For those in search of basic black, Jay Kos’s Nolita store is not the place to be. Kos is a designer who lives for colour and likes to work with the most rarefied of textiles. Underlying all his creations, however, is a serious respect for classic tailoring, and the bulk of his output is exquisitely handmade in Italy and France. “I opened this store five years ago, moving from Park Avenue,” he explains. “My strategy during the 23 years I’ve been designing has always been the same: stick to traditional menswear patterns and silhouettes.” This is, after all, a gentleman’s outfitter for a discerning customer – albeit one where clients are greeted with panels of banana-adorned gold-leaf wallpaper and green-glass cartoon monkey light fittings.
Clearly, there’s a subtle wit at play at Jay Kos. The designer’s logo is a monkey in a bowler hat (“because fashion is too serious, and monkeys have fun”), used sparingly, embossed on a duffel bag here ($1,800) and repeated as links in an ID bracelet there (from $4,500 to $60,000). It’s no surprise that rap star P Diddy cites Kos’s boutique as his favourite in the city, Johnny Depp is also a client, and the designer has a loyal following among businessmen. They love his classic unlined navy blazer (from $2,800), conspicuously fitted, with a soft shoulder. “I always make it in a hopsack cloth,” says Kos. “The texture ensures it won’t be confused with a suit jacket. You can take it anywhere and wear it with anything.” The traditional blazer is also translated into navy‑blue velvet ($4,500) with a single button, while timeless pieces with a rock ’n’ roll edge include a stiff black leather Moto jacket ($5,500) and tuxedo trousers ($895) in pale blue with a dark stripe.
“I only make between one and 15 of each design,” says Kos, pulling a multicoloured, one-off woven leather suit ($18,000) off the rack. “Also, I don’t work to seasons, because I think that stifles creativity.” Pieces exhibiting that signature flair include a dinner jacket ($3,800) cut from denim and lined with vintage silk scarves – a striking alternative to a formal tux – and striped trousers ($1,200) that are both voluminous and pleated, with a matching belt. “They look great worn with sneakers,” he says, “and the high waist reminds me of the 1920s.” Indeed, the Kos aesthetic frequently harks back to bygone eras. “I love the look of the Scorsese movie Gangs of New York, but I also think about the history of the Lower East Side – fathers shopping with sons, looking for the perfect hat. Those times and images are ingrained in my work.”
Hats are, in fact, part and parcel of the Kos look, with a whole wall of the boutique filled with quirky trilby-type shapes ($895) with double brims, crafted from rabbit felt in Italy from vintage hat blocks. “It’s been our main style for the past five years” – and, unsurprisingly, it sells best in a series of bright, bold shades. “People don’t wear enough colour,” says Kos. “I wear a hat almost every day; why not make it a red one?”