- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2003

Christopher Kim wants the men of Washington to look sharp. Whether he’s selling a suit to a senator, picking out a tie for a company executive or renting out a tuxedo to a member of the State Department, he works hard to make sure the gentlemen of the nation’s capital look their best.

Mr. Kim manages his own shop, Christopher Kim’s at the corner of M and 20th streets NW, selling menswear and offering custom tailoring. He sells suits, sportcoats, dress slacks and shirts from some of the world’s best-known designers, including Ralph Lauren and Hickey Freeman, and offers a bonus: personal service.

Today, Munoo Suh enters the store right before noon. He needs a new suit because the one he bought from Mr. Kim 10 years ago no longer fits. Although it has been a decade since Mr. Suh set foot in the store, Mr. Kim remembers him.

Mr. Kim helps Mr. Suh pick out a suit from the hundreds hanging on racks in the store. His team of three master tailors then measures Mr. Suh in front of three mirrors, measuring his height, chest, waist, arms and inseam. Within 30 minutes, Mr. Kim has all the information to alter a suit so that it fits Mr. Suh perfectly.

“People these days like luxury things,” Mr. Kim says as he walks through rows of suits. “Washingtonians like to look traditional, but they like high quality. They have very high taste.”

Indeed, Mr. Kim’s store is jam-packed with clothes by high-end designers from the United States, Italy and England. A nice suit could easily sell for more than $1,000, and there are cashmere and wool sweaters priced as high as $325. There are no large sales, no winter discounts or clearance racks, although he does offer 20 percent off shoes and out-of-season suits.

Mr. Kim said he knows he can’t compete with chain retailers when it comes to price. But he said his prices are considerably lower than at high-end clothing stores in New York, and people will pay a premium for exceptional service.

Mr. Kim says he found his niche selling high-quality clothing and offering personal service. He meets with each customer, helps take measurements and offers advice on what to wear.

“People don’t want to just spend money,” he says with an enthusiastic face and dancing eyes. “We have to give service. If price was the only thing, I would not be here today.”

Mr. Kim, 57, learned about service as a young man in South Korea, where he helped his father run a men’s clothing store. He followed his father to the United States in 1975 and took over the shop two years later. He has been in business ever since, moving into his current 5,000-square-foot space in 1999.

“It’s been my lifelong profession,” he says. “You have to find your niche. I survive because customers want attention.”

Mr. Kim has much to say about the state of fashion in Washington. Styles don’t change on a dime here, he says, but shift about once every 20 to 30 years with some subtle changes in between. When Jimmy Carter was president, more people wore blue jeans, he said. During Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Washingtonians dressed more conservatively in suits.

But even during the economic boom of the 1990s, when many companies allowed employees to dress casually, lawyers and politicians in Washington were still dressing up, Mr. Kim said.

When Mr. Kim first opened his store, Washingtonians wore more polyester and flannel clothes. But most buildings are climate-controlled these days, so his customers now like 100 percent cotton dress shirts with suits made of light wool, cotton blends and cashmere.

Mr. Kim’s store now stocks heavier suits for winter. He has already ordered the spring and summer collections, which should begin arriving by February or March. Between now and then, he will likely attend a trade show in New York, where he will order next year’s fall and winter clothes. He can plan nearly one year ahead because he knows he sells a product that most men in Washington need.

“As long as people wear clothes, I’ll know how to survive,” he says. “As long as people don’t go around naked, I’ll be OK.”


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