring and summer. In the fall, primarily 100 percent wool, 100 percent cashmere, and 100 percent camel hair are used. Crittenden trousers are cotton and fine wool and priced from $155 to $295.
The racing and horse industry boosts Crittenden’s business. April, May, September and October, key months for racing meets and horse sales, are four important months – so much that their total comes close to the total sales of November and December, which historically are the largest two months of retail sales in the U. S., Rawlings said: “Horse industry helps our business greatly.”